In an inverted, or flipped, classroom, the initial introduction to new content is through short online videos and readings prior to a synchronous class meeting. Class meetings can then focus on the important and harder work of developing higher level thinking skills. The inverted class is a great way to make time in your classes for the skills and content you care about teaching, but they do require careful planning and a time investment.

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Why might you invert your class?

Faculty invert their classes for a variety of reasons such as:

  • making time for activities that foster critical thinking skills and applications during class.
  • providing in-person support and guidance for the most challenging work and leaving the easier work to independent reading or video-watching.
  • improving understanding of how students engage with the material.
  • promoting independent learning.
  • making modality switches easier, such as moving from in-person classes, to mixed modality, to fully online delivery with little disruption.
  • levelling the playing field for struggling students.
  • increasing student engagement during the class.
  • staying on a timeline.
  • making classes more interesting and less frustrating for everyone.

Ideas for adopting an inverted format

The following ideas and suggestions were collected during workshops with LCSC faculty across campus that have tried an inverted format.

  • Include learning outcomes in the syllabus related to independent learning and critical thinking and explain why you care about these skills
  • Be clear about how the class is structured in the syllabus
  • Provide incentive for doing pre-class assignments
  • Explain it multiple times or don’t tell them at all and just do it - some faculty do one this and others do another
  • Relate the process to future job skills
  • Make the format pay off with rewarding in-class activities

In order to make pre-class assignments work, it is important to realize that not all students are comfortable with the independent work required of them, and may not have significant experience with it. You can help your students learn skills to be able to successfully do independent work. Here are a few approaches:

  • Provide a range of material types for preparation including video and readings and then help your students choose the material type.
  • Start with short, accessible pre-class assignments (3-5 minute videos, short readings) and build up.
  • Use student questions submitted prior to class to prepare for class instead of higher stakes quizzes, at least in the beginning.

Assessment of understanding prior to the class serves two conflicting purposes. First, it is a way to determine what students have been able to learn independently and what is still challenging to them. Second, it provides incentive by giving the student a bit of credit for doing the assignment. There is tension in grading a pretest, where enough weight is needed to make it important, but not so much that students do not feel able to honestly show what they are able to do and what they still need help doing. Experimentation and communication with your students is necessary to find the balance.

The pre-class assignments are often quizzes in various forms because they can be quickly looked over prior to a class. Some suggestions for pre-class assignments, some quizzes and some not, are:

  • Short quiz questions as part of a video (e.g. Edpuzzle)
  • Short quiz at the beginning of class
  • Blackboard quizzes prior to class
  • Reflections or surveys prior to class
  • Submitting questions about the material
  • Attempting increasingly complicated problems to stimulate curiosity and investment (e.g. Just In Time Teaching).

Some of the ways of looking at the assignments and responding take more time, and some take less. Here are some ideas:

Less time:

  • Skimming surveys or quiz results
  • Grading pre-class assignments as complete/incomplete
  • Assigning multiple choice quizzes that can be graded by Canvas (although writing them can be time-consuming)
  • Designing in-class discussions and activities that can “self-level” so that the students can access them no matter how well they prepared for class. This avoids prep work right before class.

More time:

  • Grading individual assignments or reflections
  • Revising or developing classes entirely based on student responses to pre-class assignments

Some of the in-class work may be answering and responding to student questions. However, the real pay-off is being able to facilitate activities in which students can practice their critical thinking skills.  A few examples of in-class activities are:

  • Small and large group discussions
  • Case studies and other applications
  • Guided inquiry workshops
  • Experiential learning
  • Working on or writing challenge problems
  • Simulations and role-play
  • Community building activities
  • Presentations and peer-led teaching

Some faculty incorporate a metacognitive step into the class meeting while others leave it to be done independently after class.  In any case, an ending reflection is an important step in organizing and making sense of learning.

There are a wide range of additional assignments that faculty assign for after class, and some simply go on to the next lesson. Here are a few assignments that faculty use:

  • Follow up problems
  • Challenge problems
  • Reflections on applications or relevance to the student's life/career path
  • Creating rules for examples
  • Self-tests

Inverted classes in time of uncertainty

During Summer 2020, when many faculty were designing classes for a fall semester in which the mode of delivery was uncertain due to COVID-19, inverted classes experienced a resurgence in popularity. They offered a way to provide a consistent introduction to course material that could then be supported by online, mixed-modality, or in-person classes.

From anecdotal evidence, students seemed more amenable than usual to the inverted format in Fall 2020, perhaps having experienced the sudden switch to remote teaching in Spring 2020. However, it is important to reinforce to students that an inverted class is a synchronous class whether class time is face-to-face or remotely. It is not intended to be a "flex" class or one in which students engage only in the asynchronous prep work. Indeed, the most important work happens synchronously.

Additional reading and references