|Historically, flipped classrooms have been around since the mid-2000s and began as bottom-up pilot experiments in a single classroom or section of a course at the will of an inventive instructor. With a robust body of literature deeming these modern content delivery models effective in achieving student success in the classroom and beyond, many educators in the sciences have adopted this approach to active learning. However, I doubt very few decided the pandemic-forced transition to distance learning was the right time to pull the trigger on flipped classroom implementation at the course director level in a multi-section course. I’m happy to share my wild idea and the wild ride we (myself and the A&P faculty at Jefferson) have been on while we were “building the plane as we flew it” over the past 2 years.
I direct A&P undergraduate courses at Thomas Jefferson University and manage a large staff (12 faculty) consisting of myself and a largely part-time adjunct workforce serving about 300 undergrads spread across 12 sections of lecture and 20 sections of lab. Since 2019 when I took the job at Jefferson we have been ballooning with growth and the demand for A&P courses has nearly doubled in the past 3 years. I was just getting used to the new course director role, when we were all challenged in March of 2020. Overnight I went from settling into my new job, to calling upon every skill and resource I had in my academic tool bag.
This unique choice to flip at the director level was borne out of pandemic-generated necessity for a means to deliver a single series of digital content of core A&P concepts, remotely, to all students to ensure an equitable experience across sections. The A&P courses at Jefferson have historically been face-to-face only with the exception of a few “snow days” with “take-home” assignments across the Spring semester during hard Philadelphia winters. The decision to flip a classroom in general aligns well with Jefferson’s active (Nexus) learning approaches, however a flipped distant digital classroom taught in a course director-led multi-section, multi-instructor course is something only a pandemic makes one crazy enough to dream up.
Additional rationale for the implementation of the flip in Fall of 2020 was to seize the day, using March of 2020 as an opportunity to fully revamp a dated class, albeit in a very stressful crisis mode. At that very infamous time, during widespread lockdown, emergency recordings of A&P lectures over slides were the go-to tool to preserve the integrity of the course. With a small amount of course director forethought and rock star faculty teamwork, those initial post-spring break A&P II content videos were recorded with the thought and intention to not waste any effort as the entire sequence would in all likelihood need to be converted to a digital format to carry the FA20/SP21 rising cohort of students though the standard 2 semester A&P sequence.
While I can currently say from the perspective of the course director/major course designer that the goal of generating a flipped classroom that works both at distance and in person was absolutely, successfully, met. I cannot yet speak to the experience of the faculty members who were handed the curricula and directed to teach in a new modality adopted over a short summer break in July of 2020. In hindsight, the A&P faculty ended up being tested much more than the students with little prep time, and direction to teach in a way they may be unfamiliar with, the flipped classroom, online. A plan for reflection and a revelation of the faculty member experience is in the works.
To better describe the design, active learning is implemented both equitably and autonomously across sections. All sections share the same assignment types, but not necessarily identical assignments nor the same instructor. All students must give two “teach-back” presentations where the student is tasked with becoming an expert on a single learning outcome (LO), and then “teaching-back” that learning outcome to a classroom audience of students. “Teach backs” account for about 25-30% of synchronous class time. The other 70-75% of synchronous class time is devoted to reviewing core concepts, demonstrating study strategies, and facilitating active learning activities. The active learning activities are curated by the course director with the intention that the individual instructors modify and adjust activities as they go, but have a safety net of resources to deliver the course as is.
Noteworthy, not all activities were totally unknown to the faculty with institutional knowledge when the new core curricula materials were shared. There were some upcycled former laboratory activities that were really “dry” classroom friendly labs. For example, basic sensory tests could be done at home with any willing quarantine mate. Activities requiring materials did have to wait for in person days. The future goal is to add more in-house generated collaborative work to the shared instructor pool to elevate each iteration of the course. However, “not fixing anything that wasn’t already broke” was deemed a resourceful jumping off point.
The course, now, is robust and both A&P I & II lab and lecture have run online in FA2020/SP2021. The course is now mid re-test during our first in person semester back, FA2021/SP2022, with the same content and resources generated in crisis mode March 2020-Summer2020-Fall 2020. We, transitioned synchronous lecture back to masked-face-to-masked-face in person learning in Fall of 2021 and the course is running as planned. No major changes needed to be made to Canvas sites housing core lecture content to make the shift back to in person. Courses were relatively easy to share and copy over to individual instructors prior to the start of the semester to allow time for autonomous course personalization.
The story is still in progress as we have only just begun to experience Spring of 2022. The course is being tested in another way now, with a virtual start and a mid-semester transition back to in person as the pandemic distance learning challenges keep coming. At this point I’m very grateful to say the course can also seamlessly transition with little notice from remote-to-face-to-face and back again. Collaborative drawing activities on white boards work on digital white boards with screen sharing. Paper worksheets can also be completed digitally and collaboratively in small digital break out rooms. Not every activity will transfer perfectly, but that is what makes a growing pool of shared instructor resources important and valuable. The flipped classroom does not have to be grassroots anymore. A growing body of generous teacher networks, education organizations, and professional societies continue to share and widely make active learning resources available to all and often, free. And finally, there is also nothing like a global pandemic bearing down under uncompromising deadlines to force a little creativity and development of new ideas to share back to the community.
**Illustration by Andrea Rochat, MFA