Student attitudes toward flipping the general chemistry classroom

J. Dominic Smith
Lipscomb University Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, 1 University Park Drive, Nashville, TN 37067, USA. E-mail: john.smith@lipscomb.edu; Fax: +1-615-966-1830; Tel: +1-615-966-5163

Received 26th June 2013, Accepted 3rd September 2013

First published on 11th September 2013


The idea of “flipping the classroom” to make class time more engaging and student-centred has gained ground in recent years. The lecture portion of General Chemistry I and General Chemistry II courses were pushed outside the classroom using pre-recording technology and streaming delivery of content, in order to make in-class time more interactive. This paper reports the results of surveys of student attitudes toward aspects of flipping the classroom, such as having lecture delivered outside the classroom, leaving more in-class time for questions and problem solving. Based on the survey results, the flipped classroom model will continue to be used for the foreseeable future.


Introduction

Much attention has been given recently to the concept of flipping the classroom (Mazur, 2009; The Economist, 2011; Berrett, 2012; Fitzpatrick, 2012; Patton, 2012; Shapiro, 2013). Flipping the classroom, at its simplest, involves pushing lecture material outside the classroom as a form of homework or other pre-class preparation, leaving more time in class for interactive or engaging exercises. Accounts have begun being published of flipping the classroom in chemistry in diverse settings (Arnaud, 2013), including secondary school (Bergmann and Sams, 2012) and college (Dorr, 2013).

General Chemistry at Lipscomb University is a typical two-semester sequence (General Chemistry I followed by General Chemistry II). Pre-recording technology was introduced to the faculty at the institution and the opportunity to “flip the classroom” became available. Lecture material for two semesters of General Chemistry topics was pre-recorded and placed online for student access as streaming content (see Appendix for the detailed list, ESI).

In the spirit of “win their hearts, then their minds,” a survey was prepared and administered to students at the end of each semester to gauge student attitudes toward flipping the classroom. The inquiries included whether flipping technology was easy for students to use, the appropriateness of lecture length, whether flipping was burdensome, whether it was useful, frequency of use, what it was useful for, and perceived quality of lectures.

Context

The typical General Chemistry (both I and II) lecture sections at Lipscomb University number approximately 30–35 students in each of four to five sections. Sections are taught by individual faculty, with the potential for anywhere from two to four different faculty members teaching sections of a course in a given semester. Although the topics for General Chemistry are agreed upon, each faculty member has freedom to approach these topics in their own way.

To that end, I decided to push the “pure lecture” part of the course outside the classroom, delivering the lecture material to students through the Mediasite® software platform, which allows for streaming content delivery. This trial of flipping the classroom was performed for a total of four sections of General Chemistry I and three sections of General Chemistry II over two years. The total number of students surveyed was N = 235. Additional aspects of the course included graded online homework, student opportunity to ask questions on assigned lecture material, lecture follow-up questions, problem solving, in-class tests, a final exam, and a creative group project (the last item due on the last day of class). Although lecture was pushed outside the classroom, students were still required to attend every class session in person.

Pre-recorded lectures

Two hundred “mini-lectures” consisting essentially of narrated PowerPoint® presentations were recorded for the two-semester sequence; 101 for General Chemistry I and 99 for General Chemistry II. In General Chemistry I, these mini-lectures ranged in length from a short of 1:48 (one minute, forty-eight seconds) to a long of 17:02, with a mean of 7:10 and a median of 6:29; in General Chemistry II, a short of 1:08 to a long of 12:25, with a mean of 5:28 and a median of 5:29. In total, approximately fourteen hours of “pure” lecture (lecture without interaction of any kind) was pushed outside the classroom in each semester, thus recovering over a third of total class time for activities that engaged students to a much greater extent.

The goal for lecture length was to keep lectures relatively short and focused on small topics for two reasons: first, to aid students in maintaining attention when they were using lectures, and second, to make it easy for students to go back and find specific material within lectures if they so chose. (As an added bonus, shorter lectures make it easier for the instructor to re-record or modify later on.) A full list of lectures (as used in the actual courses) is available in the Appendix (ESI).

Features and limits of Mediasite®

Mediasite® is a software system allowing for the recording of two inputs at once; an instructor can thus record a combination of on-screen material and audio (such as PowerPoint® slides, animations, or other on-screen programs plus narration) or on-screen material and other video/audio (such as PowerPoint® slides, animations, or other on-screen programs plus narration via audio and video of the instructor).

The pre-recorded content was delivered streaming through a password-protected webpage at the university. Lectures were available at any time and from any location with internet access; only a web browser was required for viewing.

Mediasite® was deemed best used for delivery of “pure” lecture material. An instructor using Mediasite® has the ability to capture actual classroom lectures for later use by students or for delivery prior to classroom sessions.

The Mediasite® system can be classified essentially as “passive,” in that lecture material can be archived and streamed, but not downloaded by students. Thus, lack of internet access means lack of access to Mediasite®-based materials. Additionally, the lectures do not allow for interaction, and thus students cannot provide feedback directly nor indicate whether a lecture or a point within a lecture was, for example, unclear. (As a side note, there are now other systems available, such as Tegrity®, which allow students to flag points in a lecture that are unclear, allowing an instructor to not only revisit the lecture recording itself, but to be prepared to address such points of confusion in class or with individual students. The author will be switching to Tegrity®-based lectures in Fall semester of 2013.)

Preparation of pre-recorded lectures

PowerPoint® lectures on focused topics were prepared prior to recording sessions. At the author's institution, recording required the use of a laptop-sized recording unit connected to the recording computer, with a microphone for voice recording (or video camera with microphone for recording visuals of the instructor's narration). (On another note, the Tegrity® system, for example, does not require a recording unit, and lectures can be recorded from an instructor's office without special equipment.)

Recording of lectures was as simple as progressing through a slide presentation while narrating—the Mediasite® unit recorded all inputs. Once a recording was deemed finished, Mediasite® processed the file and allowed for immediate playback and review as students would experience the recording. Lecture files had to be uploaded to the university Mediasite® webpage by university technology staff.

In this classroom flipping trial, four chapters of lecture material were recorded prior to the beginning of the first semester, and one chapter was recorded per week during the semester for the first year of the trial in order to stay ahead of student use. The actual time required to record a single chapter's worth of lecture material ranged from a short of approximately one hour to a long of three and half hours.

After-the-fact insights

Mediasite® proved best suited for delivery of pure lecture material because of limits on interactivity. Simple audio–video recordings proved relatively easy to prepare, although the preparation of approximately fourteen hours of pre-recorded lecture per semester proved incredibly time consuming on the front-end. However, in the second year of the trial, there was little work required in terms of lecture, other than polishing already recorded material. Again, the shorter the individual lectures, the easier it is to revisit and redo them.

Use of other resources

Other resources used with great frequency in the flipped classroom included graded online homework and graded lecture follow-up quiz questions.

Online homework

Online homework that counted towards the course grade was required of all students. In the first year of using the flipped model, the University of Texas Quest® system was used. In the second year of the trial, a decision was made to switch to Sapling®. (While both systems allow for both numerical-answer questions and multiple-choice questions, Sapling® offers greater use of graphics, learning modules for students to review topics prior to answering questions, and, if the answer is not totally correct, concept-based hints that depend on what part of the question a student gets wrong.)

Online homework was assigned on a chapter-by-chapter basis according to the textbook used. An entire chapter's homework was assigned at the beginning of the given chapter, with students instructed to only attempt problems for which concepts and strategies had been discussed already in class.

Homework assignments were typically required to be completed in one to one and a half weeks, although longer chapters with greater numbers of problems were sometimes allowed longer completion periods. Assignments were closed to student access once the due date had passed.

Students were required to complete approximately 350–430 graded problems per semester.

Follow-up quiz questions

In the first year of the trial, students were presented questions based on the pre-recorded lecture material to help them gauge the level of their own understanding. Participation was perceived to be low, however.

In the second year of the trial, students were required to answer questions based on assigned pre-recorded lecture material for a course grade. These were answered and counted using a personal response system (“clickers”) and were typically content-based multiple-choice questions. Questions were presented after an initial period during which students could pose questions requesting clarification, explanation, or expansion of the assigned lecture material.

While most questions tested recall, retention, and basic understanding of content, students were sometimes presented critical thinking and synthesis questions to probe students' deep understanding of lecture material.

Students were allowed to discuss potential answers to questions with colleagues prior to actually answering, with the understanding that each student was responsible for his or her own answer.

Use of in-class time

Students were required to attend all class sessions despite pushing lecture outside the classroom. Approximately one-third of total class time was recovered over the course of each semester. Typical class format was as follows:

An initial period of time was used for “housekeeping” (reminders of or changes to homework due dates, test date reminders, etc.).

The next segment of time was reserved for student questions regarding assigned pre-recorded lecture material. Students were allowed to ask for clarification of points made in lectures, elaboration of points they found interesting, relevance of points made, etc.

While student questioning of relevance of our subject often seems offensive to instructors—why do they need to know this, really?—the extra time recovered gave an opportunity to address relevance in a deeper and more meaningful way than usual, or, for example, to connect the classroom concepts to the separate lab course activities better.

The next segment of class was typically used for graded follow-up quiz questions (although some days no follow-up questions were presented, depending on the topic at hand, as General Chemistry can vary from the very conceptual to the very mathematical). While the nature of these questions has already been presented, students were typically given approximately 30–60 seconds in which to decide upon an answer, and the answer to each question was then discussed and follow-up questions allowed. The number of questions posed was typically four to eight, with a low of zero and a high of ten, per class session.

The next segment of class was used for problem solving. Examples were presented with explanations, broken down step-by-step. Non-graded questions were posed to the students during the presentation of a given problem (examples might be “Can we make the simplifying assumption in this case?” “Why is the simplifying assumption valid?” or “How many regions of high electron density are around the central atom in this molecule?”). Students were given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of every problem. The number of problems varied greatly, depending on the subject matter to be covered on a given day. Students were sometimes allowed or encouraged to solve problems in groups and then compare their solution to the accepted solution.

Students were admonished to “think like a chemist” during all in-class activities, and time was used to demonstrate how chemists think, which was not always possible prior to pushing lecture outside the classroom.

The end of class was used for final questions about anything covered that day (either general or specific).

Generally, much more time was available for explanation, interaction, and conveyance of insight than had been in the past.

Methodology

Students were surveyed anonymously at the end of the course and asked to agree/disagree with statements regarding their attitude toward various aspects of the flipped classroom model, including pushing lecture outside the classroom, having more intense interaction inside the classroom, workload, the nature of lecture use, and perceived quality of lecture material.

Students were offered a Likert-type scale of 1 through 5, corresponding to the following:

1—Strongly disagree

2—Disagree

3—Neutral: neither agree nor disagree

4—Agree

5—Strongly agree

Statements were presented without groupings; groupings below are presented to facilitate organization of survey data. The data collected was entered into Excel to facilitate analysis.

Ethical guidelines and limitations of data

Students were informed that completion of the survey was confidential, was not a requirement of the course, that data collected would be used to improve the course for students in the future, and that data collected might be used for publication purposes. Students were encouraged to respond to every statement they felt comfortable responding to, and that responses to all statements were not strictly required. The students were allowed to complete the survey without the instructor present and surveys were collected by an assistant. No personally identifying information was collected on students, other than, perhaps, that any handwritten comments were read without a third party compiling and typing them first.

It should be noted that self-reported data is subject to a number of limitations, including but not limited to, for example, students' ability to accurately recall use of the pre-recorded lectures after the fact, subjectivity based on student feelings at the time of the survey, and student ability to accurately estimate frequency of use at the time of the survey.

Results and discussion

Results of the survey follow; data and discussion is organized according to groups of questions posed in the survey.

Usefulness and ease of use of pre-recorded lectures

Students were presented with the following statements regarding usefulness and ease of use of the pre-recorded lectures and the Mediasite® system:

• I found the pre-recorded lectures on Mediasite® to be generally useful.

• I found Mediasite® easy to use.

• I found the pre-recorded lectures on Mediasite® easy to use.

• I find streaming content to be more useful than downloadable content.

• I would find downloadable content to be more useful than streaming content.

• I would like the ability to annotate the lectures for my personal use/study.

Students overwhelmingly found pre-recorded lectures to be generally useful, with 97% of students agreeing (52% strongly agreeing). Only 3% of students gave a different response, indicating neutrality on this item.

Students responded to the ease of using Mediasite® itself with 90% agreeing (65% strongly agreeing). The remaining 10% of students indicated neutrality on this item.

Students again overwhelmingly agreed that the pre-recorded lectures were easy to use, with 97% agreeing (68% strongly agreeing). The remaining 3% indicated neutrality.

Students didn't seem to indicate much of a preference for downloadable vs. streaming content (Mediasite® is streaming content). Approximately 10% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed with streaming being more useful than downloadable content, with 29% neutral and 61% agreeing or strongly agreeing (19% agree; 42% strongly agree). On the other hand, 29% of students indicated they either agree (19%) or strongly agree (10%) that downloadable content is more useful, with 35% neutral and 36% disagreeing (19% disagree and 17% strongly disagree).

The exact reason for a slight preference for streaming content is not wholly understood. However, anecdotal evidence from students indicated that some felt use of streaming content “forced” them to utilize it during streaming, whereas downloading content meant there was potential for it to be ignored until a later time and thus a chance for procrastination to set in.

Students indicated some preference for the ability to annotate lectures, with 42% reporting neutrality, 32% agreeing that being able to annotate would be useful, and 26% strongly agreeing. (Mediasite® does not currently allow students to annotate lectures.)

In summary, students found the prerecorded lectures useful, easy to use, had a slight preference for streaming vs. downloadable content, and indicated a desire to be able to annotate.

Length of pre-recorded lectures

Students were presented with the following statements regarding length of the pre-recorded lectures:

• I found the length of the pre-recorded lectures to be appropriate.

• I would rather have had the pre-recorded lectures be fewer in number but longer in time.

• I would rather have had the pre-recorded lectures be greater in number but shorter in time.

Students generally found the length and number of pre-recorded lectures to be appropriate, with 87% agreeing (45% agree; 42% strongly agree) and the remaining 13% neutral.

There seemed to be negative sentiment regarding making lectures longer and consequently fewer in number, with 74% of students disagreeing (48% disagree; 26% strongly disagree). Of the remainder, 16% of students reported neutrality, 6% agreed with wanting fewer but longer lectures, and only 3% strongly agreed.

As a check, the converse statement concerning a greater number of shorter lectures was presented. Interestingly, 35% of students indicated agreement (32% agree; 3% strongly agree), 35% were neutral, and 29% disagreed (16% disagree; 13% strongly disagree). This score was the most neutral of all scores found in the survey.

Taken together, it appears that, for the most part, students found the number and length of the pre-recorded lectures to be appropriate for their use. (Again, in General Chemistry I, the mean lecture length was 7:10, and in General Chemistry II, 5:28.) If change in lecture length was suggested, a change toward a greater number of shorter lectures, with disinclination toward fewer, lengthier lectures, was indicated.

Perceived impact of pre-recorded lecture use on workload

Students were presented the following statement regarding workload:

• Having the pre-recorded lectures assigned as outside work before class was burdensome in terms of time.

Not surprisingly, students generally found pushing lecture outside the classroom to be a burden, with 48% agreeing (32% agree; 16% strongly agree). Approximately 29% of the students were neutral as to the burden, and, also somewhat surprisingly, 22% of students disagreed (19% disagree; 3% strongly disagree).

It was not surprising that students found flipping the classroom an extra time burden to them (something that was predicted before beginning this trial), given the shift of lecture from in-class to outside class.

Perceived impact of pre-recorded lecture use on class

Students were presented with the following statement regarding the impact of the use of pre-recorded lectures on in-class time:

• Having the pre-recorded lectures assigned as outside work before class made class less boring/more engaging.

• Having the pre-recorded lectures assigned as outside work before class made class more useful/enlightening.

Students may have found pushing lecture outside the classroom generally burdensome, but the purpose of this aspect of flipping the classroom was generally recognized: 65% of students agreed that pushing lecture outside the classroom made class less boring and/or more engaging (52% agree; 13% strongly agree). While 26% of students were neutral on this item, only 10% disagreed that the flipping enabled a more engaging class.

Students also appeared to find the flipped class more useful or enlightening to them. Only 6% disagreed with this statement (3% each disagree and strongly disagree), and an additional 13% were neutral. The remaining 81% of students found the flipped classroom more useful and/or enlightening (65% agree; 16% strongly agree).

Though students found flipping the classroom an extra time burden to them, it was encouraging to find that students also found the flipped classroom a less boring or more engaging environment, as well as a more useful or enlightening experience. That students recognized these positive aspects of the flipped classroom has helped justify the model's continued use.

Frequency of pre-recorded lecture use

Students were presented the following question regarding frequency of use:

• On average (in your estimation), how many times did you use a pre-recorded lecture?

The low response was one use, the high response was ten uses, and the mean was 3.05 uses.

One of the main reasons for providing pre-recorded lectures was to allow students to use them as many times as they saw fit, whether for class preparation, clarification, test preparation, homework completion, etc. That students estimated an average use of approximately three times for a given pre-recorded lecture indicates that they are indeed using them for more than just preparing for a given class.

A useful feature for a pre-recorded lecture delivery system would be to track student usage, which would not only increase data accuracy, but also allow an instructor to monitor student study habits and learning behaviour, which could in turn better enable the instructor to help the student.

Nature of pre-recorded lecture use

Students were presented with the following statements regarding nature of use of the pre-recorded lectures:

• I used the pre-recorded lectures to help me prepare for class.

• I used the pre-recorded lectures to help me complete homework assignments.

• I used the pre-recorded lectures to help me prepare for tests.

• I found the pre-recorded lectures helpful because I could go back to them for reinforcement.

• I found the pre-recorded lectures helpful because I could go back to them for clarification.

Students were presented with statements aimed at gathering data on how they used the pre-recorded lectures. Given that students reported using pre-recorded lectures multiple times, uses must have ranged beyond class preparation in at least some cases.

Students indicated use of the pre-recorded lectures for class preparation, with 67% agreeing (40% agree; 27% strongly agree), 27% neutral, and 7% strongly disagreeing.

Students reported even greater use of the lectures for aid in completing homework, with 84% agreeing (47% agree; 37% strongly agree). Approximately 10% were neutral and 7% disagreed.

Students used the lectures for test prep to even greater extent, with 94% agreeing (37% agree; 57% strongly agree). Only 3% of students were neutral and a further 3% disagreed.

Encouragingly, students reported using the lectures for reinforcement of concepts, with 93% agreeing (23% agree; 70% strongly agree). Only 3% of students were neutral and 3% disagreed. They also used the lectures for clarification of concepts, with 97% reporting agreement (30% agree; 67% strongly agree), and only 3% neutral.

The results indicate that students used the pre-recorded lectures for multiple purposes, including preparing for class, completing homework, preparing for tests, reinforcing concepts, and clarifying concepts. While it was anticipated that students would make use of the lectures for homework and test preparation, it was hoped that they would also make use of them for reinforcement and clarification. That students in fact used them for these purposes demonstrates the general usefulness of the pre-recorded lectures and helps justify the front-end time commitment necessary to implement their use.

Perceived quality of pre-recorded lectures

Students were presented with the following statements regarding the perceived quality of the pre-recorded lectures:

• The pre-recorded lectures offered clear explanations.

• The pre-recorded lectures offered clear explanations compared to the textbook.

• The pre-recorded lectures offered thorough explanations.

• The pre-recorded lectures offered thorough explanations compared to the textbook.

• Having pre-recorded lectures made the class more effective for me than other courses in Chemistry that did not use pre-recorded lectures.

These statements were presented in order to gauge how clear and thorough students found the lecture explanations as compared to the benchmark of explanations offered in their textbook.

Students found the lecture explanations clear, with 97% agreeing (40% agree; 57% strongly agree) and 3% neutral; they also found them clear as measured against their textbook, with 87% agreeing (10% agree; 77% strongly agree) and 13% neutral.

Students also found the lecture explanations thorough as well, with 93% agreeing (36% agree; 57% strongly agree) and 7% neutral. Students also found the lectures thorough as measured against their textbook, with 90% agreeing (20% agree; 70% strongly agree) and 10% neutral.

It was reassuring that students found the pre-recorded lectures clear and thorough, especially as compared to their textbook. Thus, more frequent use and more pervasive use of the lectures can be encouraged.

The statement regarding effectiveness was presented to uncover whether the pre-recorded lecture aspect of the flipped chemistry classroom made the flipped model more effective (or not) as compared to the traditional chemistry lecture. Students generally found the flipped classroom model more effective, with 60% agreeing—but 40% strongly agreeing. A further 30% were neutral, but there was also a small minority—10%—that disagreed with the flipped classroom being more effective for them.

In-class segment on student opportunity to ask questions regarding pre-recorded lectures

Students were presented with the following statements regarding the in-class segment devoted to allowing students to ask questions on the pre-recorded lecture material:

• I found the opportunity to ask questions on the assigned lecture material made lecture material clearer to me.

• I found the opportunity to ask questions on the assigned lecture material made lecture material more meaningful to me.

• I found the opportunity to ask questions on the assigned lecture material helped prepare me for quiz questions.

Students were presented with statements to gauge whether or not the in-class use of time to allow them to ask questions on assigned lecture material was useful to them.

A slight majority of students found the opportunity to ask questions on assigned lecture material made the material clearer, with 52% agreeing, but only 3% strongly agreeing. While no students disagreed with the statement, the remaining 45% were neutral on this item.

Slightly fewer students found the material more meaningful because of this opportunity to ask questions on assigned material, with 47% agreeing, 3% strongly agreeing, 47% neutral, and 3% of students disagreeing.

A strong majority of students indicated that the opportunity to ask questions on assigned material helped them be prepared for the follow-up quiz questions, with 67% agreeing, 13% strongly agreeing, and the remaining 20% neutral.

While the opportunity to ask questions on the assigned pre-recorded lecture material may not have generally made the material itself clearer or more meaningful to students, students did feel that the opportunity helped them be prepared for the follow-up quiz questions which were presented on the assigned material. While this preparation for quiz questions was not in itself the goal of the student question opportunity, allowing students the opportunity to pose questions on pre-recorded lecture material remains a vital aspect of the flipped classroom model, as it helps overcome the missing student–teacher interaction piece that is potentially present in the traditional lecture setting.

In-class segment on follow-up quiz questions on pre-recorded lecture material

Students were presented with the following statements regarding the in-class segment devoted to quizzing students on the pre-recorded lecture material:

• I found the quiz questions helpful to me in gauging my own level of understanding of lecture material.

• I found the quiz questions useful in reinforcing concepts.

• I found the quiz questions covered the material actually presented in pre-recorded lectures.

• I found the quiz questions useful in reinforcing use of the pre-recorded lectures. (Note: this last question was only asked in the first year of the trial, with N = 99.)

• I found the use of clickers and quiz questions counting toward my grade helpful in reinforcing use of the pre-recorded lectures. (Note: this last question was only asked in the second year of the trial, with N = 136.)

• I found the opportunity to ask follow-up questions helped increase my understanding of concepts.

Students were presented with statements regarding the use of follow-up quiz questions covering assigned pre-recorded lecture material. The next to last question was only presented to students in the second year of the trial, as use of personal response systems was only implemented in the second year.

Students were overwhelmingly neutral on the usefulness of quiz questions to help them gauge their own level of understanding, as 70% reported neutrality. Of the remainder, 27% agreed and 3% strongly agreed, with no students indicating disagreement.

Students did generally feel that quiz questions helped reinforce concepts, with 9% strongly agreeing, 76% agreeing, and 15% neutral (no disagreement).

Students also felt that quiz questions reflected the material actually presented in pre-recorded lectures, with 63% agreeing, 17% strongly agreeing, and 7% neutral, although some students disagreed as well (13%, with no strong disagreement).

It would be useful to break down the data by year of trial with regards to the statement on quiz questions helping to reinforce use of pre-recorded lectures, as the second year of the trial saw the introduction of personal response systems for exactly this purpose. In the first year (N = 99), a majority of students disagreed that the questions helped reinforce use of the pre-recorded lectures, with 69% disagreeing and 11% strongly disagreeing (only 11% agreed and 9% were neutral, with no strong agreement). In the second year (N = 136), when personal response systems were introduced and quiz questions used as part of the course grade, student responses changed. Students generally found that graded quiz questions did reinforce use of the pre-recorded lectures, with 51% agreeing and 26% strongly agreeing. There was curiously little neutrality, with only 2% reporting being neutral on this item, and the remaining 21% disagreeing (with no strong disagreement).

Students seemed to feel that the opportunity to ask questions about quiz questions was not helpful, with 63% disagreeing, 3% strongly disagreeing, and 13% neutral. Only 21% agreed with this statement with no strong agreement.

Quiz questions seemed to prove useful for reinforcing concepts, but not necessarily for helping students to gauge whether they personally were grasping material. Not surprisingly, using quiz questions as a tool to encourage use of the pre-recorded lectures was ineffective until given teeth in the form of a grade. While students generally indicated that the opportunity to ask questions regarding the quiz questions was not helpful, students did not often actually ask questions regarding the quiz questions. It is currently unknown whether this is due to the nature of their use (students allowed to discuss potential answers before answering and answers presented after time expired)—much of the potential discussion of concepts had already taken place either between peers or among the entire class.

In-class segment on problem solving

Students were presented with the following statements regarding the in-class segment devoted to problem solving:

• I found time-spent in-class on problem solving helped prepare me for homework.

• I found time-spent in-class on problem solving helped prepare me for tests.

• I found time spent in-class on problem solving helped prepare me for lab work.

• I found time spent in-class on problem solving helped make me a better problem solver.

• I found the opportunity to ask questions after each problem helpful.

• I found that interactive problem solving made class less boring/more engaging.

• I found that interactive problem solving made class more useful/enlightening.

Students provided very positive responses regarding the usefulness of the in-class segment on problem solving.

Students generally agreed that in-class problem solving helped prepare them to do homework, with 71% agreeing, 23% strongly agreeing, and the remaining 6% neutral.

Students also generally agreed that in-class problem solving helped prepare them for tests, with 66% agreeing, 18% agreeing, and the remaining 16% neutral.

Students were not as positive regarding the usefulness of in-class problem solving for lab work, with 54% agreeing, 6% strongly agreeing, 30% neutral, and 10% disagreeing (no strong disagreement).

As to in-class problem solving making them better problem solvers, 48% agreed, 15% strongly agreed, and 28% were neutral. Another 6% disagreed and 3% strongly disagreed.

Students varied widely on the opportunity to ask questions after each problem discussed, with 27% agreeing, 12% strongly agreeing, 31% neutral, 17% disagreeing, and 13% strongly disagreeing.

The interactive nature of in-class problem solving in the flipped classroom model (as discussed above) seemed to be helpful according to students. A majority of students agreed that the interactivity was helpful (43% agreed, 17% strongly agreed) and the remaining 30% indicated neutrality.

Students found class less boring and more engaging in part due to interactive problem solving, as 61% agreed, 21% strongly agreed, and 18% were neutral.

Students also found class more useful and/or enlightening in part due to interactive problem solving, with 53% agreeing, 19% strongly agreeing, 25% neutral, and only 3% disagreeing (no strong disagreement).

Problem solving is a vital aspect of any General Chemistry course, and students generally recognized the usefulness of spending class time on this endeavour. Students were not as ready to recognize the usefulness of problem solving for their lab work, although that could be because there is often some disconnect between General Chemistry lecture courses and General Chemistry lab courses. While a majority of students also felt that class time spent on problem solving made them better problem solvers, the statement regarding opportunity to ask questions proved less homogeneous. Although data is not available to elucidate the reason for this variety, it may be due to the variety in preparation of students prior to enrolling in the course; some come in having had AP courses in secondary school, while others are encountering chemistry for the first time. For experienced students, problem solving strategies may be more obvious, while for less experienced students, more inquiry might prove useful.

One of the goals of flipping the classroom was to make more class time available for activities that were more interactive than traditional lecture. To this end, attempts were made to make the time spent problem solving more interactive among students and between students and the instructor. Students generally felt that the interactive problem solving made class more engaging and enlightening. It should be noted, however, that data were not collected on whether “traditional” problem solving presentation (example problems presented with little interaction due to lack of time) made class more engaging or enlightening, so there is no baseline for comparison of the greater interactivity.

Limitations and advantages of the flipped model

While pushing lecture outside the classroom and requiring student attendance at each class session did recover a significant amount of time to be used for more interactive activity, there are certainly limitations involved with the approach. The Mediasite® system does not allow for student feedback on lectures prior to actual class—and although other systems do now offer this feature, it still is not as immediate as the in-class student–teacher interaction potentially offered by in-class lecturing. Use of class time to compensate for this shortcoming defeats the purpose (in small part) of pushing lecture outside the classroom.

However, there are certainly advantages to be had in recovering class time from lecture, if students are still required to attend class “as usual.” The extra time can be used for more interactive activities and allow for even greater student–teacher interaction.

The use of online graded quizzes could replace in-class follow-up quiz questions if an instructor preferred to use class time in other ways. In larger schools, with, for example, graduate student teaching assistants, the use of pre-recorded lectures allows TAs to follow professor lectures at their convenience but at the same time be better prepared to help students in the course because of familiarity with points specific to the course. Larger institutions with large lecture courses (that sometimes enrol hundreds of students in a single section of General Chemistry) can still employ graded use of personal response systems to encourage student use of lectures, attendance, and participation.

Conclusions

Flipping the General Chemistry classroom produced interesting results as evidenced by a survey given to students at the end of the course. Perhaps predictably, students felt pushing lecture outside of class was burdensome in terms of additional time spent on the course. However, students also reported using the pre-recorded lectures multiple times throughout the course, not only for class preparation, but also for aid in completing homework, test preparation, reinforcing concepts, and clarifying concepts. Students also found the activities that replaced the pure lecture time—quiz questions and interactive problem solving, for example—were helpful in preparing them for homework and course assessments, as well as making class time more engaging. A majority of students found the flipped classroom model more effective for them, while a minority was neutral on its effectiveness, and a much smaller minority indicated it was less effective for them. Taken together, the results of the survey indicate that flipping the classroom, though perceived by students to be a time burden, was also perceived by students to be advantageous in multiple ways. The model of the flipped classroom will continue to be used for the foreseeable future.

Notes and references

  1. Arnaud C. H., (2013), Flipping Chemistry Classrooms, Chem. Eng. News, 91(12), 41–43.
  2. Bergmann J. and Sams A., (2012), How the flipped classroom is radically transforming learning, The Daily Riff, http://www.thedailyriff.com/articles/how-the-flipped-classroom-is-radically-transforming-learning-536.php, accessed 20 June 2013.
  3. Berrett D., (2012), How ‘flipping’ the classroom can improve the traditional lecture, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 Feb. 2012.
  4. Dorr D. Q., (2013), Flipping to adapt to multiple learning styles at Minnesota State University, Campus Technology, http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/03/27/Flipping-To-Adapt-to-Multiple-Learning-Styles-at-Minnesota-State-University.aspx?Page=4, accessed 20 June 2013.
  5. Flipping the classroom: hopes that the internet can improve teaching may at last be bearing fruit, The Economist, 17 Sep. 2011.
  6. Fitzpatrick M., (2012), Classroom lectures go digital, The New York Times, 24 June 2012.
  7. Mazur E., (2009), Farewell, lecture? Science, 323, 50–51.
  8. Patton R., (2012), Flipping the classroom – is it really all about technology? blogs.cisco.com, http://blogs.cisco.com/education/flipping-the-classroom-is-it-really-all-about-technology/, accessed 20 June 2013.
  9. Shapiro M., (2013), Flipped classroom turns traditional teaching upside down, stltoday.com, http://www.stltoday.com/suburban-journals/metro/education/flipped-classroom-turns-traditional-teaching-upside-down/article_a6497f82-efb3-5a62-88ed-ee72c2ac873c.html, accessed 20 June 2013.

Footnote

Electronic supplementary information (ESI) available: List of the 200 mini-lectures used in both semesters. See DOI: 10.1039/c3rp00083d

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2013