The Post-Lecture Classroom: How Will Students Fare?

Flipped Classroom

Russell Mumper, Vice Dean of the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, teaches his “flipped” Pharmaceutics class. (Echo360)

A new study finds moderate student gains in courses where lectures take place at home and “homework” happens in the classroom.

Written by Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic

If college professors spent less time lecturing, would their students do better?

A three-year study examining student performance in a “flipped classroom” — a class in which students watch short lecture videos at home and work on activities during class time — has found statistically significant gains in student performance in “flipped” settings and significant student preference for “flipped” methods.

The study, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, is one of the first to examine a “flipped” classroom in the current state of its technology. Russell Mumper, a Vice Dean at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, conducted the study, and two separate articles based on its findings are now in press in the journals Academic Medicine and The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. The education technology company Echo360, whose technology was used in the classes examined, funded the study with a $10,000 grant.

The study examined three years of a foundational pharmaceutics course, required for all doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students attending UNC. In 2011, Mumper taught the course in a standard, PowerPoint-aided lecture format. In 2012 and 2013, he taught it using “flipped” methods. Student performance on an identical final exam improved by 2.5 percent between 2011 and 2012—results now in press at Academic Medicine—and by an additional 2.6 percent in 2013. Overall, student performance on an identical final exam improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent.

Students also came to prefer the flipped model to the lecture model. While 75 percent of students in 2012 said, before Mumper’s class, that they preferred lectures, almost 90 percent of students said they preferred the flipped modelafter the class.

“As I always like to say, we flipped their preference,” Mumper told me. “They went from largely wanting and valuing lectures to just the opposite.”

Comments from a student echoed that change in preferences. “It was a little hard to get used to begin with,” Natalie Young, a second-year doctorate of pharmacy student at UNC said, of Mumper’s class. “But then, as I got going with it, I realized that [the “flipped” class] was actually facilitating my learning.”

“Overall, I’d say the study adds a useful contribution to the growing literature on flipped instruction and active learning in higher education,” Justin Reich, a Harvard researcher, said about its findings. The study was “about as good a quasi-experimental study as could be done,” he added on the phone.

* * *

So: In one setting, in one class, over 3 years, student performance improved in a statistically significant way in a flipped classroom model. That’s the news. Educational studies, especially studies of this type, are difficult to place into context. They are quasi-experimental. Their samples are determined by circumstance, not by random assortment. And, as here, they’re often underwritten by private companies, with agendas of their own.

Not that that’s a bad thing. Education rises and falls in specificity, and if digital educational technology ever permeates a classroom in a big way, college or otherwise, it will be a specific technology, likely sold by a specific company. Every use will be used in a specific setting. So it’s worth examining Dean Mumper’s class to see how technology specifically shaped it: how “the Internet,” a large and nebulous thing, specifically changed the experiences of his students…continue reading.

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