Moving away from mass lectures

In the Flipped Classroom project ongoing at UEF, more than 40 enthusiastic teachers have flipped their classrooms upside down. But what does flipping actually mean, and how have students responded to flipped classroom pilots?

The goal of the Ameba research team is to develop the learning environments based on the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) strategy, i.e., to introduce alternative or new teaching methods and to further develop them on the basis of research. At the moment, the team focuses on the flipped classroom teaching method, or more colloquially, “flipping”.

The Ameba team comprises researchers from the School of Educational Sciences and Psychology and the School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education of the Philosophical Faculty, and from the Department of Applied Physics. The team also constitutes part of the LINE research area at UEF.

The team’s Research Coordinator Erkko Sointu explains the motivation for flipping the classroom.

“In the traditional model, students come to class and then go home to do their homework. In the flipped model, however, students watch the lectures and other materials available relating to the topic online before coming to class, and class time is used for dealing with questions and problems arising from the lectures.”

In other words, traditional lecturing is becoming a thing of the past.

“In mass lectures, the teacher pours information on students, and students do what they can to grasp scattered pieces of information. The majority of time is spent on listening or taking notes – and when it’s time to ask questions, students haven’t had a chance to think them.”

According to Sointu, it is frustrating to come together without really making use of the time.

“While watching videos, people can pause videos, critically think and reflect on the content they are studying and, if needed, they can search for additional information to obtain deeper understanding for learning. The level of learning becomes different with the possibility for deeper understanding compared to taking notes during a lecture – although this, too, depends on the learner. When a course is flipped, a theoretical topic or content area on the video can be taken to the level of practice in the classroom, and students can work together to develop their understanding of it.”

Sointu points out that it is not necessary to use videos, as other materials work well, too.

“For teachers, however, turning their lecture materials into videos is a relatively easy way to start modifying their teaching.”

Enthusiastic teachers

Flipping changes the role of the teacher too.

“Teacher-centred teaching moves more towards student-centred learning. The teacher can bring his or her expertise available to the students and answer the good and challenging questions students have come up with while watching the videos or working together.”

How widespread is the flipped classroom model, and how has it been received among the staff?

“We’ve come to notice that we are pioneers in Finland at the scale level. It seems that we are the only Finnish university implementing the flipped classroom model to this extent.”

The first flipped classroom implementation at the UEF attracted more than 40 teachers from all campuses and faculties, from a total of 25 different academic departments. The first implementation ends during 2017.

“However, we are starting a new round, Flipping 2.0, with 50 teachers participating. In other words, nearly 100 teachers at UEF are soon familiar with flipping.”

Students’ experience

The perception of students relating to the flipped classroom model have been studied with surveys conducted in connection with flipped courses. Sointu is pleased with the response rates and with the excellent collaboration with the teachers. He says that the data analysis is still in an early stage, and that opinions vary. However, with the initial data, 85% of the respondents consider the flipped classroom model suitable for them.

“We are now doing a more detailed analysis of the data. There’s been great cooperation between research and teaching, and students have been active in responding to our surveys. For that, I’d like to thank both our teachers and students.”

Part of pedagogical studies?

The flipped classroom model is the first step in modifying the challenging content-related expertise of teachers in a direction that can be more easily absorbed by students. However, Sointu emphasises that this may not be a universal solution.

“We are trying to find out how well this could work as a general model. The Department of Applied Physics has adopted the flipped classroom model, resulting in more efficient and better learning. The question is whether the model will work in all disciplines. Of course, that’s a sum of many factors, and that’s what we are trying to find out.”

The plans for the near future include hopes of additional funding in order to dig deeper into the phenomenon. The idea is to study how the flipped classroom model could be implemented in partner universities, too.

“At the moment, this is referred to as ‘UEF’s flipped model’. We are hoping to include the flipped classroom model into the pedagogical studies available in our university. We are currently implementing the first phase of flipping at UEF, but our thoughts are already in the spring and in the start of the next phase.”

For further information, please contact:
Postdoctoral Researcher Erkko Sointu

Text: Kalle Saarela
Photos: Varpu Heiskanen