13- Flippin’ Crazy?

This is my little rah-rah support team.  Pretty sure they don't feel neglected!
This is my little rah-rah support team. Pretty sure they don’t feel neglected!

I was in my office the other day when a colleague stopped by unexpectedly and began offering advice.  I always appreciate hearing different perspectives, but when he started telling me that I spend too much time flipping my classes and not enough time home with my kids, I had to struggle to maintain objectivity.  Perhaps his comments hit a nerve simply because I am (of course) engaged in the familiar, guilt-ridden battle between motherhood and career.  But I found it really interesting that he focused particularly on the FLIP.  So I spent some time thinking about the flip…and whether or not the time I’m investing in the pedagogy is WORTH IT.

While I do not in any way shape or form agree that I’m neglecting my family, I do agree that flipping my classes requires a ridiculous amount of time and I’m far from satisfied with the results. My list of complaints about my approach is lengthy.

  1. My video lectures are long and I tend to ramble.
  2. If I change the order in which I cover content, the video lectures end up filled with confusing references.
  3. Sometimes I say things that are incorrect…and these mistakes are on my PERMANENT record, unless I re-record the lectures!  Yikes.
  4. I’m a relatively new teacher and I always want to improve my stuff. Updating video lectures is really time consuming!
  5. Even with the amazing resources in the APS Life Science Teaching Resources Community, my class activities are sometimes too basic and become boring.
  6. My class activities are sometimes too complicated and become overwhelming.
  7. I never really feel like I have enough time to completely PREPARE for any week.
  8. I never EVER feel like I “nailed it.”  EVER.

So as my colleague criticized my priorities, I took a tired breath and wondered WHY I keep flipping.  But in spite of every single imperfection, I honestly cannot imagine going back to the traditional approach.  I get to assume my students have covered the content when they come into my class.  I feel good about holding them to a higher standard than I might otherwise.  And I love the opportunities to talk about the content in a curious and meaningful way, every single time I see them, because  I don’t have to “cover everything.”  I’ve already covered it!

The simple fact is that my students are more engaged now than they were before I started flipping.  Yes—it is far from perfect.  But I guess it is worth it to me.

12- Flippin’ Activities: Variety is Good

Even spider variety is good...(or interesting, at least!)
Even spider variety is good…(or interesting, at least!)

It is hard to believe that I have almost two years of flipping experience under my belt.  Sometimes flipping feels so crazy that I forget to acknowledge how much extra work is required to pull it all together. And there are so many layers in a successful classroom, flipped or not, that it is often quite challenging to effectively steer the ship.

During my first year of flipping, I spent most of my time recording video lectures.  This left the actual class time VERY unstructured, and I relied primarily on student questions posed DURING class to fill that time.  I struggled with low attendance throughout my first flipped year and I was chronically dissatisfied with the quality of student engagement during the “new” lecture hour.  In my second year of flipping, I reused most of my video lectures (for better or for worse).  This freed up my time to use the Life Science Teaching Resource Community (the Archive of Teaching Resources has a new name!) to improve the quality of my class activities. This, in conjunction with the fact that I also started using clickers (for which students earn 5% of their course grade), has improved the class tremendously, in my opinion.  But my students expressed a different opinion the other day when I failed to prepare a set of clicker-activities for my class on “Blood.”

First, I did NOT admit to my students that I was unprepared.  (Ahem.)  Instead, I started class by asking them what they thought was the most important concept in the lecture.  This began the discussion and I capitalized on their questions and confusions to engage them in a 90 minute review session.  At the end of the 90 minutes, several of them made a pronounced effort to tell me how helpful the class had been that day.  They actually explained that sometimes the interesting and creative activities I facilitate require so much application and critical thinking that, in their minds, they don’t get a chance to really review the material from the previous night’s lecture.  This was such an interesting perspective and while I can not concede that the “easier” review session was BETTER than the more challenging application tasks, it did make me think about the value of VARIETY in the flipped class.  We all know that Anatomy and Physiology are really challenging courses.  But we’re coaches, and good coaches push their players hard, but they also know when to let up and make sure their players know they can be successful.  The take home message for me?  Variety is good.

11- Be Heard!

Robin_Hood_(1922)_-_Allan_Dwan
Even if you DON’T have access to the world’s biggest microphone (!), you can STILL make your voice heard!

I’ve talked about how valuable the HAPS email listserv is  (join HAPS and sign up for the listserv to see for yourself!) and I’ve analyzed WHY the listserv is so valuable.  It comes down to the active engagement of a knowledgeable community.  The APS Archive of Teaching Resources has the tools necessary to facilitate a similarly engaged community.

I noticed this when I was browsing the Archive.  I created an account with them which allows me to personalize my interactions with the archive via a tool called “myAPSarchive.”  This tool shows up on the left side of the website when I sign in, and posts suggestions for things I might like, based on the preferences I set when I registered.  I was delighted to find a collection of resources on “Interactive Lectures” posted there tonight.  Once you have an account, you can create your own collections.  This is a fantastic option for saving a group of resources related to similar topics!  But even if you don’t create your own, it is really fun to explore the collections posted by OTHERS.  I usually find topic-based collections (check out this cool collection on “Diabetes“), but I was excited to find this  collection based on pedagogy.

Here is where I so clearly see the value of the COMMUNITY.  The “Interactive Lectures” collection was rated by 3 people and had earned a total “star” score of 4.7 out of 5 (the rating  asks you how helpful the resource will be for your teaching).  Once you’ve created an account, rating the collections and activities is as simple as clicking on the stars.  And the more people that rate a collection or activity, the more valuable those stars become.  But  you can also comment on the resources at the bottom of the page.  These comments are very helpful and often provide insight into how the resource can be used.  The “Interactive Lectures” collection has two very thoughtful comments.

I think it is important that if we JOIN the archive community, that we also CONTRIBUTE to the community.  It is easy to do…and we HAPSters are good at it!  So be heard!

10- What if Students Don’t Flip?

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Sometimes The Flip flops…

One of the most common questions I field about flipping my classes relates to handling the non-flippers.  I had a conversation with a colleague the other day about strategies for dealing with students who don’t flip course content before attending class.  She is a speech teacher and as we talked, I realized how LUCKY I am to teach Anatomy and Physiology.  My students often demonstrate an intense level of intrinsic motivation to understand the material, because most of the course content relates directly to the careers they are choosing to pursue.  So when she asked what I do when my students don’t flip, I hesitated.  Because the fact is, I do nothing.  If my students fail to come to class prepared, they will be fundamentally confused by the activities we are doing in class.  Most of my students don’t like this.  Additionally, the questions asked by the non-flippers (if they dare ask any) often reveal that they didn’t adequately prepare for class. I try to be kind when I tell them that I covered their question in detail during the video lecture and gently remind them that in a flipped class, they should probably watch the lecture BEFORE coming to class.  I’ve had some students confide in me that they DIDN’T watch the online lecture…ONCE.  And they were so lost and confused that they never repeated that mistake.  But this is in a class full of really motivated students.  So how can instructors ensure students come to class prepared?

I’ve been playing with the idea of making my clicker questions count for real points.  Right now, I give students 100% of their clicker points just for showing up to class and participating. (Clicker points count for 5% of their total course grade.)  Honestly, the idea of holding students accountable for correct answers on these clicker questions makes me really tired, because in addition to being very motivated to understand the material, my students are also very motivated to collect every single possible point, even if it means fighting to the death with their exhausted instructor (that would be me).  I find that my clicker questions (mostly multiple choice) often initiate extremely interesting debates and I gain insights into the thinking that guides their decision making.  I also get to vet my questions–and my students are excellent critics.  I’m not sure I could handle the bookkeeping drama that would accompany a change in my clicker policy.

Other instructors require quizzes or other pre-class assessments to “prove” students flipped the content.  I also think this would be an amazing thing to do…but only if I had the time to build really meaningful, interactive, and challenging assessments that easily fed into my LMS and required no grading.  Ahem.

I think one of the best things to do is to simply facilitate activities during class time that are so engaging and interesting that students really WANT to come to class prepared.  I’d say I get a C- in this area right now…which I suppose just means I have lots of room to improve!

9- Blood Pressure

Image of an alarm clock (in the public domain)
This device is not my friend.

It is late.  We lost an hour this morning, which means my alarm clock is going to be particularly vile when it cheerfully erupts in about 6 hours.  And I can’t go to bed quite yet, because I am still preparing for my physiology class on Blood Pressure in the morning.  I started my preparations by reviewing my flipped video lecture on the topic.  This was a painful task, as I quickly found about 62 improvements I would LOVE to make to that set of video lectures.  (This is an unfortunate aspect of the flip: improving one’s lectures requires a significant input of time that is usually unavailable during the semester.)

As I watched my lecture with steadily increasing disgruntlement, I decided to look for interesting activities to engage students in my  morning class.  I turned to the APS Archive for inspiration and when I resurfaced an hour later, I had about 62 new activities that I was really excited to try (out of 151 hits on my very broad “blood pressure” search).  (This is another unfortunate aspect of the flip: developing/vetting activities to replace “lecture” requires a significant input of time that usually is subtracted from the sleep column.)

While it is highly unlikely that I will be able to pull any of these activities together for class in 7 hours, I thought I’d share the WEALTH that is OUT THERE for you flippin’ crazies who are trying to add more active learning to your lecture time.  Here are three of the 151 hits on my “blood pressure” search.

  1. Laboratory activity: This article from Advances in Physiological Education describes a medical school’s efforts to replace a cardiovascular physiology lab that made use of anesthetized critters with one that makes use of fully conscious med students instead.
  2. Flow diagrams: This resource contains complex flow diagrams that are visually interesting and informative.  I have a very VISUAL brain and I love the idea of students building flow diagrams like these.
  3. Case study: This case focuses on neural control of the cardiovascular system.  It is extremely comprehensive and describes a scenario with a pregnant mama going into labor.

This is just a smattering of the amazing resources cataloged in the Archive of Teaching Resources.  Anyone else out there interested in adding MORE hours to each day?  Ahhhh, one can dream.  Enjoy the week!

7- Active Learning Makes Me Happy

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Sometimes my class is a party…

Maybe you are starting to get a sense of this, but I like it when my students are happy. I often use their satisfaction as evidence that a technique or lesson is “successful.”  I understand that happiness may or may not correlate with LEARNING, but I can’t seem to shake the drive to make my students happy (though I am unwilling to give them extra credit or “easy” exams to accomplish this.)  My push to make happy students isn’t linked to the external requirement for positive student evaluations; I am still technically a part-time instructor and we are officially evaluated ONCE every THREE YEARS. But I still find my pedagogy revolves around what students LIKE.  While I think there are some very important reasons to stay true to this intention, I had an interesting experience this week that might provide an important nudge away from the “do what it takes to make students happy” camp.

We began the skeletal system in Human Anatomy on Tuesday.  This lab is notorious on our campus for being the point at which quantity of content PLATEAUS.  The labs prior to the bone lab are progressively more challenging, but none of the labs after the bone lab are MORE difficult (though they certainly are not easier!)  I always note that if you can master the bone lab, you are ready to handle the rest of the course.

Because of the notorious difficulty of the lab, I came up with a task for students to carry out during their three hour lab period.  I divided our bones into 6 stations (skull, superior limbs, pelvis, etc), provided groups with sticker tags, and asked them to create a practical quiz for their assigned station.  I then gave them about 20 minutes to create the quiz for their station, complete with an answer key, and then I had them move through the stations and take each others’ quizzes.  I found the experience a little exhausting in my morning lab, because there was a general undercurrent of disgruntlement about the activity that just made me tired.  So when the afternoon lab came in, I ended up giving them a CHOICE: they could do my activity, or study on their own.  All of the students in the afternoon lab chose to study on their own and the general mood was much more pleasant.

And then I graded their quizzes, which were given to each group at the end of their lab sessions.  Ready?

The early lab (who DID the activity) scored an average of 1.2 points higher on their 10 point quiz when compared to the late lab (who studied on their own).  Now these are students who FIGHT to the DEATH about one point on a 100 point exam…so this difference will be perceived as ENORMOUS for my team.  Of course, I wondered if perhaps my afternoon students were always…more challenged than the early group, so I compared the averages for the two previous quizzes.  One quiz had the early lab leading by 0.2 points and the other quiz had the late lab leading by 0.1 points.  That counts as a wash in Wendy-land.

...and sometimes not.
…and sometimes it isn’t.

This was a “moment” for me. I won’t ever ditch the idea that happy students learn more and I really believe that the ability to motivate students is a powerful teaching tool.  But I do think I need to follow my instincts and require my students to do the same, whether they are happy, or not.

6- Case Studies

The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Logo
The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science is an absolute treasure trove of interesting cases!

After spending nearly a year recording video lectures for my flipped classes, I have finally arrived at a semester in which MOST of the lectures have been recorded (for better or worse) and I am able to focus my time on improving the quality of the ACTIVITIES we do during class time.  Although I am painfully critical of the quality of my existing video lectures, I am grateful to finally have more time to work on the class activities.

I am always intrigued by case studies and if you haven’t taken a look at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, you really need to check it out.  This resource is included in the APS Archive and it is literally a gold mine of interesting cases.  I’ve signed up for their email listserv and receive monthly updates describing new cases they’ve recently posted.  When I get these emails, I usually end up wishing I taught more classes, because the topics are so engaging.  I was particularly interested in checking out a relatively recent case about Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees.

The group also facilitates an annual summer workshop where participants explore different kinds of case studies, and then write and deliver their own cases to a guinea pig group of undergrads who offer feedback on the experience.  Someday, when I figure out how to squeeze 48 hours out of each 24, I would LOVE to participate in this conference.   But there are other sources of case studies for use in the flipped classroom.  One of my favorite workshops at the HAPS Annual Conference last year in Las Vegas was Cherie McKeever’s workshop on writing your own case studies.  She also offers an online summer class on how to write and implement fun cases.

I am going to experiment with a clicker-based case study on hearing loss this week in Human Physiology.  I will keep you posted!

Squirrel!
Squirrel!