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DOUBLE FLIP: 3 Insights Flipping the Humanities Seminar

DOUBLE FLIP: 3 Insights Flipping the Humanities Seminar

Center for Scholarly Technology conducted an interdisciplinary pilot to discern disciplinary differences in the application of "flipped" classroom techniques.  A three-week unit was "flipped" in three courses: an engineering lecture, a sociology lecture, and a gender studies seminar.  Originating in STEM disciplines, "flipped" lectures are videotaped and accessed as part of the student's homework routine.  Classroom seat time is freed up for active learning exercises, such as discussion of problem sets.  Faculty circulate in the classroom as "master tutors."

Our humanities innovation was to double flip.  Homework, not seat time, became collaborative and new medial.  And rather than act as "master tutor," I taught students a range of collaboration possibilities afforded by digital tools, taught them how to align goals with medial affordances, then got out of their way to let them muck around and learn by trial, error and correction.

The "double flip" expanded our sense at CST of how to expand "flipped" practices beyond STEM.  Disciplinary specificity is the key.

This 25-minute interdisciplinary panel discussion at USC is a great overview of how disciplinary differences influence the goals and pedagogical design of the flipped classroom.  Find my slides for that panel  here.

This short post will summarize what I learned designing and observing implementation of a 3-week "flipped" unit in a 13-person humanities seminar.  These observations are part of a larger, cross-disciplinary collaborative project I'm writing with Director Joan Getman of USC's  Center for Scholarly Technology and others on her team.  

First, a caveat: the 3-class, cross-disciplinary pilot experiment did not control for class size, so key performance indicators are not uniform. Instead, our aim was to listen to what motivates professors to try flipping.  What course design problem might "flipping" help them solve?

None of the three faculty we worked with had previously used "flipped" techniques. 

My project partner, Prof. Jack Halberstram of gender studies, American studies and comp lit, needed to find a solution for 3 one-week intervals when invited lectures obliged him to be away from USC.  During those absences Jack wanted students 1) to take leadership of their learning; and 2) communicate their learning in a medial environment he could access on-demand from different time zones -- and respond back to them in kind.

Jack successfully met his course continuity goal.  Upon return from travels, Jack's students were up to speed with the reading materials and discussion. He observes: "Their reliance on [me] as an instructor was shifted."  (Hear more of Jack's observations in the video I linked to above and here.)  Students' firsthand experience emulating Jack's method of weaving together passages of reading and extra-diegetic context gave them a "maker" perspective on building interpretations they wouldn't have had if Jack had been there guiding them.  In my experience, student-led discussions often make subtle recourse to professorial authority, even if the professor is silent and abrogates the role as de facto leader.  The flipped environment, where Jack's absence meant students were totally on their own, fostered urgency as they relied on each other and negotiated how best to meet their collective learning goals.  My goal in this "flipped" humanities pedagogical design was to scaffold collaborative social skills and then designate classroom time to practice under my guidance during one week when Jack was away.  Practice made them more canny about crafting learning goals when they "flew on their own" later in the term. 

The longer, co-authored paper will describe the experiment design, implementation and evaluation in detail.  For now, I offer three humanities-specific observations:


66% of our 13 hum students did not respond to the survey designed to assess their flipped classroom experience. Listening to them reflect on their experience in class, I surmise the survey design was not applicable to their experience.  The design was optimized to standardize results across disciplines.  This is a laudable goal.  In practice, however, raw data may not be strictly correlative. Such work may be interpretive.  This small pilot was not conceptualized to produce "apples to apples" results across disciplines, and that's a great thing. We still need to explore the disciplinary nuances of flipping.  To leap prematurely to a "standard" set of assessment rubrics would flatten the results.  The 13 hum students wanted to write narrative about their flipped experience.  Radial buttons were insufficient to the expressive and summative work of the reflection process. Further, survey language presumed that gradations of performance (low-middle-high) inhered.  In this advanced seminar, it did not. 



The video capture  element of the students' "flipped" output turned out to be unnecessary to their learning goal, and even invasive.  In a next iteration of this project, audio or a g-doc would be sufficient.  Students had to move the camera around which interrupted the natural flow of conversation. The medial element split their attention.  And they could not shake "reality TV" as the default medial model, which imparted a sense of fakeness to the enterprise. 

Students did not attempt to conduct these filmed sessions virtually, though that would have been easy to do so using Google Hangouts.  Students actively preferred physical co-presence.  One group brought donuts and ate as they worked.  They believed this drew them even closer together.  Sharing process later, the entire class agreed. However, students spent too little time together in virtual environments to test whether or not intimacy is an attribute of physical co-presence.  My research and experience teaching in virtual learning environments suggests that synchronicity is essential, but embodiment is not.


Outside of digital humanities classes, humanities students rarely practice authoring collaboratively. When faculty bring digital tools into the classroom, frequently we spend our preparation time teaching the tools rather than the workflows that would allow students to grow manifold skills most efficiently.  Tool proficiency is non-trivial; but because it's procedural, it's easy to find YouTube or other tutorials to fill that need.  Collaboration skills can't be "googled." They can only be learned through practice, trial, error, and correction.


Have you flipped your classroom?  Do you have best practices or lessons learned that you'd like to share?  Post them below!  Or come visit some of the materials on my person website, Kathi Inman Berens.  I've been working predominantly in virtual and hybrid classrooms for three years.


1 comment

I'm curious as to why you chose to design a radio-button survey for this double-flipped classroom experience, rather than asking open-ended questions that would allow for more interactive feedback?  Was the survey design out of your control?