Flipping an International Cohort

Posted in: Case Studies

Project Leader: Dr Johanne Grosvold, School of Management

This is a case study of one of the University's funded pilot Flipping Projects, looking at the motivation for flipping, the methods used, lessons learnt and impact.


I had already used Flipping in other contexts and have enjoyed great success in doing so over a number of years. I had also become more interested in the pedagogy of Flipping, but recognised that there are culturally determined learning approaches that are not necessarily compatible with Flipping, since Flipping is broadly speaking a western educational tool. I was therefore keen to better understand its opportunities and limitations in more culturally diverse learning settings.

The flipped classroom

I explained to the students at the start of the semester that some lectures would be flipped and I explained the pedagogic rationale for doing so. I then had five lectures that were flipped. Each lecture involved the students engaging with learning material before the lecture e.g. films, readings, case studies etc., and then we spent ca. half of the in-class time discussing the material and answering further questions, preparing short presentations, or debates.

Lessons Learnt

In reflecting on the flipping project I recognise three key challenges and three lessons learnt in delivering effective flipping opportunities:

Top three challenges

  1. The inability to formally assess, recognise or evaluate students’ in-class participation is a key challenge for flipping, and arguably an even bigger one when faced with students whose natural inclination may not be to participate actively in a classroom setting. I believe part of the overall success of this project rested on the active engagement of those students more accustomed to in-class participation, who drove the discussions, and consequently helped illuminate learning points for those less participative.
  2.  Identifying learning material that satisfies different approaches to learning, whether visual, numeric or textual was not insubstantial, and sometimes I was more limited in what I could achieve than I wanted to be. This coupled with the evident difficulties in following some of the interactive material provided for some non-native English students meant I had to lower my ambitions in some regards.
  3. Ensuring that the purpose of the learning opportunities are made even more explicit without detracting from the point of the exercise is a challenge for successful flipping. Some international students focused excessively on the minutia of the exercises, without taking away the larger points

The top three lessons learnt

  1. Don’t be too ambitious in what you try to achieve with flipping. Flipping is an aid to learning, not a means in itself, and regardless of how diligent the students, there still needs to be time in the classroom to clear up any misunderstandings, provide further context if appropriate and sufficient time to comprehensively engage with the exercises and discussions. Ability and/or willingness to use and draw on non-traditional lecture material such as online resources and alternate media before the lecture differs. As with flipping, the technology needs to fulfil a clear purpose that is appropriate for the cohort, not simply be something that is employed because in general technology is seen as a positive.
  2. Not all have to partake for all to benefit.  This became clear from the feedback on my unit, where a number openly admitted to not actively participate in class, but all had done the pre-lecture exercises, and the overall assessment of the unit was high. There is therefore the opportunity to balance threat of the potentially negative impact of non-participation with the positive ‘diffusive’ impact of the majority participating.
  3. Students like flipping and I like flipping. There was no evidence of ‘the flipping paradox’, where students’ learning improved, yet the feedback on the unit might decline, as students perception of flipping was that there was more work for them, since more was required before the lecture. Some of the non-native English speakers enjoying the chance to familiarise themselves with the material before the lecture in a way that meant they gained more from the lecture, whilst others gained higher order learning outcomes from the in-class activities

Personally I enjoyed flipping, as it allowed me to provide a high-quality teaching environment without having to be the centre of attention and give of myself continuously for two hours. This made me enjoy the lectures more, I was more patient with questions, and I enjoyed watching the students learn and work things out for themselves through peer learning.  I felt more connected to the students learning experience in the moment, and had a better sense of what they were taking away from the lecture, which again made more attuned to what worked, what didn’t work and what I might have to tweak before the next lecture.


Grades: In order to gain a sense of whether the flipping project had worked, I decided to test the flipped lectures on the basis of coursework, and the non-flipped lectures on the basis of the exam. The coursework was directly aligned with the learning and teaching opportunities of the flipped sessions, including the readings, codes, films and case studies. The average mark for the coursework was 66%, an increase of 1.5% over the previous (unflipped) year. By comparison the exam results were in line with previous years.

Student Feedback: Further investigation of the impact using student feedback also considered cultural learning background via their nationality and the country in which their previous degree was taken (12 different countries for each). The flipping lectures were well received, the vast majority found them helpful and noted that the pre-work enabled better engagement in class activities. Some non-native English speakers found some material too difficult. There were no negative comments about the interactive group work nor class activities, despite this being a culturally different learning environment.

For the online unit evaluation, additional questions on flipping were included. The majority (self-reported) felt well prepared and attended, but some felt they were more active in class than others: twice as many scored themselves high on having done the pre-reading as did those who said they actively participated in class, which links to one of the challenges of this approach with a lack of incentive.

Overall, the score for “My understanding of the subject is increasing as a result of taking this unit” was 4.64 (mean score, 1-5 likert scale) which suggests that irrespective of active in-class participation, the learning opportunities provided across the course delivered on the objectives.  One student commented on the flipping, noting that “The flipping lectures were helpful and a good way to encourage us to engage with the reading.”

Posted in: Case Studies