Flipped classroom struggles to catch on in Europe

Half of continental institutions are developing online learning programmes, survey says

October 23, 2018
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Fewer than one in seven European universities are strong advocates of the flipped classroom as a model for enhancing student learning, while only half of institutions are developing more forms of online learning, according to a recent report from the European University Association (EUA).

A survey of 303 universities across 43 higher education systems in Europe found that teaching in small groups was the most popular of five teaching approaches surveyed, with 91 per cent of respondents stating that they found it useful “fully” or “to some extent”. Problem-based learning was found useful by 87 per cent of participants.

But the flipped classroom model, which advocates claim is a more effective teaching strategy than the traditional lecture, was the least popular method in the survey, which also asked about peer learning and community projects. Just 15 per cent of respondents said that they found the model “fully useful”, while a further 39 per cent said it was useful to some extent.

One fifth of universities said that they did not have any information on this approach. However, there are significant country differences: the flipped classroom model has been implemented fully or to some extent by all responding universities in Switzerland and the UK.

Thérèse Zhang, deputy director for higher education policy at the EUA and co-author of the report, Trends 2018: Learning and Teaching in the European Higher Education Area, said that the research shows that the flipped classroom model “is still perceived as relatively new in European higher education”.

“It’s taken up in some parts of institutions rather than others and some disciplines are more favourable grounds for trying and testing and implementing this kind of approach,” she said.

An overwhelming majority of universities said that there was a general acceptance that digital learning had improved and that it was becoming part of their institutional strategy.

However, only around half of institutions across the 43 higher education systems said that they were developing more online learning for degree programmes (49 per cent) and non-degree purposes (52 per cent).

“Universities still remain physical places for learning and teaching,” Ms Zhang said.

James Conroy, vice-principal for internationalisation at the University of Glasgow, said that the research shows that “the enhanced efficacy of ‘new’, technology-driven learning is rather difficult to prove”. He added that varied forms of pedagogy “continue to be used and useful for a good reason – they all perform differently if [they are used as] complementary functions in the complex ecology of higher education”.

“There is much talk of e-learning, and no doubt it has its place, but on the evidence to date it is hardly a substitute for the intellectual encounter that more traditional forms of educational practice entail,” he said.

“As the report points out, the often high expectations that accompany the introduction of new or enhanced technologies are rarely delivered – largely because we continue to make the mistake that change is, in and of itself, progress to a positive destination. While it is always the case that pedagogies can be reshaped and improved, the two things are not always the same and change does not always mean better.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

The advantage of the 'flipped classroom' is that students can obtain the information before they meet in class, so can spend the time discussing and applying that information rather than spending contact time acquiring it. However this depends on motivated students who are prepared to make the effort to get that information into their heads! It can be used to good effect, but you need to be very organised and do things like opening the session with a quiz (to make sure they have done the work), and then having well-structured activities that engage and stretch the students... probably using group work and discussion, with a system that supports directed activities and tests continually. Done properly it works well - but it's tough and so students often downrate it, not because they don't learn but because it's hard work!
I agree with findings, but I would note that the flipping can occur in two other ways (a) flipping the curricula control such that students set the learning goals and pedagogical goals. Not sure who does this, but it is the deepest meaning of flipping and I am sure in some cases it would work well, and, in more cases it would be very popular with the students, and could have very good long range learning outcomes after graduation (b) I established a student design team who created a classroom design that was very flexible in terms of its physical layout. The furniture was mobile and could be changed by the students in about 30 seconds. The class size was small at 32 students in 8 teams of 4. This student design was done in a way to leave the central space of the classroom wide open for any and all other activities. The design pods are simply a 6x3 table with two chairs on each side, and two computers at the wall end with a guest chair at the classroom end. Power strips are available. The table may be orthogonal to, or parallel to, the wall. A guest chair was included. With the design team table and chairs all on wheels it is possible to achieve a conventional furniture layout, or any other layout, in about 30 seconds. That is, if the students do it. [video] If a faculty member does it before the class, it takes 3-5 minutes. That left the issue of visibility. The team put large screens on opposing walls. With that idea in place all design teams could see one of the screens while in the design pod arrangement. If not satisfied, they roll to the wide open spaces in the center of the room causing zero disruption. A few extra tables and chairs are available in the room. All tables fold for storage. We know the classroom works as the faculty are not complaining, and it is still in use after 5 -6 years. And it gets used for design competitions, and for office parties and department meetings Its flexible design suggests that it will continue to work indefinitely, even in ways we have not yet discovered as IT continues to improve. Using apps like Doceri, the classroom can use podium free pedagogy. I helped redesign a number of classroom at the university, but this student design was the best, and my only role was setting up the flipped nature of the design team
Information technologies very relevant and useful thing. In our quickly changing world where there is a lot of different information, high technologies play an important role in work. Online education solves a set of problems. However, the university never has to become virtual space and be dissolved on the Internet. The university has to be the university in real life with concrete buildings, audiences and people.

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