It’s easy to picture a traditional classroom — a lecturing professor with rows of students watching, listening and taking notes. 

But that age-old model is turning a cartwheel in some of the best classrooms in academia, and chances are someone in your department is already flipping their classroom. 

I started experimenting with this technology-driven pedagogy three years ago, redesigning and refining my courses over time and putting the onus on the student to come to class already having watched the lectures and ready to engage in conversation. During that time I met and overcame challenges and reset my teaching style to positive feedback from my students.  

Education is really evolving worldwide. We’ve gone from traditional classrooms where we all gathered, listened to the lecture and took notes to more dynamic classrooms where almost everyone has a laptop open and access to almost anything on the internet. As a professor, I sometimes wonder “What’s on their screens?” “What’s on in their minds?” “Was it the material I was presenting or was it something else?” 

Are they really taking notes? Are they Facebooking? Tweeting? Are they on YouTube? Are they really paying attention to my lecture at all? This is one of the reasons why I explored the flipped classroom approach. Maybe some of you fear this as a lecturer or administrator. Heck, nobody wants to “Flip Out” during a semester as a result of an idea gone bad!  But this isn’t meant to be a scary story. I like to describe this process as a real-life drama, a story where teachers like me and students take on these challenges and try to come up with happy endings. 

Taking on this teaching style can seem intimidating. I was scared that I would walk into a classroom and no one would be there because students would just watch recorded lectures and I wouldn’t be needed: a concern I had as a non-tenure tract lecturer.  But I soon found there was no reason to fear the flipped classroom, and I have actually enjoyed the experience. 

Why flip at Clemson? 

There were several forces that really pushed me into this new teaching style. 

At Clemson University we saw a high demand for our health sciences major. We were seeing approximately 600-700 students apply every fall with approximately 50 actually getting accepted into our small department. Also, we had a limited number of faculty available to teach these courses, and, like institutions worldwide, we’ve been experiencing budget cuts. All of these things resulted in an even greater need for effective and efficient teaching strategies.  

The university looked towards growing our online education program to accommodate these needs as well as other factors key to enhancing the cost effectiveness of providing quality education to Clemson students.

Over the 20 years I’d been teaching I realized I'd grown older, and the new generation of learners coming into my classroom was very different. They had laptops, they used cell phones, and their way of thinking and studying was different. I felt I needed to adapt to their style, because what was working very effectively 5, 10, even 20 years ago was not the case anymore. 

This column first appeared in Private University Products and News. Click here to finish reading. It also appeared in EdTech Digest

Ralph Welsh is a professor at Clemson University in the College of Health, Education and Human Development. He uses Mediasite by Sonic Foundry (www.sonicfoundry.com/mediasite) for his academic video initiatives. Learn more about Ralph, including a new e-book about his flipped approach, at www.sonicfoundry.com/customer/ralph-welsh