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Experimenting with the flipped classroom

Two School of Business instructors are among the growing ranks of SAIT faculty who believe the "flipped classroom" teaching process results in greater student engagement and deeper learning.

The flipped classroom — also known as peer instruction — changes the traditional dynamic of lecture followed by a homework assignment. Rather, in a flipped setting, students have homework ahead of class; activities might include readings, videos, or textbook and online questions. Class time then focuses on applying concepts through practical and interactive work with peers.

Interaction drives learning

Steve Janz (in photo), School of Business instructor, had his first success with a flipped classroom five years ago and hasn't looked back. His research also led him to observe flipped settings at such leading schools as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of British Columbia.

The flipped classroom is hands-on, applied learning at its best, Janz believes.

"Most of the time, no one sits in my classroom," he says. "Instead of having students work on a problem individually, I'll have them organize into groups and head to the whiteboards.

"Everybody's talking, and it's chaotic, but it's a deeper learning process taking place than listening to a lecture. There's a different energy level standing at the whiteboard and engaging with your peers."

Following a class, students can watch videos Janz creates and posts to YouTube. Students view the videos at their convenience, and can replay them as many times as needed to grasp a concept.

Fresh learning styles

School of Business Instructor Cynthia Maier (in photo) began to experiment with the flipped classroom when, after a decade of lecturing to evening students, she started teaching daytime classes in auditing and taxation two years ago.

"In my first term, I realized my old teaching model was not engaging this younger generation of learners," says Maier.

That's when she decided to change her approach, from one of lecturer to that of a facilitator.

"A lecturer imparts knowledge, but a facilitator provides the tools for learning so that students are actively engaged in the learning process," says Maier.

Today, Maier employs a variety of techniques and activities — from scratch cards, to snowballs, to crosswords — in her classes.

"These activities have an aspect of novelty that students report keeps them interested and engaged. At least, they keep coming back to find out what will happen next!" Maier says.

As in Janz's courses, Maier's students work in groups from the minute they enter the classroom.

"It creates a lot more energy," she says.

Maier has also introduced the flipped classroom format in her evening and distance courses, with similar success.

"I thought I'd get more resistance from evening students because they're typically an older demographic, but that hasn't happened. They are engaged in the material."

Students weigh in

Kevan Mikkelsen recently completed his second year in the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) - Accounting program. He experienced the flipped classroom in Janz's Intermediate Financial Accounting II course.

"The flipped format promoted an encouraging learning environment," Mikkelsen says. "It has been my philosophy going through school that the best way to learn is by doing questions in class. The flipped format allowed this to happen by being able to work through questions more than once with my peers."

"Less lecture time, more understanding, and higher grades - what more can a student ask for?" Simrit Dosanjh, Bachelor of Business Administration student.Mikkelsen also gives Janz's YouTube videos a thumbs-up.

"They were great. I used them to study for quizzes. I could work through at my own pace, being able to pause when I needed more time to think, and skip sections when it was material I was already confident with."

Simrit Dosanjh earned her BBA Accounting degree this spring. She liked the flipped classroom format in Janz's Intermediate Financial Accounting II and Advanced Cost Accounting classes.

"Teaching the concepts to other students allowed us to really see if we knew the material enough to showcase it to another person," says Dosanjh. "Less lecture time, more understanding, and higher grades — what more can a student ask for?"

Award-winning duo

Janz and Maier are creating a buzz with their approach.

They're the recipients of the 2014 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award from the Alberta Colleges and Institutes Faculties Association (ACIFA) for their research into the use of PeerWise as a tool for knowledge retention in their flipped classrooms. PeerWise allows students to create and to explain their understanding of course-related assessment questions, and to answer and discuss questions generated by classmates.

The award includes a $1,000 grant Maier and Janz will use in research to advance the flipped classroom process.

Both instructors will deliver sessions on their flipped classroom experiences at the ACIFA conference later this month. And yes — those attending can expect to be learning themselves in a flipped classroom setting!

June 3, 2015

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