Students Staff

6 October 2015

Flipping the Classroom in Teaching Conflict Resolution

Han Dorussen and Theodora-Ismene Gizelis from the Department of Government at the University of Essex describe their experience of ‘flipping’ classroom lectures in Conflict Resolution and share their conclusions and advice for effective ‘inverted teaching’.

Turning learning on its head

Conflict Resolution Seminar

Conflict resolution students making good use of class time

Flipped classroom is an increasingly used method of on-line assisted teaching. It is also known as ‘inverted teaching’ or ‘blended learning’, or even—and in our opinion somewhat inaccurately—as ‘peer instruction’. It combines the on-line delivery of lectures with in-class seminars and activities. Flipped classroom allows students to become active learners, absorb information at their own pace and then work through the material and its applications in the classroom.

What’s different about flipped classroom?

Whereas traditionally, students are expected to read and prepare for the lectures ‘at home’, flipped classroom allows students to watch actual lectures outside the university.  These are delivered as relatively short – in our case, three 15 – 25 minute each – videos covering key topics, concepts and ideas.

Apart from watching the videos, students are still expected to study assigned readings. Seminars are reserved for further explanations, answering questions and discussions, and applying analytical tools. During the seminars, students have time to prepare (or finish) presentations and assignments and engage in other activities such as simulations.

Using flipped classroom in humanities and social sciences

In 2014 we were awarded a Teaching and Learning Innovative Fund (TALIF) grant for developing flipped classroom in one of the core post-graduate modules – in Conflict Resolution – in the Department of Government.

In this module we combine academic content—covering standard topics such as causes of conflict, theories of negotiations and mediation, peacekeeping and state-building—with more practical elements such as group exercises, presentations and different types of simulations.

Our initial goal was to build on the existing strengths of the module and use flipped classroom to provide content and material for self-study in advance of lectures via a combination of 30-45 minutes lecture videos, articles and web material, thus maximizing the time available for practical work in seminars.

Implementing flipped classroom

Making the videos was very time consuming. It was necessary to rewrite existing lectures to ‘fit’ the video format. Most importantly, the videos needed to be quite short. As is generally known, the maximum time span for attention in regular lectures is about 20 minutes. If anything, it seemed to be shorter for the on-line videos. This may have been because of the format—students generally watch the videos from a small screen—or because there are more distractions at home compared to the classroom situation. Devices used to watch the videos are, of course, also a source of distraction with frequent incoming messages.

We posted the videos (alongside other supportive materials) on a dedicated Moodle page. The videos were assigned to particular weeks and only became available about five days before the relevant seminar. Access was restricted to students who were actually enrolled on the module. Moodle provided us with statistics about the students who had (or had not) opened the videos. (Of course, this did not necessarily mean that they had actually watched them!)

Since it was crucial that students engaged with the videos (and readings), we added small quizzes to follow each film. These included multiple-choice questions about the material covered in the videos and relevant readings. Students could only open the next video, if they ‘passed’ the quiz – they were allowed two attempts – and received a small contribution mark for doing so. Following the seminar, videos were opened to all registered students.

Did you mind being flipped? Student feedback…

Somewhat to our surprise, students really appreciated the on-line quizzes. They quickly became an important part of our lecturing because they allow us to identify the problems students have early on. They function similarly to asking questions during the lectures. Whereas students are often reluctant to respond to questions in public (and weaker students tend to be even more reluctant), the on-line quizzes don’t present this barrier. The feedback that we received via the quizzes guided us in the seminars. It also helped us to identify students who were struggling with the material, and to invite them for additional tutoring.

The benefits of flipped classroom

Apart from some inevitable teething problems, our experience of teaching in a flipped classroom format has been positive. It allows for more teacher-student interaction and students appear to be better prepared when they come to the seminars. There are also some unanticipated benefits, in particular the ability of identifying ‘weak’ students by means of on-line quizzes.

When asked about the main benefits for them, students emphasized the additional time for activities in the seminars. They also expected seminar activities, such as the simulations, to be relevant for ‘real life situations’. Most of them looked forward to the addition interaction with fellow students. There was also a generally positive attitude towards using new technologies: ‘new experience, more fun’. Of course, most students could also identify some potential problems. A few people were worried about technical aspects or being easily distracted when watching the videos at home. The most common concern was, however, ‘can’t ask questions when we watch videos at home’.

Top tips for effective flipped classroom

We found videos should have a clear ‘take-home message’ and it works best if you explain a concept or a specific argument. It is much more difficult to communicate effectively in a short video contrasting approaches (such ‘realist’ and ‘liberal’ approaches to mediation) or highly technical models (such as a bargaining game). As all teaching, videos benefit from focusing on topical and engaging examples, but events (and our understanding of these events) may change quickly. Of course, it also takes time for lecturers to get used to being taped.

Videos need to be edited carefully to make sure that they are presented clearly, requiring the involvement of professional staff. However, the format allows for a lot of creativity if you have the budget. It’s possible to include moving images or to present from more imaginative locations than the lecture room. It is possible to include short interviews, turning the videos into mini-documentaries.

Conflict resolution students conducting a simulation

Our students conducting a simulation

And then there is the question of what to do with the additional seminar time freed up by the flipped lectures. All we would say is that it is vital to use this time effectively and to tailor the content of these group sessions to reflect the experience the students have had with the videos.

In summary…

The format does require a significant investment from the lecturers (and support from their HEI). Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that continuing to use flipped classroom will require us to keep investing. In short, from a teacher/university perspective, the flipped classroom would appear to be an effective but not necessarily cost efficient way of teaching.

To read more about Han and Ismene’s flipped classroom project, click here.

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1 October 2015

TALIF @ Essex: on the look out for your bright ideas…

Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TALIF) issues 2015-16 call for applications

Have you got an innovative, creative idea that you want to develop and try out in your teaching?

Could you use some funding to support you?TALIF icon (LIME GREEN)

If so, why not put together an application to TALIF?

The University of Essex’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TALIF) has been supporting staff to develop their teaching and support of learning in creative and innovative ways since 1998. To date the fund has supported more than 100 initiatives right across the University.

TALIF is changing…

From this year, TALIF is returning to its roots and wholly devoting its funds to supporting individuals who want to develop their teaching practice creatively by trying out new ideas and approaches. In this way it will complement the institutional character of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)’s Education Strategy Fund, from which grants are available to drive forward departmental / sectional level initiatives in support of the University’s Education Strategy and associated action plans.

How can you apply?

Any member of staff with teaching and learning support responsibilities may apply for funding, up to a maximum of £5,000 per grant. Students are welcome to apply (with appropriate academic sponsorship) and each year £1,000 may be reserved to fund a student-led project.

In short, TALIF wants to help individual colleagues develop into the best educators they can be and to harness the talents of all members of our academic community, including our students, in support of enhancing our Essex education.

Applications for funding can be made to support innovation in any field of teaching and learning practice. If they dovetail with the following areas, which are central to the University’s Education Strategy, then so much the better:

  • Research in the curriculum
  • Community
  • Engagement
  • Learning environment

The closing date for applications this year is 5pm on Friday 27 November 2015.

Full information about the Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund and how to apply can be found on the  TALIF webpage.

We have scheduled a drop-in session for those interested in finding out more about TALIF on Thursday 8 October 2015 from 12.30pm to –2.30pm in 4SA.6.19 (HR Training). Simply come along; no need to book. If you miss this opportunity, please contact Ruth Windscheffel if you have any queries or would like to discuss a potential project.

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22 September 2015

Welcome to Essex 2015-16

Welcome to academic year 2015-16 at Essex!

We in Learning and Development are really looking forward to working with you and we would like to take this opportunity to remind you of some key ways in which we can help you develop your academic practice.

Recognising your talents and achievements in educationCadenza icon

CADENZA is our very own professional development framework. Accredited by the Higher Education Academy (HEA), CADENZA offers you real variety when it comes to gaining professional recognition for your teaching, tailored as it is to meet the diverse needs of our talented and vibrant academic community.

CADENZA (direct entry) is direct application route to HEA fellowship. This is particularly suited to experienced teachers as you base your claim on the teaching and learning support you have already done and upon which you can reflect deeply.

Practise, Reflect and Develop your academic practicePG CHEP icon

Our Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education Practice (PG CHEP) is a credit-bearing, masters’ level qualification consisting of two modules. Module 1 of PG CHEP leads to Fellow (D2) status with the HEA as well as giving you 30 credits towards the full postgraduate certificate. The PG CHEP route is ideal for new appointees with limited teaching experience who would like to develop their practice incrementally across all dimensions of their academic practice: teaching and learning support; teaching-related management and administration; and research. (Note that qualifying members of academic staff in the School of Health and Human Sciences staff can achieve Fellow (D2) status on successful completion of the first part of the Medical and Clinical Education programme.)

Module 2 of PG CHEP further develops your professional skills and insights as an academic practitioner. It centres around a substantial action-research case study and supplies the remaining 30 credits towards the full award of your postgraduate certificate. As well as being a natural follow-up to Module 1, experienced colleagues who want to benefit from a tailor-made and fully supported developmental programme in academic practice – perhaps in preparation for or following promotion — are invited to fast-track to Module 2. If you are already an HEA Fellow, or have completed 30 credits of a PG Cert. programme elsewhere, or have more than three years’ full-time teaching experience already then you can make a fast-track application. Email us to find out more.

Talent + training = creative leadership at Essex

Learning and Development also delivers the University’s leadership programmes: Future Leaders and Strategic Leaders. Both courses lead to national recognition through either the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) or the HEA. If you are interested in getting a place on one of our two schemes, talk to your Head of Department or Section.ETA

Workshops and development sessions

Throughout the year we will be presenting a veritable smorgasbord of workshops and development sessions for academic staff and researchers. Designed to support staff at every stage of professional development and to help implement our Education Strategy, our workshops are open to all Essex staff and colleagues working with us at partner institutions. So, if you want support for your first-year undergraduate teaching, or are looking to boost your confidence as a public speaker, then check out our list of upcoming events on the Learning and Development website. You might also like to know that we also offer a workplace coaching service, Coaching for Success, which is available for all staff by arrangement.

Resources and rewards for excellent academic practice

Supporting and developing excellence in education is what we are all about and whether you want some funds to develop a teaching innovation you have in mind (pitch to our Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund), would like to gain recognition for the great teaching you’ve been doing (apply for an Excellence in Teaching Award) then get in touch. Our door is always open.

Sharing good (academic) practiceTALIF

Our InPractice blog is there to celebrate your successes in teaching, share accounts of good practice and set your experiences in the wider context of HE teaching and supporting learning. We’ll be drawing projects and ideas to your attention regularly over the coming year but we’d love to hear from you – email us your posts.

It only remains to say: we all hope the new academic year goes well in all areas of your practice. Do let us know if there is anything we can do to support you.

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