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Chris Wikstrom photo

Chris Wikstrom, a math faculty member, said in the fall 2013 semester, he implemented a flipped classroom in his MTH 157 Elementary Statistics course with help from other faculty members including David Dillard, Bronte Miller and April Neblett.

“As David says, ‘I jumped off a cliff’ with it first,” Wikstrom said. “As we started implementing this model, we started seeing some promising results from it, which got me really excited.”

A flipped classroom, Wikstrom said, takes all the elementary information from the beginning of a class and moves it outside of the classroom. Wikstrom also uploads his class notes onto Blackboard, an online education platform, where students have access to them outside the classroom.

“From a teacher’s standpoint, we spend time going over the elementary stuff, get a little bit into the intermediate stuff, and then by the time class is over, you really haven’t had time to go over the advanced stuff,” Wikstrom said. “That was really hurting us – not being able to cover that material. With the flipped model, we’re able to do that now.”

Using the flipped model opens the doors for a different style of learning for students.

“Because we moved all the notes outside the classroom, there’s no formal note taking in the class,” Wikstrom said. “We’re able to focus on deeper problems, but we’re able to do that in teams. I can go around and spot check and be more of a facilitator. The knowledge isn’t always coming from the teacher; it’s being generated within the groups, which is really cool.”

Incorporating more cooperative learning into a flipped classroom also is another added benefit to this approach, according to Wikstrom.

“The flipped classroom is just the application of all those (cooperative learning) fundamentals,” he said. “In the traditional classroom, you kind of have to stop and think – here’s the concept we’re teaching, what pieces of cooperative learning can I incorporate? I found in my classroom that cooperative learning isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity at that point.”

Since fall semester, Miller has flipped her MTH 151 Mathematics for the Liberal Arts course, and Dillard and Wikstrom flipped the first five modules of PHCC’s developmental math sequence.

“Our next step is to talk to our division about expanding this approach to other classes, and eventually try and expand it across campus,” he said. “The flipped classroom has always been around, but this new resurgence came out of K-12 education… It would be really cool to see a student exposed to this from kindergarten all the way to community college because it has such a proactive benefit to the student preparing for class before class.”

Wikstrom used his class in the spring 2013 semester as a control group and his fall 2013 class as the experiment to draw data on how the flipped classroom approach is helping students.

“We’re able to create a generic structure to build other courses,” he said. “We’re not trying to act like this is a brand new thing. We want people who may have been doing this for 20 years to talk to us and share so we can expand this out.”

A resurgence in the flipped classroom also is attributed to the accessibility of technology, Wikstrom said. With students and instructors more comfortable using Blackboard, “It’s become an expectation for an instructor to have a course on Blackboard. On top of that, mobile devices have made it so much easier to disseminate information and for students to access it … I think it’s really fired up the whole flipped approach and opportunities for student success.”

Wikstrom submitted the practice of using a flipped classroom to the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) for consideration of the Excellence in Education award. As a finalist, Wikstrom presented the approach at this year’s VCCS New Horizons Conference in early April. He said he got very positive feedback from his presentation.

“A lot of people said they had heard about it but just haven’t done it,” he said. “When you’re doing a traditional lecture, they’re (students) are just taking notes. How do you really know they understand? You just don’t have time to check all their notebooks.”

Wikstrom said in his 12 years of teaching, this is the first wholesale idea he’s ever bought into with education.

“There have been some things we’ve dabbled in, or things that are just fads, but I really think this has some teeth to it,” he said. “There’s just so little research in it. We’re trying to find all those people with awesome courses out there to build a flipped network. We want to find these people and ask them to share what they’re doing, because it’s not about the teacher. It’s about the student and finding the best way to make them successful.”