A Parallel Controlled Study of the Effectiveness of Partially Flipping Organic Chemistry

James Shattuck (University of Hartford, 2015 cCWCS ALOC Workshop in Washington) also has recently published his positive experience with the flipped classroom pedagogy (DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b00393).  Using a partial flip in one of two of his 1st semester organic chemistry sections, he observed several positive effects from increased active learning in comparison to the other section where “traditional” lecture was used. There was a 25% increase in A’s and B’s, 54% decrease in the withdrawal rate, and a significant increase in student performance on test questions where extensive active learning was used for topics for the partially flipped section.  Student surveys conducted at the midpoint and end of the semester also indicated other benefits from flipping portions of the class. Students in the flipped section exhibited an increased interest in organic chemistry and increased confidence in mastering the material over the semester while the traditional section experienced the opposite. Also, the students between the two sections stated that they were spending similar amounts of time working on organic chemistry.  Although the evidence indicated that active learning led to these improvements, James did recognize unavoidable limitations in the study and alternative explanations for the improvements were possible.

Two sections of organic were provided at the University of Hartford. One was partially flipped while the other was largely traditional lecture.  The class sizes were 26 and 28 students respectively. There was no significant differences in SAT scores and GPA’s. Although both sections were academically similar, they were not identical.  Both were taught by the same instructor.  As much as possible, the same course material, exam and quiz schedule, homework, and review sessions were used for both sections.  In the traditional or control section, 85% of the class was spent with lecture.  The remaining time was spent working on short problems (5%) followed by a single student called upon to explain the answer (10%).  In the partially flipped section, eight topics were flipped comprising 1/3 of the entire semester.  The students watched videos on the topics prior to class. To encourage viewing, the students were given extra credit for filling out notes and answering formative assessment questions.  This extra credit was only a 0.5% addition to their total grade.  In class, students would work in groups of 3 to 4.  The first 5-10 min. of the flipped classes was spent discussing and answering questions from the videos followed by an instructor led discussion.  The students then worked on 4 – 6 instructor created scaffolded problems. One student from each group was chosen to present answers on the board. Each section had homework assigned after class. 

 Although further details can be found in the JCE article, some other observations are worth noting.  Students in the flipped section performed better than the traditional section on flipped topics but not traditionally presented topics.  Although there were more A’s and B’s for the flipped section, the overall averages of both sections were approximately the same.  Since the withdrawal rate for the flipped section was lower, there were a larger number of lower performing students remaining in the course which could have masked improvements in grades.  It was still necessary to emphasize some memorization in order to do problem solving to the flipped section.  In the surveys, the students perceived gains in their critical thinking and problem solving skills, ability to transfer knowledge to future courses, and connect concepts.  They also felt more comfortable with active learning, peer learning, and the technology used.  All of these skills could be carried onto other courses.  The majority of the students would take another flipped course if offered.  Based on student comments, perhaps the most significant benefit was the ability to ask more questions about the material from other students and the instructor.

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