Student Perspectives of the Flipped Learning Model

By

John R. Jenkins, Ed. D.

Abstract

            The following qualitative research project involved the interviewing of six sophomore students at one private university in Taiwan. Each of the interviewees were interviewed three times following their completion of two flipped learning courses (Advanced Reading and Advanced Writing) taught by the researcher. The purpose of the study was to identify the benefits of a flipped learning classroom environment at the university level. Identifying the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of such an approach to classroom organization and participation will assist professionals in determining the value of flipped learning at the university level. Five themes emerged from the interviews with the participants who shared similar views concerning these themes. The results included ideas related to the variety of methodologies employed in and out of the classroom, the individualized help received during the in-class work time, and the benefit of learning to cooperative with classmates including the enjoyment of working with others and making more friends in the class. Two themes that persisted in the out-of-class and in-class experiences learning were the ability to self-pace the learning experience and the heightened level of motivation the participants experienced in the flipped learning environment. The flipped learning experience was a positive experience for these participants who all indicated that they “wished all my courses were flipped” as one of the participants indicated during the interviews.

 

Background

            John Dewey's lifetime work and study focused on the topic of “epistemology” or the “theory of knowledge” with an understanding known as the “new naturalistic understanding” offered in the article "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology" (1896). The essence of Dewey’s research centered in the concept that “people learn by doing,” much of which thought led to the methodologies developed in the past century centered in the philosophy and theory of pragmatism related to how people learn and solve problems originally conceived in Charles Sanders Pierce’s “pragmatic maxim” (1902).

The theory of pragmatism is attributed to John Dewey (Boydston, 1967-1991) and the earlier work of William James (as well as others, but also served as a forerunner to the theory of constructivism). Constructivism as a theory suggests that individuals construct meaning and understanding of the world through personal experiences and reflection upon those experiences. Individuals will then incorporate new learning into a framework already existing by accommodation of the new learning to the framework without altering or changing that framework.

            The theory of constructivism is attributed to the work of Piaget (1896 – 1980), in part, as an extension of Dewey’ and James’ earlier work. Constructivism is associated with pedagogical approaches promoting active learning and student involvement. These approaches have included methodological terminology such as discovery learning, individualized instruction, problem-based learning, collaborative learning, cooperative learning, and more recently in terms including E-learning and blended learning. In the 1980’s in the U.S., these terms included the ideas of “learning centers” and “work stations” which were applied to constructivist philosophies of how people learn. These learning centers allowed for the individualization of instruction, self-directed instruction on the part of the students, and flexible scheduling where students determined the amount of time dedicated to learn a topic based on the self-perceived needs and the interests of the students. The teachers were guides who facilitated the learning experiences based upon the interest and needs of the individual students. Access to content was not reflected with the “sage on the stage” mentality that has persisted in educational circles to this day, but in facilitating the learning experiences of students through discovery, that is, through teaching students how to research to find information, and how to learn such information through interaction with the material.

Today, the term blended learning including flipped learning is applied to such approaches to active learning. Flipped learning was popularized in the early 21st Century by two biology teachers from Colorado named Aaron Sams and Jon Bergman (2012). The concept of flipped learning is a constructivist methodology incorporating the use of computer technology in the learning process. Thus, the flipped learning concept is categorized as a “blended learning” approach to teaching. Bergman and Sams (2012) suggest that course content can best be taught with videos through computer technology in an on line environment. Content is improved the use of videos, in part, because fewer distractions occur during the presentation, students can view videos as often as needed, and the length of a particular lesson can be divided into shorter presentations. In turn, Bergman and Sams (2012) argue that the reinforcement of content is best achieved through activities monitored in the classroom by professional educators. Bishop and Verleger (2013), as a result, define the flipped classroom as “…an educational technique that consists of two parts: interactive group learning activities inside the classroom, and direct computer-based individual instruction outside the classroom”. In this way, the concept of “flipped” was born, but what must be remembered is that the concepts related to “flipped learning” are not new theories of learning, nor is the flipped methodology a new methodological approach to teaching. Both “flipped learning” and the “flipped methodology” are made possible because of the development of computer technology in the modern era which not only preserves data (content) for future use more easily than in the past, but also allows for the construction and presentation of content more creatively than in the past enhancing the visual aids used in teaching content. Many methods of monitoring the completion of the out-of-class content have been developed to ensure completion of a given assignment including note taking that the instructor can review, the writing of questions by the students that can be answered during the in-class time, and using software such as 1know.net that records the amount time and completion of activities by the students.

The advantages of such a flipped learning environment includes the ability of the student to pace their learning according to their individual needs, and review content when and if necessary during the out-of-class completion of assignments. Other advantages of the flipped approach to teaching include the teacher’s ability to condense content by eliminating redundancy and other types of distractions from the video content. Millard (2012, December) suggests five reasons for flipping including that flipping increases “student engagement…strengthens team-based skills… offers students personalized guidance…focuses classroom discussion… and provides faculty freedom” (p.p. 26-29). Please refer to Fulton (2014) for additional reasons to flip a classroom learning environment.

Flipped learning also suggests, however, that homework be completed during the in-class-time while teachers observe and facilitate the learning as a coach would observe and develop the skills of an athlete on the playing field (Bergman & Sams, 2014). Thus, content is taught through video in an individual environment during out-of-class assignments, and practice applying content is observed and monitored by teachers during the in-class-time activities carefully planned to coincide with the out-of-class video instruction. The idea of flipping the classroom was born in the biology classes of Bergman and Sams in appropriately 2007 even though earlier examples of the approach exist.

It is important to note that flipping, simply defined as changing the learning environment to a student-centered environment, has been attempted frequently in the past and been in existence for far longer than the beginning of the 21st Century. This author employed student-centered learning activities in a learning center environment for four years as an elementary teacher at Bowie Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. Students rotated from one learning center to another during the day while being assisted in completing assignments by the teacher who provided individualized instruction, peer-tutoring opportunities, and paired-reading opportunities for the students in the classroom. Student worked on different assignments, worked at their own pace, and received individual attention from the teacher in the classroom. The Dallas Morning News dated December 24, 1984 reports extensively on the classroom environment created by this author in that elementary school setting. This sample of constructivism is only one of many such excursions into the philosophies of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and James by teachers over the past century. With this background in mind, what then are the values of the flipped learning approached as applied in the educational environment of the world today?

Purpose

            The purpose of this exploratory, qualitative research was to investigate student perceptions of the benefits of a flipped learning classroom environment at the university level. Identifying the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of such an approach to classroom organization and participation will assist professionals in determining the value of flipped learning at the university level. A secondary purpose of the study was to identify student perceptions and ideas related to activities that would enhance the learning experience in a flipped classroom environment. That information would allow teachers to structure classroom activities around the interests and needs of the students with the goal of enhancing the learning experience and motivation of the students.

Assumptions

            This study assumed that the students participating in one or more flipped courses taught by the researcher could best explain the advantages and disadvantages of flipped learning even while using the English language to do so. Furthermore, the researcher assumed that the existing rapport between the participants and the researcher would encourage the participants to express their thoughts and opinions concerned flipped learning without reservation. A major assumption of the researcher was that any response was better than no response, whether or not the grammatical correctness of the response was accurate, thus lessening the fear of the participants to respond to each question. Three keys to the research were the rapport of the researcher with the participants, the ability of the participants to articulate their ideas concerning their experience with flipped learning, and the unique perspective of the participants as students in a flipped learning environment. Merriam (1998) expressed the importance of the participants’ perspective stating that, “The key concern is understanding the phenomenon of interest from the participants’ perspectives, not the researcher’s” (p. 6). These assumptions led to the following research questions.

Research Questions

            The over-arching research question guiding this study was” “What are the advantages and disadvantages from a student’s perspective of the flipped approach to classroom activities in an English language learning environment?”  Three research questions guided the investigation and provided the framework for the study. The questions emerged during the planning stages of the research including the review of the literature. The questions provided direction for the semi-structured interviews, and provided a structure for organizing and reporting the data gathered during the research process conducted over a two month period during the winter of 2015. Each of the six participants were intermediate level English speakers enrolled in an Advanced Writing and an Advanced Reading course both courses of which met twice each week for two 50 minute periods each session. Thus the participants attended eight hours of flipped classes for an 18 week period during the Fall Semester of 2014. The research questions asked the participants were:

  1. What benefits to a flipped learning environment did you observe while participating in a flipped writing and a flipped reading course?
  2. What difficulties existed in the flipped learning environment did you observe while participating in a flipped writing and a flipped reading course?
  3. How did the instructor’s attitudes and activities differ within the flipped classroom environment compared to other courses in which you have participated in the past?

Methodology

This study explored student perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of a flipped learning environment in the English language classroom. Three individual interviews with six university Applied English Department students participating in an advanced writing course and an advanced reading course at a private university in Taiwan were conducted to gather in depth information concerning the advantages and disadvantages of the flipped approach in learning English.

The student participants were selected randomly from a group of 19 students participating in an advanced writing and an advanced reading course which each met for four, 50 minute periods weekly. The selection of the student participants permitted the topic to be discussed from the perspective of gender and classification of the students and included three female and three male students all of whom were sophomore students.

Interviews

Initial Interview

The initial 45 minute interview explained the purpose of the research and allowed the researchers to develop rapport with participants by asking them to share information regarding their background and interest in flipped learning. Rubin and Rubin (1995) state that, “Although qualitative interviews are more focused, deeper, and more detailed than normal discussions, they follow many of the rules of ordinary conversation” (p. 122). The researcher attempted to build on a rapport established in the classroom with the participants to generate a conversational atmosphere during the interviews. By doing so, the researcher probed deeper into the participants’ perspectives of the flipped learning environment.

All of the participants) were told during the initial interview that their names would not be used in the publication of the research. The participants were also told that no specific personal statements would be used in a way that would identify them. All of the participants included in the interviews expressed an understanding about confidentiality, and signed an agreement to participate. Permission was also obtained to tape record the interviews.

An adapted Q methodology described by Stephenson (1953) and Brown (1996) was employed to assist the participants in identifying the advantages and disadvantages of the flipped approach in learning English. This method was designed for use in the qualitative interviewing “warm-up” phase to stimulate thought. The participants were asked to read an email copy of the interview questions prior to the initial interview in order to stimulate thinking and prepare the participants in identifying the teacher as a motivator, facilitator, guide, role model, resource, manager, evaluator, or advisor. Participants were permitted to ask questions, ask for clarifications of the definitions, and even to add additional questions to those posed by the researcher.  The pre-reading of the research questions acted as a type of Q-Sort card described by

Stephenson (1953) and Brown (1996).  (See appendix A for a list of the questions asked of the students.)

Second Interview

The second interview was conducted 2 to 3 weeks after the initial interview. Permission was obtained to tape record this interview which was conducted via SKYPE or Facetime. The 60 minute, semi-structured interview began with the researcher asking each participant to describe any thoughts or ideas generated during the previous interview in which they had participated, and to explain how the flipped approach was used in the classroom in terms of the activities employed in the classroom. Participants were encouraged to extend any previous thoughts or comments during this second interview, or to add new ideas or thoughts to any of the initial questions posed in the initial interview. Next, the participants were asked to describe the role and attitudes of the teacher in the flipped classrooms based on the participant’s experience. Follow-up questions were asked to draw more deeply on the perspectives of the participants.

Member Checking Interview

The third 30 minute interview was a member checking interview conducted after the tape recordings of the first and second interviews were transcribed, the data were coded, and the major themes were identified for each participant. Tutty, Rothry, and Grinnell (1996) state that “Member checking:  Obtaining feedback from your research participants is an essential credibility technique that is unique to qualitative methods” (p. 113). Normally, the issues of reliability and validity are terms reserved for quantitative research whereas credibility in qualitative research is established by independent analysis of the data.

Member checking interviews are also conducted to assure accuracy in understanding the perspective of the participants helping to insure credibility in the findings. Inter-observer/interviewer consistency in this study was established coding the data independently to identify the major themes identified in the interviews. The researcher also developed an independent list of questions to ask during the member checking interview to assure a comprehensive review of the issues of concern after the data were analyzed.

Finally, the participants were asked to make additional comments that they wished concerning the role of the teacher. Participants were also asked to comment on the research process and asked what questions should have been asked that were not asked as a means of assuring that the responses to the topic were thorough.

Results

            Five themes emerged from the interviews with the participants who shared similar views concerning these themes. The themes included ideas related to the variety of methodologies employed in and out of the classroom, the individualized help received during the in-class work time, and the benefit of learning to cooperative with classmates including the enjoyment of working with others and making more friends in the class. Two themes that persisted in the out-of-class and in-class experiences learning were the ability to self-pace the learning experience and the heightened level of motivation the participants experienced in the flipped learning environment.

            The first theme that emerged from the interviews related to the various methodologies employed in and out of the classroom related to the Advanced Reading Course. The Advanced Writing Course did employ videos for instruction purposes (teaching content), but most out-of-class activities in the Advanced Writing Course were writing assignments submitted to the instructor as MS Word documents by email. The following ideas related to the out-of class activities emerged from the interviews related to both courses. 1knownet. was employed by the instructor through which videos related to the content of the textbooks were shared with the students during the out-of-class activities. Participant A enjoyed the videos because “they let me watch the video when I had time, and I could watch them more than once.” Participants D enjoyed the videos because “…the videos were not too long. I could watch one if even I only had a few minutes.” Other reasons given for enjoying the videos included the use of native English speakers which allowed for listening practice. The use of songs, animation, sub-titles, power point presentations, and other visual aids all enhanced the quality of the learning experience by videos. The colorful presentations were also selected on the basis of their relationship to content of the textbook which reinforced the objectives of the lesson. Participant F said, “I like the videos because 1know.net lets me take notes right on my Ipad or computer while I was watching the video. I could rewind the video and listen more than once to anything I didn’t understand. I could even write questions to ask the teacher in the class when we were talking about the subject in the textbook.” Some of the videos were animated, and others had content that was based on songs of popular artists like Justin Bieber. Participant C said, “Watching the videos was more fun than doing the workbook at home.”  Some workbook homework was required by the teacher. However, appropriately 30 minutes of video reinforced the textbook content each week, and another 30 minutes of homework was assigned from the workbook associated with the textbook employed in the class. Participant B liked the videos because they could be accessed from “…anywhere and at any time” even while riding the bus to school. Participant B also stated that the videos “…were like having the teacher with me all the time.”  The flexibility in the use of the videos, the difference in homework being videos, and pacing oneself while watching the videos were all ideas shared by the participants. Participant E said, “The videos are not so boring like other homework”. The videos also prepared students for the in-class activities because the videos were “content oriented” associated with the textbook.

            The in-class assignments consisted of paired reading activities and group completion of book or workbook activities normally reserved for teacher directed (sage on the stage) lectures or for homework. During the Advanced Writing Course in-class time, students wrote short paragraphs which were exchanged with other students for editing purposes, or participated in group discussions of topics related to academic writing. These activities allowed for more interaction between students who in effect became peer tutors. The ability to cooperate and collaborate enhanced the learning experience allowing students to learn to work together as partners and groups were intermittently changed during the course of the semester. Participant C indicated that one advantage for him was the improvement of his pronunciation of English. Participant F indicated that participating in group discussions allowed her to use her English language to an extent she had not previously experienced. Participant F said, “I feel more confident speaking English now.” Participant E indicated that speaking English in a small group was much easier than asking questions “in front of the whole class.”  The single most important in-class experience was access to the teacher, an idea referred to by each of the participants.

            The second theme, and perhaps the most important theme, that emerged during the interviews related to the interaction the participants experienced with the instructor. During the in-class time, the instructor began the lesson collecting the questions written concerning the videos previously viewed, reviewing the questions, and responding to as many questions as possible in the first 15 minutes of class time. This activity allowed for most questions to be answered without compelling the students to embarrass themselves in front of the other students by asking questions other students considered easy or nonsensical.

After the question and answer session, students were then paired to read assignments or assigned to groups to discuss topics addressed and complete activities outlined in the textbook. The instructor would navigate the classroom during these periods of time ensuring students were on task and answering any questions the students might pose regarding an assignment or activity. Participant F said, “Getting the personal help from the teacher made me to be willing to ask more questions because I didn’t have to ask a question in front of the whole class.” Participant C stated that “I have never been more helped or more willing to ask a teacher questions.” Students working in smaller groups or pairs appear to be willing to interact with the instructor by asking more questions and wanting more details regarding the answer to their questions. Participant B also indicated that “My classmates helped me more during the in-class time.” This was another advantage of the flipped approach because the students received peer tutoring as often as assistance from the instructor. Participant A said, “I got more questions answered in this class than in any class I have ever taken.” When asked why, Participant A indicated that “I was more willing to ask other students, and the teacher was more available to ask questions to personally than in other classes.” The importance of the concepts revealed in the statements of the participants obviously relates to the fact that students received more individualized attention directly related to issues and questions of concern to them personally. The students were not engaged in discussions including 20 or 30 other students, but in discussion including 2 or 3 other students at most, and perhaps with the instructor. Asking questions and learning was less intimidating to the students.

            A third important theme that emerged from the interviews related to paired reading, group discussions, and peer tutoring. The participants indicated that learning to work with others, becoming better acquainted with other students in the classroom, learning to cooperate and collaborate with other students were all important concepts experienced during the course.  Participant D particularly enjoyed “…meeting more students and making more friends in the classes” than in other classes the student had attended in the past. Participant D indicated this helped the students to “…help each other” because during the paired reading activities, they “…could ask each other questions, learn better pronunciation, and learn more vocabulary eaiser.” Disagreements were not a problem because, as Participant B indicated, “…the teacher could be asked to answer questions so we didn’t have to argue with one another. We learned that working together to find answers was important. We also learned that finding the right answer was what was important.” Participant A indicated that the work could be finished “…faster because each student would look up the answers to any question and share it with everyone in the group. This working together helped me.” The student was concerned about collaboration or sharing responsibility to complete a task. Cooperation in working on a task is a concept when individuals must come to an agreement concerning a question or assignment. Collaboration is another issue, however. Collaboration involves the sharing and delegation of responsibility for assignments. All of the participants recognized the importance of learning how to cooperate and collaborate in terms of future work responsibilities after graduation from the university. The participants also recognized the differences in personalities that they would encounter in future work responsibilities knowing that they will not like everyone that they have to work with, that they will have to work with some strange people, and that regardless of who they are working with, the employer will hold them just as responsible as if they were working on a task individually. These were the advantages in working in pairs, group discussions, and even with peer tutoring.

Four of the six participants indicated that the classroom enjoyed a more relaxed atmosphere because as Participant C said, “I wasn’t afraid of making a mistake and losing face in the classroom.” Participant B said, “The teacher wasn’t always pushing us or talking to fast, or giving us too much work to do.” Maybe the idea was best expressed by Participant E who said, “I felt like I was in control of my learning and what I learned.”

Another advantage of the paired learning and group discussion environment according to Participant F was that “I didn’t have to be listening to the teacher talking all of the time trying to understand what he was talking about.” What was interesting about these ideas was that they led the participants to talk about the concept that the students felt in the paired reading and group discussion activities that they could set the pace with which they encountered an activity. This was not only true for the in-class assignments, but as indicated earlier, they could choose the time convenient for them to listen to a video, repeat listening to a video as often as necessary, and complete the workbook assignments when time was available for them to do so. Participant E said, “I didn’t feel pressured into doing my work. I could do it when I wanted to and as fast as I wanted to do it.” Participant A even said, “Sometimes the work was harder than other times so I could slow down to be sure I understood the lesson.”  The concept that people learn in different ways, at different rates of speed, and because of differing interests in the topic discussed are well-established educational theories. Flipped learning appears to place the students in charge of the educational experiences giving the students more control over the learning environment and more confidence to complete the responsibilities the students were assigned. The pace of learning is an important issue that flipped learning addresses in positive ways.

From the perspective of this educator, the motivational levels of the students increased dramatically in the classroom, and even for the out-of-class assignments. The instructor observed that students were to class on time more frequently, completed homework more thoroughly, engaged in student-centered activities more enthusiastically, and seemed to enjoy the learning experience more consistently than in previous courses taught by the instructor during his long career as an educator. These ideas were confirmed by statements made by the participants including Participant A, “I wanted to learn more,” Participant B, “I didn’t want to miss any classes because they were fun and I learned more in the classes,” Participant C, “Learning was easy because I always had the help I needed to learn,” Participant D, “I looked forward to going to class every day,” Participant E, “You always were there to help us when we needed help. I got to ask more questions and got more help from you,” (referring to the instructor) and Participant F who said, “I really enjoyed the videos at home and knew I could find more videos to help me learn English better.” The test scores and grades earned by the participants were a clear indication of an increased motivation to learn on the part of the participants. That, in turn, motivated the instructor to take greater care in the preparation of the course materials, review of the videos, and details of the assignments for both the Advanced Reading and Advanced Writing courses.

Conclusion

            The interesting fact that emerged from all of the interviews was that despite all of these differing experiences, the participants still felt that they learned more English in these courses than in any other courses that they had previously taken at the university. Learning English was the primary goal of each of the courses, but there is so much more that students need to learn than just simply learning English. The flipped learning environment not only enhanced the English learning experience by involving the students in the learning activities more directly, causing the students to learn more English, but the flipped learning environment also allowed the students to learn how to cooperate and collaborate with other people. The environment also allowed the students to use the English language they knew more frequently and in more practical ways which represents the very essence of the flipped approach to teaching in that student-involvement in the learning process is fundamental to the actual learning of content. No one can learn anything for someone else. The flipped environment compelled the students to participate in class, use the English language they knew, and learn what language they needed to participate in the course activities. Flipped learning promotes a student-centered environment that motivates the students to want to participate and learn.

References

Bergman, J. & Sams, A. (2012). Flip Your Classroom. ISTE. Eugene, Oregon.

Bergman, J. & Sams, A. (2014, February). Flipped Learning: Maximizing Face Time. American

Society for Training & Development.

Bishop, J. L. & Verleger, M. A. (2013, June).  The Flipped Classroom: A Survey of the Research. American Society for Engineering Education. 120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Paper ID #6219.

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Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1991).

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Research. 6(4), 561-567.

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Fulton, K. P. (2014). Time for Learning:  Top 10 Reasons Why Flipping the Classroom Can

Change Education. Corwin:  A Sage Company:  Thousand Oaks, CA.

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Stretching Imagination.  The Dallas Morning News.

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Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers.

Millard, E. (2012, December). Five reasons flipped classrooms work. Universitybusiness.com.  

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Appendix A

FLIPPED LEARNING QUALITATIVE SURVEY QUESTIONS

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), how much did you enjoy the flipped class style employed in the Writing course? Reading Course?
     
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), how effective would you rate the flipped learning approach to assisting you in learning English? In the Writing Course? In the Reading Course?
     
  3. What did you like about the flipped learning approach in the Writing Course? Reading Course?
     
  4. What did you dislike about the flipped learning approach in the Writing Course? Reading Course?
     
  5. Would you like all of your English classes to employ the flipped approach to learning?  Why or Why Not?
     
  6. What were the advantages and disadvantages of the flipped class style employed in the Writing Course? Reading Course?
     
  7. If you were a flipped learning teacher what would you do differently in employing the approach to learning?  In the Writing Course? In the Reading Course?
     
  8. What were the advantages and disadvantages of the group work in the flipped class style employed in the Writing Course? Reading Course?
     
  9. What did you think about the homework assignments in the flipped learning approach to learning English? In the Writing Course? In the Reading Course?
     
  10. What would you do differently with the homework assignments? In the Writing Course? In the Reading Course?
     
  11. Did the homework assignments help you to prepare for the in-class work assigned by the teacher?
     
  12. How did the teacher’s behavior differ in the flipped classroom from the conventional classroom?
     
  13. What did you like about the teacher’s behavior? What did you dislike about the teacher’s behavior?
     
  14. What characteristics of a teacher in a flipped classroom environment are necessary to make the course interesting and productive in terms of learning?
     
  15. How much more motivated are you to learn because of the flipped approach?

     

    No more!               2)  Somewhat more!                3)  Much more?
     

  16. On a scale of 1 to 10, how motivated to learn were you before participating in a flipped classroom environment? After participating in a flipped classroom environment?

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