Flipping the College Lecture

Can you remember what it felt like learning new concepts in your college lecture classes? How many new concepts did you master in the duration of a one-hour lecture? How much did you remember about those concepts a week later? A year later? A decade later?

Cognitive researchers began making breakthroughs in understanding how the human brain processes and retains information in the 1970s and 80s, according to the article “Don’t Lecture Me: Rethinking How College Students Learn.”  When studying how much students learned in a lecture, they found people had very limited short-term memory that didn’t allow them to process all the information presented in a typical lecture. However, it’s 2012 and many college students are still attending lecture-based classes that require them to memorize facts, not understand concepts.

In the article, physics professor Joe Redish explains, thousands of years ago, before printing, one person would read a book to a crowd who would copy them down. The word “lecture” is actually from the Latin word for “to read.” The idea that a person has to deliver information in real-time and in the front of a class is archaic, and for most an inefficient and ineffective way to learn.

An alternative to lecture-based classes that is quickly gaining momentum is the flipped-classroom model. Students do the reading, listening, or watching elements of a class at home and go to class to engage in interactive lessons with their peers. The flipped-classroom allows more time for discussion in class, more one-on-one instruction for students and teachers, and more peer instruction.

Redish shares that when he first started teaching, his mentor asked him how his class was. He said it seemed to be going well, especially with the ones who are motivated to do well. His mentor told him those were the students who didn’t really need him. The inverted classroom or peer-instruction based classes are a simple solution to leveling the playing field in the classroom. Students who understand concepts more readily can help other students with their understanding. Instructors are more available to help individual students work through problems during class time. Students who quickly absorb new information also see advantages because they get to talk out how things work with their peers and solidify their understanding of new concepts.

Have you incorporated any practices of the flipped-classroom model in your class? Would you be willing to “flip” your classroom for a half hour of work? What benefits do you see to peer mentoring in your class?

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