It’s official: flipped classroom boosts student grades

Meta-analysis of meta-analyses finds incontrovertible benefits, particularly in ‘authoritarian’ teaching cultures

May 25, 2021
Two people perform backflips illustrating flipped classroom model
Source: iStock

The “flipped classroom” works and researchers should focus on how to optimise it, according to the team behind the biggest ever study on the topic.

Researchers say they have shown definitively that the flipped classroom benefits students, producing an average “effect size” of 0.37 – meaning students perform about one-third of a standard deviation better in flipped than in traditional environments.

Many studies of the flipped classroom – where students absorb basic concepts before class and refine their understanding in face-to-face active-learning sessions – report significant improvements in learning outcomes. But some have shown no benefit, while others suggest the approach can be detrimental.

The new research, reported in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, attempted to settle the matter once and for all through a “second-order meta-analysis” – essentially, a meta-analysis of 15 previous meta-analyses – that synthesised published and unpublished research involving more than 155,000 students.

“We have enough studies about whether the flipped classroom works or doesn’t work,” said co-author Phillip Dawson of Deakin University. He said that while 0.37 was “not a huge effect”, it was “pretty substantial” given that thousands of students were often involved. “This is a worthwhile educational intervention to implement,” he said.

Studies suggesting different conclusions have included a 2016 trial at the West Point Military Academy. It found that rather than boosting overall achievement, flipped classrooms exacerbated gaps between typically white high-achieving students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.

Professor Dawson said flipped classrooms could place greater demands on students’ self-regulation and general academic skills. “Anyone who’s at a disadvantage in those sorts of areas might find the flipped classroom more challenging,” he said.

“If you talk to educators, the sad story you too often hear is: ‘My students didn’t do the pre-work and I ended up having to give them a mini-lecture when they showed up.’ That can be disheartening. However, our results still suggest a significant benefit. If we can address the self-regulation issue, we might see an even larger benefit.”

The paper advocates more research into how to motivate students to complete their pre-class work, and which disciplines are most suited to flipped classrooms. The research uncovered particularly substantial benefits in meta-analyses involving Chinese nursing students.

The paper speculates that the “strict expository teaching culture” in China’s “authoritarian” classrooms can dampen students’ enthusiasm. “The flipped learning approach, which emphasises student active learning, may lead to even larger benefits when compared with expository teaching.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Hip to the flip: teaching model boosts grades

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Reader's comments (6)

Meta analyis is too far from original data to be relied on. Meta analysis of meta analysis even more so. A study should be able to stand on its own two feet, and the West Point study is a major caveat. The headling is misleading, in that it suggests this constitutes proof, which it does not.
Motivated students always do better than those just going through the motions. One way to get round this is to start each face-to-face session with a short test on the learning they SHOULD have done (for best results, the test score should contribute towards the final grade), before continuing to the work planned to use the stuff they ought to have learned from the flipped lecture.
From my own experience, the flipped approach is the best. I agree what you suggest is how to do it. It is exactly what i did this semester with a first year module. The students were asked to do preparatory reading before each week. They were then given a summative online test on the Monday morning that assessed their knowledge and understanding of what they had read. This was followed by a week of online tuition in the topic of the week. It was a complete failure. Performance in the tests were awful. There was no evidence of any general desire to do the assigned reading. And, an absence of willingness was evident in many students to consider why they were being asked to do this, even after the potential benefits to them were fully explained. After dozens of emails complaining about being tested on what they "had not been taught", i scrapped the approach after 4 weeks. That was a pity. I did the same thing a couple of years ago at a different university and had a completely opposite response, with course grades rising by 10 percentage points on average compared to the previous cohort taught conventionally. In the end, it really does come down to the willingness of the students to be active learners; and in learning what it takes to motivate them to do so when they don't want to.
How did you motivate them in the second case? What did you do differently? 10% is a very high increase…. I'd be surprised if that was entirely from switching to flipped. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
My own experience mirrors exactly that of A Concerned Professor (Comment no. 3), except that it was in the same institution. I did not have a summative online test every Monday morning but I used Quizziz interactively to check on students' understanding of the prerecorded lectures before each class meeting (Instead of preassigning readings, I prerecorded my lectures for students to watch before attending the following week's class meetings which are fully devoted to interactive activities, viz. problem-solving, discussions, etc). At one extreme, I had sections of very capable students who were very engaged and at the other extreme, I had sections of not so capable and not so motivated students who did not want to participate. My profit-making institution places a lot of emphasis on student evaluations and there was almost a perfect positive correlation between the feedback from students and their level of engagement along the continuum.
Agree. If students find that other subjects/modules are not using a flipped lecture approach, some might disengage. If student disengagement leads to poor subject level evaluations, it will be difficult for the tutor to justify using this approach knowing that student evaluations are sometimes used as a performance management tool.

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