Engage Millennials With a Flipped Classroom

Use these helpful resources and flip your next class.

May 10, 2016

A professor pontificating before a passive class of students? That’s so 20th century. Flipped classrooms are turning education on its head in the new millennium.

“Flipping a classroom is a commitment to completely change way the way you approach teaching,” said Anthony Amoruso, Ph.D., an assistant professor of accounting at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro who formerly worked as a CPA for Arthur Andersen.

In a flipped classroom, students “attend” lectures on their own time, watching videos or listening to podcasts created by the instructor. They come to class prepared (in theory, at least) to apply what they’ve learned, often teaming up with classmates to work through problems in groups.

It’s a natural fit for Millennials, a generation raised on electronic screens.

“Students don’t want that straight lecture format anymore,” said Markus Ahrens, CPA, CGMA, department chair for Accounting and Legal Studies at St. Louis Community College. “They’re really looking for more of what I’ll call a valued learning environment. If they’re going to spend the time in the classroom, they don’t want to sit there and just have to listen. They want to be active.”

Attendance has improved and grades are averaging half a letter grade higher since he started flipping his classes five years ago, Ahrens said. He saw the improvement in grades in the very first semester he used a partially flipped classroom model.

There are plenty of advantages to flipping a classroom, instructors say. It allows a deeper dive into material and may allow instructors to cover more over the course of a semester than they would via traditional methods. Students can absorb lectures at their own pace, repeating passages without slowing anyone else down. Working through problems in class allows instructors to determine issues that are tripping students up and help everyone get on the same page.

The flipped classroom is also an important evolution for education in an interconnected world. “Our goal is to up their game,” said G. Peter Wilson, Ph.D., a professor of accounting at Boston College, where he teaches in partnership with his wife, Carolyn. “We’re actually pushing them harder than they would be pushed in a traditional classroom. Our belief is that students have to up their game to be competitive in the global economy.”

Instructors prepare videos using a variety of tools, often talking over on-screen examples from spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and other materials to create more visual interest than a static image of a lecture. No video camera is necessary for such “screencast” presentations. Programs and apps—many of them free—such as Camtasia Studio, Doceri, Jing, Screencast-O-Matic, Screenr, Adobe Creative Suite, and Microsoft Office Suite help in the preparation of video lectures. The Wilsons prepare their videos at home over summer breaks using their own hardware and software. Cynthia R. Phillips, CPA, Ed.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Accounting and Taxation at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., uses a combination of school resources and her own hardware and software.

Faculty upload their videos to a platform operated by their schools or an online video channel such as YouTube or Vimeo. Examples, such Ahrens’ and the Wilsons’ videos, are readily available online.

Here are a few tips for instructors interested in flipping their classroom:

Ask around. Colleagues may already be flipping and have useful advice. The school may have resources in place for creating and posting video lectures. The IT department is a good place to start. Other professors have already created and shared content online, Carolyn Wilson said.

“Not everyone has to be a video-content creator for the classroom,” she said. “There are lots of resources.”

Helpful online resources include:

Start slowly. Professors who have partly or completely flipped their classrooms learned the hard way not to do too much too soon. Amoruso, for example, had early technical glitches to work out: The microphone he used forced him to speak in a monotone to be clearly audible, resulting in boring lectures. A new, higher-quality mic solved that problem.

Instructors who start too fast may find themselves in over their heads with an unfamiliar process, or they may not allow themselves time to correct errant trajectories. Students accustomed to more traditional classroom lectures may balk at the increased responsibility placed on their shoulders or otherwise need time to adjust to the flipped-classroom model.

“Don’t over-commit,” Phillips said. “Consider flipping your classes one lesson at a time, one chapter at a time. Experiment with the flipped approach and see how it goes for that particular unit.”

Adapt based on student feedback. One advantage to starting slow is that you can make adjustments to your class along the way

“See how the students react,” Ahrens said. “Get feedback from them on what they like or didn’t like about the process.”

Instructors get feedback via multiple sources, including immediate classroom response and formal course evaluations administered by their schools. The Wilsons schedule lunches with the groups in their courses where they directly ask students what is working well and what they can do better.

Keep lectures short. Faculty who flip their classrooms often break their lectures down into multiple parts. Phillips aims to keep hers between 10 and 20 minutes long. Amoruso finds his students respond best to much shorter videos, around three to seven minutes apiece.

Feedback from students has led Ahrens to tailor his videos for viewing while riding on public transportation.

“They would rather have five videos at 15 minutes long than to have one 90-minute video,” he said. “If they’re on a bus or a train, they can listen to a 15- or 20-minute video, but they would never start up a 90-minute video.”

Hold students accountable. There are multiple approaches to encouraging students to watch video lectures outside of class. They include quizzing students on the content at the beginning of class and requiring classroom participation that demonstrates knowledge of the lecture material.

Phillips takes a slightly different tack. “I don’t hold students accountable for pre-class reading or videos by quizzing or testing them,” she said. Instead, she gives them graded in-class active learning assignments based on the work they do outside of class. “So students quickly figure out that the pre-class work is critical,” she said.

Eddie Huffman is a Burlington, N.C.-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, email lead editor Courtney Vien at academicnews@aicpa.org.

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