Learner-Shaped Technology

July 31, 2012

Designing In-Class Activities in the Flipped and Blended Learning Classroom: An Example

Filed under: blended-learning,design,flipped-classroom,general — Mike W @ 1:28 pm

Overview:  This post provides information about blended learning / flipped classroom modules that we developed for classes that involve creating and analyzing maps.  I briefly discuss the reasoning behind our design as well express my hope that more of the dialog surrounding blended learning and flipping the classroom will focus on resources that help guide the design of effective in-class activities. The modules can be found at https://sites.google.com/a/trinity.edu/acs_grant_gis/home .

There’s been a great deal of chatter recently about the “flipped classroom” and “blended learning”.  If we’re to have deeper dialog, I think it’s important to note that the real conversation is about design. Effective teachers strive to design environments (whether physical or digital) that set the stage for in-class interactions that are rigorous, robust, analytical, dynamic and lead to deeper learning.  Online components are a great resource to help optimize time together; however, the design process is much more complicated than simply inverting in- and out-of-class activities. I’m grateful that these new terms have the potential to inspire a renewed focus on assignment and course design, but the idea behind the flipped classroom is hardly new. Much of our work with faculty at the Center for Teaching and Learning has revolved around designing strategies that help move in-class activities away from the dissemination of information towards more active student analysis and synthesis. Instructors have been doing this long before these terms became popular.

Much of the recent discussion seems to be about moving current lectures online (and the technology to enable this), with class time being used for having students “work in groups to solve problems”—almost as an afterthought.   I’m hoping the dialog will continue to evolve to include more discussion about how to design these in-class sessions more effectively so that students do more than just work in parallel or share algorithms.  Designing these in-class activities is difficult and where the rubber truly meets the road. Simply putting students in groups (after they’ve watched a lecture online) to solve poorly designed problems is a recipe for failure and frustration.  Flipped interactions which hinge on poorly designed in-class sessions are unlikely to promote deeper conceptual understanding and realize the full potential of supplementing classes with online resources.

Just a few resources for designing better in-class problems that I’ve found to be helpful:

Now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Through a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South, I’ve been working with Jeremy Donald at Trinity University to design blended learning modules that can be used in any course in which analyzing and creating maps plays and important role. Here are a couple pertinent FAQs from the project:

Q: Are you just trying to move lectures out of class?
A: Not at all. We’ve attempted to do more than just move lectures and GIS “how-tos” online.  You’ll notice in the videos that our focus isn’t so much on tools, but more on concepts. Our goal is to help develop an environment in which students can begin to think more critically about maps and visualization (before they dig into the nuts and bolts of creating maps).   We’re hoping that by introducing students to some concepts and questions outside of class, in-class time can be used to amp up the opportunity for analysis and synthesis.

Q: What’s guiding your design?
A: We are both Kolb Learning Cycle junkies and have been impressed with the results of using Kolb’s Learning Cycle as an assignment and course design framework. Kolb’s paradigm involves a cycle of exploration, reflection, conceptualization, and application.  Our experience is that leading with exploration (whether it be a lab, open-ended question, computer simulation, webcast, etc.) engages and helps students build a framework on which to situate new experiences with prior knowledge, establishing a path towards deep understanding.  Our goal is to move some of the stages of the cycle online to free up class time for application and synthesis.

We’d love to know the answers to the following questions:

1) How’d we do?  How can the modules be improved?  Can you use these in your courses?
2) What principles and resources have you found helpful in designing meaningful in-class problems for students to attack?  How do you design and utilize online environments to set the stage for more meaningful in-class interaction?

Image sources:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/98715075@N00/410132468/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/37113212@N08/5308079192/


  1. Thank you for these links! I need to learn more about asking good discussion questions, how much time questions take, and what exactly I’ll be asking for from students. I have seem brief glimpses of success, so I know this is a useful model.

    Comment by Jenny — August 2, 2012 @ 7:55 am

  2. Thanks Jenny! Check out conceptual workshops in the Finkel book. I tried this out in my first GIS lab and was really happy with the results. I still have some tweaking to do, but the design is definitely worth using again!

    Comment by Mike W — August 2, 2012 @ 10:07 am

  3. […] I think it’s somewhat natural for teachers to activate experience and provide opportunities for students to reflect and situate new ideas in the physical classroom.  I’m not sure this is so natural online.  So as we look at the flow of the ‘flipped classroom’ let’s add an element right at the beginning—student experience and reflection. This way, passive information reception isn’t the students’ first exposure.  When I think about the flipped classroom movement, I’m both wary and excited. There are some serious traps; however, executed with design at the forefront, the opportunities are vast.  We certainly have our work cut out for us.  Not only do we have to provide information online in a compelling way, but we have to design student experiences that make the content meaningful. Oh, and then there’s the business of designing in-class activities. […]

    Pingback by The Flipped Classroom: Traps and Before the Lecture « Learner-Shaped Technology — November 20, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

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