Dr. Jamie Jensen: Active or Flipped?
Discipline-based education researcher Dr. Jamie Jensen, Assistant Professor of Biology at Brigham Young University (BYU), Provo, UT, is out to discover whether it’s the Active part of lessons, rather than the Flipped part that plays the biggest role in student achievement. While Jensen has just begun that quest, her recent paper, published in Life Sciences Education, Improvements from a Flipped Classroom May Simply Be the Fruits of Active Learning, points in the direction of something educators have known for quite some time—actively engaged students achieve. Is it active, more that flipped, that should be the priority? Dr. Jensen sat down with Connect Learning Today for an interview to discuss the possibilities, as well as future investigations.
Dr. Jamie Jensen, Research and Assistant Professor at BYU—In her own words:
As an education researcher, I’m always interested in quantitative, hard-type methods, especially with my background in hard science. I started to see the “Flipped Classroom” sweeping the nation, as a very popular trend in education. Flipped has become a buzzword for administrators, and faculty, to say they’re involved in the latest stuff. I took an interest in it, too. When I look at flipped from a pedagogical standpoint, though, I’m hesitant. I think, It puts so much on the student? Can they handle it? Can it be done successfully at the high school level? I was interested, but very concerned from a pedagogical theory standpoint about this flipped model.
So, I started looking at the literature to see if educators were having success, and if they were running controlled studies. What I found was that there were only a handful of studies—total—that even claimed to have tested the flipped model. All of those were either a case study, or just outlined how they did it in their class, but had no actual quantitative data. The other thing I found was that the quantitative data compared this new flipped model to the traditional lecture model. There are so many variables involved in that kind of comparison. Because you have more time on task by the students, you’re giving them more assignments, and students are exposed to different content. The biggest thing seemed to be the active learning. That means moving from a totally passive learning model to an active learning model. Regardless of whether you’ve flipped or not, we already have shown the values of active learning. There’s also a great review article out there, by Scott Freeman, Principle Lecturer, University of Washington, saying active learning is superior. We know that part.
I was concerned, and wondered if we really have to flip it. Do we really have to spend the time, energy and money that it requires? A lot of these flipped models have huge technology requirements, too. So, I thought that before I jump on this bandwagon, I’d really like to know if it’s really a superior method to what I’m already doing. I’ve been doing active learning for a very long time. I trained under Dr. Anton Lawson, Arizona State University, who is a constructivist. Since I already do a 5-E Learning Model in my university classes, I wanted to know if flipping was really better. Did I have to go through the effort to flip it?
I thought, and decided to exert the effort to flip it—but in doing so, I was going to try to control every variable that I possibly could between my two test classes. So, I set up a model, where there were two Introductory to Biology courses for non-majors. Classes ranged from freshmen all the way to seniors, but all of them non-biology students—taking the course as a general education requirement.
I set up the two classrooms in the same way—back-to-back—same classrooms, TAs, environment, lecture materials, textbook, and course packet. The difference was that one of the classes was in a traditional model. Both were the same 5-E Learning Model, and included active learning. In my traditional classroom, students would come in and obtain the content with me in an inquiry type fashion, through all kinds of activities, where students could discover the principles themselves. So, they would do the active learning lessons in class, and then I’d send them home with application activities. For example, when they learned about natural selection, they might look at multi-pest resistant pigweed and explain through a series of questions how natural selection is at play. Students would then apply the principles of natural selection to different scenarios—to broaden the concept’s workability. That was a model I was already doing.
When I flipped the classroom, the other section did the exact same activities, but did them in a flipped order. So, at home students did an exploration activity to learn about natural selection. Then in class we watched video clips on pigweed, and students worked in groups to answer questions. I made sure they were exposed to the exact same content, stories, and scenarios. I even scripted my jokes in the online material, so I said the same things in class as I said to students at home. It was very scripted, so the students were seeing and hearing exactly the same things in both sections. I wanted to see, if the flip itself, was some magical silver bullet that was going to change something.
I kind of went into the study thinking that I’m going to hate this flipped model, because it’s a lot of work, and I’d rather do the exploration with students, but I found that I quite enjoyed the flipped model. It was as fun to teach as the other model, and the students seemed just as engaged. They were enjoying the class just as much.
I gathered quantitative data, so I looked at exams, quizzes, homework scores, and then final exams and comprehensives. I looked to see, at low level, if students knew the terms and definitions, and then to higher levels to see if they could apply what they’d learned to new situations. And what I discovered was that across the board, students in both models performed equally—the same. That suggests to me that it really is just active learning, and there’s no magic flipped bullet. It’s just engaging students in the learning process that’s necessary.
One of the things I’m exploring, now, is whether technology is an enhancement, and whether it matters in these scenarios—and if so—how. Right now—before or after class—students are doing all their work online in a course learning and management system. We use student response handhelds in class, but even that has to be tested, too. In this next study, I’ll investigate if the technology plays a role, or is it just enough to read before class. Will you get the same effect from the flipped model as you do with the active engagement with the technology?
A while back, I wrote a review, where I said that technology is a tool in education, but we can’t fall into the trap that technology is the causative agent. I believe that technology is more a tool to implement things in the classroom like formative assessment. So, I use response system technology for formative assessment. It gives students a chance to think about questions, talk to their classmates, answer questions, and really figure out what they know. It’s sort of a form of metacognition. But the technology, itself, is not something magical. It’s not the thing causing the change—it’s what you’re doing with the technology.
One of the take home messages from the research I’ve already done, may be that if you’re already doing active learning in the classroom—with or without technology—you may not need to do too much more outside the classroom. Most educators are already using technology, using online applications, as well as media in the form of video clips. For example, if teachers are using a video, it is still the same video whether used in class or at home. That’s part of the next step of my brief that needs to be investigated.
If we’re going to do a flipped model, what should the flipped part look like? Right now at conferences I hear educators talking about their flipped classrooms, and it’s a video lecture, or going to an online education place to watch an instructional video there. Many have students reading from textbooks. What I want to know is—does that matter? If you have the active learning in the classroom, does it matter what you do outside the classroom? It’s second tiered active learning research. We’ve kind of shown active learning works, so it’s time for the second tier to prove why and how, as well as whether it matters what the active learning looks like. What are the mechanisms behind the active learning? What’s the best way to do it? That’s what I will be investigating.
~Dr. Jamie Jensen
About the Interviewer:
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.