Innovative professors turn teaching upside down

When students head to some classes at CSU Monterey Bay, they’ve already learned the day’s lesson – by watching online videos prepared by the instructor.

Kate Lockwood and Rachel Esselstein Without a lecture to listen to, students spend class time working in small groups, solving problems with the help of the faculty member.

It’s a technology-driven teaching method known as the “inverted classroom” because it flips the traditional model of classroom lecture and exercises for homework – the lecture becomes homework and class time is used for problem-solving.

It’s a model that is gaining in popularity on campuses nationwide. When CSUMB faculty members were recently asked to submit proposals to promote innovation in teaching and learning, many of the submissions came from instructors interested in flipping their classrooms.

Dr. Kate Lockwood, a professor of computer science and information technology, uses the method in programming classes, a discipline where students learn best by doing, she said.

“In a traditional model, I lecture at them and then send them home to wrestle with how to apply the material on their own,” Dr. Lockwood said. “As a result, many students get frustrated.”

In her inverted classroom, students complete an online workbook – which includes videos, text and short exercises – before coming to class.

“When they get into the classroom, we jump right in and start exploring how to apply the material to new problems.”

An added benefit: Dr. Lockwood created the workbooks and makes them available for free, saving students the expense of a $100-plus textbook.

Dr. Rachel Esselstein has used the method in her math classes for several years and has worked to convince other faculty members to adopt it.

“The inverted classroom supports the notion that instructors are more than just lecturing machines,” she said. “We can share our passions and excitement for the material when we are allowed to interact with the students rather than just lecture at them.”

Both professors say students enjoy the inverted classroom once they get the hang of it. At first, many students are uncomfortable learning from a video but they change their minds when they realize they can pause the video, rewind and replay it as many times as they need to.

It also prompts students to come to class prepared. Students can’t participate without having watched the video lecture.

“Their peers and the instructor hold these students accountable for keeping up in a way that is not possible in a traditional classroom,” Dr. Esselstein said.

“Lecturing is a basic cognitive skill for a student. All they’re doing is taking in information, writing notes and maybe asking questions,” said Esselstein, who introduced the new model to the university in 2010.

“We send them home to do homework because we’re asking them to apply the knowledge. This is the time that they need the support of a teacher.”

Esselstein was inspired to flip her classroom by the success of the Khan Academy, which provides free online video tutorials on a variety of topics.

“I try to convince them that it’s better than class, because they can pause it, they can watch it as many times as they want,” Esselstein said.