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‘Flipping’ the Classroom

By Jonathan Sherbino (@sherbino)

This past week I presented at the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians national conference on the “Flipped EM Classroom.” The discussions that stemmed from the session suggest that experimentation with the reverse/flip classroom is increasing. For example, Rahul Patwari (@rahulpatwari) and Stella Yiu (@Stella_Yiu) have developed an entire undergraduate EM curriculum using a flip design.  (See here)  I have also published the McMaster experience (with Teresa Chan (@TChanMD)) here.

Despite the recent attention to this instructional design, the flipped classroom is more than 20 years old. Eric Mazur, a Harvard physicist, first introduced the concept into his undergraduate classes. (He also developed a novel seating arrangement, where smart people sat on the edges and dumb people at the front.  But that’s for another post!)  In 2009 the Khan Academy was established, popularizing (6M students use the site each month) elements of the flipped classroom.

So, what is a flipped classroom?

A traditional classroom session (e.g. academic half day) requires little to no preparation from the learner. (Certainly, a small segment of self-motivated individuals will prepare, but this group is a small minority.) A core concept is introduced during the “class” by the faculty instructor via large group instructional methods (e.g. lecture), requiring all learners to grasp the concept simultaneously.  Higher order learning (e.g. applying core concepts, integrating the information with existing knowledge), resolving outstanding questions and trying to clear up any personal gaps in understanding are all left to the learner for after class….without help.

The flipped classroom rearranges this sequence.

Core concepts are introduced to the learner using media that has been specifically developed or curated (i.e. not every textbook, manuscript ever written on the subject) to provide a grounding in key concepts.  Flipping the introduction of core content before class, allows learners to process the material at a rate tailored to their personal needs.  Segments of a video (see the Khan academy for examples) can be re-watched until the concept is grasped. There is no need to learn at the identical rate of a classmate.

Of course, this instructional method is not a perfect solution. Deirdre Bonnycastle (@bonnycastle) describes some of the challenges to consider in running a flipped classroom.

The education theories that inform a flip classroom include:

I guess the biggest argument I see for flipping the classroom involves the instructor.  Why would an CE waste the valuable experience of a clinician (think of the thousands of  patient encounters, tens of thousands of hours of clinical experience) by having them deliver basic clinical concepts using a standardized Power Point template? Why not allow the clinician to leverage their experience by engaging learners (who arrive with a basic understanding of the concept) to explore more complex and specific (to the learner and group) ideas.

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