Flipped Classroom – full article

Teaching according to the ‘flipped classroom’ concept means that students prepare for classroom sessions in advance via mostly digital teaching materials such as lecture notes and videos, and that classroom time is then focused on exchange among students and instructors (for example in the context of group and project work, case studies and question sessions). The term ‘flipped’ reflects the procedure via which the initial imparting of theory and knowledge, which normally takes place in the classroom, becomes the province of independent study. The result is that students can use classroom sessions from the start to apply their knowledge via appropriate tasks [1]. This teaching concept is not new, but arose out of growing criticism of the static teaching of traditional lectures and developments such as that of Eric Mazur (Harvard), whose 1990s peer instruction method [2] showed how much students can learn from one another. The flipped classroom requires students to exercise significant personal responsibility and self-direction during the learning process. It also changes the role of faculty: developing suitable independent study materials and supervising students during group and project work assume major importance. Here the biggest challenge lies in adequate production of online materials and careful preparation of activities for classroom sessions.

Even if the flipped classroom concept is not new, it has been given new vitality with the digitalisation and increased flexibility of university teaching. The hype surrounding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is a factor here, together with the growing significance of other open and for-profit online independent study courses and the mass distribution of educational videos, especially those suitable for mobile devices. One of the great potentials of the flipped classroom is that direct exchange with students in targeted learning activities enables faculty to better detect misconceptions and errors of reasoning. Its faculty-student dialogue is more intensive, and students can deploy various scenarios to transfer knowledge from theory to practice [3]. Here the flipped classroom also helps students to acquire competences which are not only subject-related but also social and non-technical.

ETH Zurich deployed a two-year pilot phase (2012-2014) to test a large variety of video-based online course formats in combination with courses [4]. Involved faculty who flipped their teaching reported unanimously that the increased exchange with students was more fun, because they could experience and directly influence the learning process. Students were also positive, but some criticised the form of implementation. Flipping the classroom in fact requires major effort on the part of both faculty and students, and was underestimated by everyone involved in the pilot. In particular, producing video material uses up resources which are then unavailable for the development of classroom teaching scenarios [5]. It is therefore recommendable to begin by flipping only parts of one’s teaching, and then to proceed iteratively to extend the concept to the entire course.

Realising the flipped classroom is a demanding project for faculty and students which is only effective if it also facilitates ‘flipped learning’: Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.[6]

Such an environment requires spaces with flexible furnishings which facilitate interactive classroom phases via group tables and subdividable groupwork areas. ETH is having good experiences with its flexible auditorium (HG E41), inspiring further investment in this area. In the meantime more classical seating arrangements can also be altered to encourage e.g. discussions in twos or threes. Of course, teaching like this demands a change of faculty role (less imparting of knowledge, more monitoring) and a wider repertoire of classroom teaching methods.

The flipped classroom concept may become a guide for future investment in teaching at ETH, which is a classroom-based university. ETH already lays great weight on classroom teaching quality, especially where time in class is deployed for exchange between students and researchers/faculty and the application of knowledge. The flipped classroom also exploits the advantages of digitalisation of knowledge and enhanced flexibility, and fosters competence-oriented teaching. It will become a central component in scientific and professional university education.


[1] Hussey, H. D., Fleck, B. K., & Richmond, A. S. (2014). Promoting Active Learning through a Flipped Course Design. In J. Keengwe, G. Onchwari, & J. Oigara (Eds.) Promoting Active Learning through the Flipped Classroom Model (pp. 23-46). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-4987-3.ch002

[2] Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction. A User’s Manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[3] Educause (2012). 7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms. Online-Ressource: http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/7-things-you-should-know-about-flipped-classrooms

[4] ETH – LET (2013). TORQUEs: A turning point for teaching, Online verfügbar: http://www.let.ethz.ch/projekte/

[5] Weidlich, J. & Spannagel, C. (2014). Die Vorbereitungsphase im Flipped Classroom. Vorlesungsvideos versus Aufgaben. Münster: Waxmann. Online-Ressource: http://2014.gmw-online.de/wp-content/uploads/237.pdf

[6] Flipped Learning Network (2014). Definition of Flipped Learning. Online-Ressource: http://flippedlearning.org/domain/46

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