How to Flip a Class, Course, or Curriculum

Osmosis Team
Published on Jun 24, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Simply put, a flipped classroom operates by assigning lectures and didactic learning as independent study. In-class time is then used for collaborative group work, or to review and flesh out the subject material introduced earlier. There are several benefits to this approach, including improved learning outcomes, increased student engagement, and greater accuracy in instructional assessment.

Transitioning to the flipped model requires a considerable front-end effort, but it’s easy to test the waters with a single class. If you’re interested in a more robust implementation, try flipping one of your courses from start to finish. The latter approach paves your way to an entirely flipped curriculum. Ready to get started? Follow the guide below to learn how to flip a class, course, or curriculum.

Flipping a Class

Step 1. Preparing for the flip. Since in-person courses have moved online to slow the COVID-19 pandemic, video conference platforms have seen widespread adoption. This shift allows you to flip a class, or multiple classes, with relative ease. Zoom, WebEx, Skype, and Google Hangouts all feature a record function. Use this function when presenting your slide deck, advance each slide as you deliver your lecture, and end the recording when the lecture is complete. If that option doesn’t appeal to you, use the video camera on your laptop or mobile device to record a mock lecture. Apps like Camtasia will raise your production value, but in the age of Snapchat and TikTok, raw video is fairly normalized. In other words, your students don’t expect professional video editing, and their learning outcomes rest more on content than on form. 

Recording your own lectures requires some effort, and pre-recorded materials are a viable alternative, especially in health professions education. Assigning readings as pre-work is another solid alternative, and both strategies can be used in tandem. No matter which approach is right for you, most of your flipped class transition work will be focused on redesigning synchronous, in-class time. 

Step 2. The live portion of your first flip. Classes formerly devoted to lectures can now be devoted to lecture review, and this shift moves students from passive learning to active learning. With this in mind, consider the implementation of team-based learning activities (TBL), Problem-based learning (PBL), or other active classroom learning strategies. These include polling, peer-led activities, trivia games, pair-share, and small-group peer review. Opening or closing your in-class time with a Q&A forum may be useful as well. Begin by asking students if there’s any information from the pre-recorded lecture that requires clarification. Then replay relevant lecture clips, pause them, and address any areas of confusion with in-depth explanations or additional context.

Tips for In-Class Success. Assume that students have completed their pre-work and actually hold them accountable for having completed it. In other words—don’t just reteach what you already taught in the pre-work! As soon as you hold students accountable for doing pre-work for your in-class sessions, at least some of your students will actually do it—and they’ll set the bar for others to follow. Once that’s taken care of, consider your class size and design tasks accordingly. TBL and PBL, for instance, are best-suited for small groups, whereas an open Q&A forum works well for larger courses. If you plan to use TBL in the latter case, simply divide your classroom into multiple teams.

Additional Considerations. Reach out to peers and support staff. If your peer lecturers are in the process of designing flipped classrooms, or if they’ve already made the leap, ask them what’s working and what isn’t. Do the same with your institution’s IT support and instructional design teams. By adjusting your approach based on their insights, you’ll establish a consistent format across courses—and ease your students’ transition to the flipped model.

Flipping a Course

Reaching out to peers and support staff is a vital step when building your first entirely flipped course. If you’re a lecturer, start by meeting with your course director to devise a game plan. If you’re a course director, start by meeting with your peers to learn which strategies have been successful. You may discover that you’re the first Course Director to make the transition, and that means gaining buy-in from the Dean or Curriculum Director. Securing support from administrative leadership lays the groundwork for a successful pilot program and increases the potential for additional resources.

Once you’re ready to get started, try to remember that perfect is the enemy of good, and every semester or academic year is a built-in opportunity for course improvement. Dr. Amin Azzam, former Director of Problem-Based Learning at the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, employs the 70% rule: “If you get an innovation to 70% of what you want it to be, launch it, because health educators are perfectionists and will spend forever on the last 30%.” Try to set realistic goals by applying the following framework: Ask yourself “Who will achieve how much of what by when? Who (the student or faculty) will achieve how much of what (quantifying a specific teaching or learning objective) by when (the end of the class/course/curriculum)?” No matter the answers, you’ll want to design your first flipped course with room for adjustment. Try to keep learning milestones and instructional assessment in mind as you go, and make sure you invite student feedback throughout the entire process. What’s working for students and what isn’t? How can the transition be modified to increase student engagement?

Finally, look to other institutions, course directors, and faculty who’ve successfully created, launched, and improved flipped courses. Dr. Todd Wills, director of the University of South Florida’s Physician Assistant program offers helpful guidance, as does Loretta Krautscheid, assistant professor at the University of Portland’s School of Nursing. Duke University’s School of Nursing also posts helpful information on flipped course implementation.

Flipping a Curriculum

As researchers noted in a 2014 article, flipped classrooms are effective for several key reasons, including that they improve student motivation and competence, and through active learning offer them opportunities to develop expertise: 

Given these benefits, your faculty, course directors, students, and administrators may be ready to make the move to an entirely flipped curriculum. But that doesn’t mean the process will be a swift one. You’re likely to encounter a few skeptics and late adopters, and full-scale institutional change is a far more complicated endeavor than flipping a few courses. Be prepared to work with faculty and administrators to design, revise, and redesign a flipped curriculum. Development timelines and launch dates will require thought, revision, and consensus as well. 

As you work toward a flipped curriculum, students will play a vital role in the implementation process. They’re equally impacted by the transition, and students who’ve already completed flipped courses can serve as powerful advocates for change. These learners can speak directly to the benefits of a flipped pedagogy, and their testimonials may prove invaluable as you seek buy-in from administrators and faculty.

Seeking out successful institutional examples will further support and guide your efforts. As the AAMC reports, both Stanford Medical School and the University of Vermont’s Robert Larner College of Medicine are proponents of flipped learning. The UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program is another notable example, establishing an entirely flipped curriculum more than ten years ago (a transition that took two years to complete). Like many flipped curriculum students, those at UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program hone their teamwork, critical thinking, and communication skills through active learning. These skills not only contribute to their success as students, but to their success as health professionals.

Transitioning to flipped teaching models takes time and dedication, and that’s the case whether you’re flipping a class, a course, or an entire curriculum. Try to remember that establishing new pedagogies is often a process of trial and error. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate the small wins as you go. You absolutely should! From recording your first video lecture to designing your first active classroom tasks, from collaborating with course directors to modeling self-directed learning, the journey from a traditional to a flipped classroom is worth it, every step of the way.

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