Not long after I began flipping my writing and literature classes—delivering the course content remotely mostly through outside readings and online videos, readings, and exercises and then practicing the content in the face-to-face classroom—I quickly discovered a serious drawback: my students were not likely to do the outside, online work without serious motivation. Busy, non-traditional college students would likely skip any work that didn’t have an immediate pay-off, and for them, that meant a grade. If the teacher didn’t check what they did and assign a grade to it, then they would ignore that work in favor of work, social, and family demands.
I can hardly blame my students. In a busy life, you don’t do anything that doesn’t count. That’s efficiency. And anyway, if you are training to be a nurse, then the importance of Hemingway, Faulkner, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock may escape you anyway.
Still, the discussions, exercises, games, homework, and writing that we do in my classes seldom make sense or work well with students who are not prepared by the outside, online readings and viewings. So what’s a teacher to do?
I have found it most helpful to incorporate the just-in-time teaching (JITT) techniques explained by Indiana University-Purdue University physics professor Gregor Novak in the 1999 book Just-in-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology. I find that JITT techniques are an easy complement to the flipped classroom, with several real advantages.
Just in Time Teaching
First, what is JITT, and how does it work in a flipped environment? The concept is simple: a teacher tests students on material prior to exploring the material in the classroom.
The benefits are strong: students know that the teacher is checking up on their outside, online work and grading that work. This encourages those students to do the work. After all, only observed behavior changes. Thus, JITT supports delivering content remotely in the flipped classroom. That content is remote, but not unobserved.
A second equally key benefit is that an early assessment tells the instructor what the students already know and do not know. It is an early-warning system that alerts the instructor when students are struggling with some concept or when they have mastered some concept. Either way, the instructor is now able to shift the focus of the in-class, face-to-face activities to best meet the needs of the students and to avoid boring them with things they already know. This is a win-win for both the students and the instructor.
Sounds nice, you say, but how do you put those assessments out and graded on a regular enough basis to dynamically tweak your classes?
The instructor is now able to shift the focus of the in-class activities to best meet the needs of the students.
This is where Google Forms comes into play. I use Google Forms to share with my students a just-in-time weekly assessment, which tells me how much of the outside, online material they have covered and mastered so that I can adjust the upcoming class sessions to address their needs. This is how it works:
I work on a weekly schedule, assigning outside, online lectures, readings, and exercises for the upcoming week. I share with all my students a Google Form at the end of the week prior to a given week’s work. The assessment form asks basic questions about the outside material that the students should become familiar with prior to class, and they must complete the form the day before our first class meeting, usually either a Sunday or a Monday. I then review the forms for two things: who has addressed the material for the upcoming week and what knowledge they are bringing to class. This tells me who earns a grade and what I should focus on in the upcoming classes.
Google Forms is easy to use and attractive. And did I mention that it is free? Well, it only costs a Google Account. If you think that giving Google any information about yourself is tantamount to selling your soul, then you should look into other, similar tools such as those from Zoho. I’ve not used them, but I hear they work as well. Also, many LMSes offer a quiz feature that can accomplish much the same thing.
But if you are comfortable with Google as I am, then Google Forms is a fine way to go. It takes no time to create easy-to-use forms such as this one for one of my literature classes:
The weekly assessments are short, quick, and relatively easy if the students have addressed the assigned material. If they haven’t, then it is usually very easy to tell.
So Google Forms is easy for the student, but it’s also easy for me.
As soon as a student completes a form, the responses are registered for me. Immediately. We don’t send things back and forth through email. Perhaps the best part is that Google grades the assessments for me and delivers beautiful charts to help me see quickly how my class is doing. This is really strong.
When I look at the results of the above assessment, I see immediately that the class seems to have mostly gotten the concept of genre, but they are struggling with the concept of style. I will adjust my face-to-face classes accordingly to devote more time to style and a bit less to genre.
This is another win-win-win for me, my students, and the flipped classroom.
Feature adapted from image courtesy of Flickr, eflon.