How to get students to play their part in the flipped classroom

The flipped classroom is the perfect pedagogy for the information age – but our classes must not punish students who struggle to engage when learning independently


5 Apr 2023
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Penalising students who struggle with the flipped classroom doesn't help

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

University of Westminster

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The principle of the flipped classroom is quite straightforward. What could be more logical, given the active learning goal higher education has had for years, than to strip out the elements of face-to-face classes that are all about delivery of information and focus instead on activities in class. Simples, as a meerkat teacher would doubtless say. Experience, however, tells us it’s not that simple.

The flipped classroom has never become mainstream in higher education. Many reasons are cited for this, such as the time needed to create good resources for out-of-class work. However, arguably the biggest problem is getting students to play their part. For the flipped classroom to work, they must engage with the resources provided before they come to the face-to-face class that has been planned for them.


Issues such as the time required to create good resources have gone away to some degree, as more academic colleagues have gained experience at creating videos and other learning objects during the pandemic. And the problem of content creation will fade even more as academia begins to engage more with AI and the assistance it can provide in this regard. However, student engagement is likely to persist as a major issue, and this resource will outline straightforward strategies that can be used to better ensure that a flipped classroom plan will be successful.

As the sector moves further out of the pandemic, we are seeing from various sources (for example, the Jisc student digital experience insights survey) that students favour a blended approach to curriculum delivery. To serve that desire, and to serve the goal of active, authentic learning, the flipped approach makes sense. To truly make such practices work, though, we must understand when we are “punishing” a student for not doing work outside the classroom, and when we are “guiding” their independent learning inside the classroom. Let’s look at some examples of techniques that draw upon independent work and how these might punish or guide.

In-class quiz

An in-class quiz can help check understanding of a key concept or reading, it can help us see if there are areas that need additional teaching or clarification and it can be quite good fun. However, it is also something of a test of whether work has been done before class. Thus, students who haven’t engaged outside might not want to turn up to class, or they might feel disengaged when they do because they fail the quiz.

Instead, consider setting a quiz as a pre-class activity. Students undertake the quiz digitally in their independent learning, with the option to retake numerous times. This provides the teacher with key data on concepts the class are not grasping and gives the student formative feedback on their own understanding. In-person class time can now focus on areas where students struggle and expand on areas in which the teacher knows they all grasp the basic concepts.


Like quizzes, presentations can feel like a good way to check that work outside class has been undertaken. However, even more than quizzes, presentations can feel like a punishment for those who might have struggled to engage outside the classroom – they can become a test of memory and not of learning.

Instead, look to build guided reading/presentation activities that span the independent and taught elements of flipped learning. For example, one week before class, email or otherwise share with students a reading and three open questions. Tell them to do the reading and think about their answers to the questions before class (preparing answers themselves). In class, put students into groups of between three and seven people. Each group considers one question for 15 minutes. Tell each group which question they are considering (so that all questions are discussed) and that one person will be feeding back to the whole class and one person is assigned to take notes. The first group’s spokesperson then presents to the whole class what they thought about question one. Other groups can challenge or add points, and you can then sum up to ensure key learning is covered. Repeat for the other groups.

Open forum

At times we like to work in an open forum, asking students to reflect on readings or videos watched ahead of class. When students are not forthcoming with ideas, these sessions can quickly become dominated by one or two students, or, worse, turn into a lecture by you that covers the same content as the out-of-class activity, which reduces students’ motivation to complete work for the following week. Instead of waiting to get to class to share the questions you might ask, provide them beforehand – these might be broad, open questions as in our presentation example or closed questions that are more like a quiz. Giving students guidance on what everyone will be doing with the independent work before they get to class helps them engage with independent learning, lowers the barrier to in-class participation and makes for a more connected learning experience.

Think long term

Consider the role of problem-based learning in increasing engagement. A carefully devised challenge set at the start of a semester and scaffolded throughout is a great way of linking not only taught sessions but also independent learning. A question such as “which is more environmentally damaging, a letter or an email?” might see students exploring energy resources, digital networks, paper production, communication strategies, the social needs of communication and much more. However, linking these potentially disparate topics back to a single question ensures a continuum for the semester.

Flipped learning has too much going for it for the sector to continue to largely ignore it. It’s perfect for the rapidly changing information age, but the key to making it work is consistency and longer-term planning. Each session must build on the last – but, equally, each session must use, not test, independent learning. Such scaffolding and a desire to guide students are objectives that we believe all caring, thoughtful teachers would subscribe to.

Doug Specht is a senior lecturer and director of teaching and learning in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster, UK. He is also a chartered teacher and holds advanced teacher status.

Gunter Saunders is associate director for digital engagement and library services at the University of Westminster.

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