Tag Archives: flipped pedagogy

Class attendance in the shadow of Covid-19

At the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Century, there was considerable concern about student attendance at school. To encourage good attendance many education authorities awarded medals to students with exemplary attendance records. This was particularly well developed in London, where from 1887 the London School Board (and later London County Council) awarded medals to students with near-perfect attendance. The medal pictured here was awarded to G. Orbell in 1899, for six consecutive years of good attendance.

School Board for London attendance medal (1899) awarded to G. Orbell for six years of punctual attendance.

As schools were run on a grant that was calculated on attendance figures, schools realized it was in their interest to award medals as there was money attached. The down side to this was that sick children (with diphtheria and the like) would be encouraged to attend school – with devastating consequences for the health of their classmates. After a break for the First World War, the scheme was abandoned after the 1920 school year.

Of course, classrooms were very different when G. Orbell was at school. But after over 120 years of educational research, we would now not expect to see classrooms in schools (or universities) where students were sat passively in rows, receiving the wisdom from the teacher who was standing at a lectern. We wouldn’t expect to see rote learning on a large scale. To continue to teach in this way would be a betrayal of a generation.

But bringing us up to date – attendance is again a hot topic. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have closed our classrooms and largely stopped face-to-face teaching. We now have the benefit of digital technologies to keep us connected and allow teaching to continue. But the big question is how to achieve this without reverting to the Victorian model of transmitting content. How do we maintain the dialogue? How do we engage with our students? How do we maintain our professional integrity and our professional values?

Covid-19 has forced our hand on this somewhat. But it will give us an opportunity to reassert what is important in our teaching. As my son recently told me, “it’s not about the content – I can get that anywhere! It’s about the experience.” So how do we promote the university experience online? Probably not by just stuffing our VLEs with content. The online world does free us from some of the constraints of the physical world. For example, there is no reason why lectures should be one hour long – that is just an artifact of the timetable and the issues of moving students in and out of classrooms. We don’t need to do that online. Perhaps shorter and more focused ‘lectures’ would be better? But our energy has to be spent on developing the experience – not developing ever more content. So the question is – what experience do we want to offer?

Values underpinning flipped pedagogy


Flipped pedagogy is not really an issue of technology. It is a problem of teaching. What guides that teaching is the values that underpin our decisions in classroom management. Whilst we could write books on this subject, for practical purposes here, I would suggest four guiding principles that should be considered:

Appreciate students’ prior knowledge. This is not to say that we have to assess each student to see what they are bringing with them. If you have a class of 400 students, such one-to-one interrogation is not practical. It is more important that students activate their own prior knowledge and understand what is important in the ‘new context’ of the current course.

Consider the relationship between meaningful and rote learning. Do you want students to memorise facts to be regurgitated or do you want them to be able to apply those higher order thinking skills that require synthesis, evaluation and creation of knowledge?

Consider the value of formative assessment. This can help to activate prior knowledge and get students to better appreciate our expectations of meaningful learning. Well-constructed formative assignments can also help students to organise and structure their knowledge so that it can be used more effectively in the future.

Consider where you want to be on the student-centred / teacher-centred spectrum. Again, this relates to the ways in which the previous principles are enacted.

These four guiding principles are not isolated from each other. The relationships between these elements are dynamic – see the figure below. Therefore, if we fail with respect to one of these guiding principles, we are in danger of letting to whole enterprise collapse.

In the PowerPoint slides that are included below, I show how the neglect of meaningful learning (possibly through lack of constructive alignment between learning outcomes and assessments) allows the dominance of rote learning to negate any interest in formative assessment or prior knowledge. The outcome of this will be a focus on lower order thinking skills and a retreat into traditional, conservative modes of teaching:


values and principles for flipping

For set of PowerPoint slides that show what happens when meaningful learning is replaced by rote learning:  click values and principles for flipping

Where the two models presented in the slides attached are in simultaneous operation within a department, the students will probably opt for the line of least resistance and strategically opt to focus on the lower order thinking skills that are rewarded by rote learning. Students are therefore less well prepared for study in the following year (where understanding of previous modules will be assumed), or indeed for professional practice where students have to apply theory to practice in novel situations. So, if the underlying values of the curriculum are not explicitly shared across a faculty, there is a danger of the environment exhibiting pedagogic frailty and the typical outcome will be a retreat into conservative and ‘safe’ pedagogic practices. Where this happens, the energy expended on developing a flipped classroom will have been wasted.

Values should be the starting point for the development of the flipped classroom, not content or technology.





Active Learning

The debate about ‘active learning’ seems to have been going on for a very long time, with an overwhelming view that ‘active’ is better than ‘passive’, and yet some colleagues still find some novelty in the discussion. This is now being combined with discussions about technology and mechanisms in which the active approach can be supported in the classroom. A few articles that I have come across lately offer more evidence about the potential for active learning in technology-enhanced classrooms.

Wolff et al (2015) have looked at techniques to foster engagement and encourage self-directed learning. Within their paper, they offer some useful advice such as:

  • Incorporate pauses. So many sessions are stuffed full of content with no time to pause and reflect to see if you have really understood the content. Inserting a pause to allow learners to clarify points is a very simple thing to do and (importantly) has no resource implications.
  • Tell a story. Many colleagues have found that the story approach provides the hook that makes students listen, and provides a structure to help recall. The oral tradition has existed throughout history, but is not often reflected in our PowerPoint-filled teaching environment.
  • Draw a map. Anyone who has read my writings will know that this is one of my favourites. Converting text to diagram (or vice versa) has many benefits, and the creation of links needed within a map requires higher levels of thinking and processing.
  • Learn by doing. Well I am not sure if anyone would argue against this. Doing something is always more interesting than doing nothing.
  • Get a commitment. The use of audience response system is a more sophisticated way of getting students to raise their hands, and can offer instant feedback about what their peers think about a problem.

Baepler et al (2014) look at a slightly different perspective and consider the time spent to teach students. In their study, the authors found that they could reduce the amount of time that students spent in the classroom (by up to 2/3) and still achieve the same learning outcomes. So any statistics about student contact time appear to be a bit redundant. The fact that students are sitting in front of you does not guarantee that they are learning. By trading contact hours for an active learning pedagogy these authors are increasing teaching efficiency. This has important implications as active learning spaces are often not designed to pack students in like sardines (in the way that lecture theatres do), but it seems that each student may not need to spend so long in class anyway. It is an interesting one that requires more investigation. There must be some sort of relationship between degree of engagement in learning and the time required to master the ideas being addressed.

The flipped classroom seems to be the answer for many colleagues – see previous posts. See and Conry (2014) describe a model for faculty development to sensitize colleagues to the potential of flipping. Worth a look.

I would just add one caveat to some of the points raised in the papers mentioned here. Not all lectures have to be boring (see the title of the paper by Wolff et al). Some lectures are really inspirational, and they shouldn’t be lost in the rush towards flipping, or anything else. Like all teaching innovations, there needs to be some thought involved.


Baepler, P., Walker, J.D. and Dreissen, M. (2014) It’s not about seat time: Blending, flipping, and efficiency in active learning classrooms. Computers & Education, 78: 227 – 236.

See, S. and Conry, J.M. (2014) Flip my class! A faculty development demonstration of a flipped classroom. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching & Learning, 6: 585 – 588.

Wolff, M., Wagner, M.J., Poznanski, S., Schiller, J., and Santen, S. (2015) Not another boring lecture: Engaging learners with active learning techniques. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 48(1): 85 – 93.

Digital technology amplifies the obvious

Digital technology in various forms is now well embedded into teaching at university. The use of PowerPoint seems ubiquitous – barely a lecture goes by without the support of a slide presentation. And what is interesting is the way in which the projection of PowerPoint slides also projects the lecturer’s views on teaching. It bares all, whether you intend it or not.

Lecturers who claim to be interested in student engagement have their bluff called when they then have a slide presentation without any room for questions because they are so full of content. The structure of the knowledge within the presentation is also transparent, with linearity usually dominating (Kinchin et al., 2008). Use of technology gives signals about you as a teacher that will be interpreted by students.

It is also interesting to see how practices that are self-evidently sensible suddenly become ‘innovative’ once they are set in the context of “flipped classrooms” or “lecture capture technology”. For example, we can find  recommendations such as ‘keeping on-line pre-class videos short – about 20 minutes to maximize student engagement’. Well this is surely also a good idea in the analogue classroom too. We know full well that students find it difficult to remain engaged for a full 60 minute lecture, but the logistics of timetabling 20 minute lectures on campus means that in the analogue world it is just not practical. The digital environment enables us to do this in practice.

So too comments such as “sequence your materials logically“, “offer support to colleagues“, or “manage your students’ expectations” are all quite sensible as guidelines for the digital world, but are equally well suited to the analogue teaching environment too.

I think we have to be a little wise to the re-invention of good practice. Maybe some of our younger colleagues are hearing these things for the first time. That’s fine, so long as they do not walk away thinking that all these valid classroom tips are uniquely valid for the digital teaching environment. The digital-analogue divide needs to be bridged. Good teaching is good teaching, whether you are using a VLE or a chalk board.  But if the application of technology is helping to push these ideas to the fore, that can only be a good thing – surely?


Kinchin, I.M., Chadha, D. and Kokotailo, P. (2008) Using PowerPoint as a lens to focus on linearity in teaching. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 32(4): 333 – 346.

Flipped classrooms again

My previous post about flipping the classroom created some interest, so I thought I’d check out the current literature and see what is new. Overall, the picture looks rosy. No matter what subject you are teaching, authors are finding that the flipped classroom yields better results and improved student attitudes to their studies.

McBride (2015) describes his motivations for experimenting with flipping:

My reasoning behind trying the experiment of “flipping” my classes was to achieve four things. First, I wanted to cover more material. Second, I wanted to engage the students more in class by “lecturing” less. Third, I wanted the students to have an enjoyable experience with mathematics since most students were non-math/science majors with preconceived prejudices against math. Fourth, I was hoping their grades and pass rates would increase.”

Who can argue against them?

Three other papers sprung out at me for various reasons: O’Flaherty and Phillips (2015) offer a very useful review for those of you who need a quick overview of the literature. Moffett (2015) offers a series of eminently sensible practical tips on the classroom implementation of flipping. Gilboy et al. (2015) address one of the most important issues around teaching innovation: what is the effect on student engagement? The outcome was that the majority of the students preferred flipped over traditional.

As with many educational innovations, the literature on flipping is overwhelmingly positive. So two caveats:

1) perhaps those experiments that ‘fail’ are simply not reported : no-one wants a bad news story.

2) is it really the ‘flipping’ that is having the effect, or is it the way it re-energises the teachers and this is why the students do better and are more engaged?

No doubt this literature will move forward quickly over the next couple of years with various questions being asked of the theory and practice of flipped pedagogy. It is also important to look beyond the boundaries of a single programme or module. What are the effects of flipped pedagogy in module A on students’ learning (and or teachers’ classroom practices) within related non-flipped classrooms? Surely, if the theory is sound (in terms of gains in learning), the effects will extend beyond the immediate context?  Plenty to look out for in the literature.


Gilboy, M. B., Heinerichs, S. and Pazzaglia, G. (2015) Enhancing student engagement using the flipped classroom. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 47(1): 109 – 114.

McBride, C. (2015) Students’ attitudes and success during my first attempts at flipping. International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education, 6(2): 2174 – 2183.

Moffett. J. (2015) Twelve tips for ‘flipping’ the classroom. Medical Teacher, 37(4): 331 – 336.

O’Flaherty, J. and Phillips, C. (2015) The use of flipped classrooms in higher education: A scoping review. Internet and Higher Education, 25: 85 – 95.