Flipping the classroom: the new acrobatics of teaching?

Post By Kylie Budge

“Flipping the classroom” is a new buzzword floating around the education sector at the moment. You may have come across it and wondered if this is some kind of strange new acrobatic maneuver or craze that’s hit teaching.

Well, yes and no!

What exactly is being flipped?

“Flipping the classroom” is an inquiry and problem based learning model of teaching.  As the name suggests, it is the flipside of the still popular lecture/content or teacher centred models still being used in universities today. The Economist explains that flipping the classroom is the ‘reversal of the traditional teaching methods—with lecturing done outside class time and tutoring (or “homework”) during it…’.

While in some ways flipping the classroom might appear as a new strategy to engage students in learning, the basic concept behind it has been around for some time. This recent article in Wired by Makice details the more recent history of flipping the classroom and how it is connected to teaching strategies such as enquiry and problem based learning.

Let’s think about some of the practicalities of how this might work.

Instead of students attending face-to-face classes to hear presentations from lecturers about a new topic, theory or series of ideas, students do this in their own time prior to class. That is, students are directed to read information about the topic or theory, view a lecture online, and/or listen to a podcast independently of their lecturer. When students attend their face-to-face classes, the focus is on applying the knowledge they gathered prior to the class. Application might involve problem solving or doing an activity alone or with other students to see how their ideas and new-found knowledge work in practice. Therefore classes are for being active, not passive.

Learning from a specific example is often the best way to understand a new concept. The following link shows how and why teacher, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, flipped her Art History classroom.

For many, to flip our classrooms will take a significant cultural shift in the way we see teaching. It will also require a shift in the expectations and mindset of many students. Some students have grown used to being passive consumers of education even if they don’t enjoy learning that way. Changing this attitude and approach to learning will take time, but possibly not as much time as you might think. Students are used to searching information on the Internet when they want to know more on a topic that interests them. They’re active knowledge seekers in their own time, for their own interests. It’s about continuing that active frame of mind and setting up contexts where they can apply it to their learning.

In terms of teaching, it might mean reconsidering the whole notion of weekly face-to-face classes. Do students need to attend classes weekly in order to learn? Could they come to a monthly workshop/seminar/tutorial instead and in between be focused on a series of reading/listening/viewing tasks in conjunction with their ongoing assessment pieces? They could still be actively linked with each other (and you as their teacher) doing tasks in online forums between workshops.

For many of us it’s about flipping traditional notions of teaching on their head and approaching things in a very new way. It’s also something worth thinking about in terms of being current with educational policy and technology.

There are a lot of resources available online if you’d like to know more about flipping the classroom. There’s even an annual conference you can attend.

And for those who use Twitter for professional development you can follow the hashtag: #flipclass and connect with others who are experimenting with this model in their teaching practice.

Have you already made the change and flipped your classroom? If so, we’d like to hear from you about what’s worked, what hasn’t and what changes you are making.

I caught my finger in the car door

Post by John Benwell

picture by jockwav on photobucket

I did, and it hurt lots, but I have never done it again. A quick survey around the office found out that most people have jammed their finger in the car door, interestingly, also only once.

No need to cite references here. The message is clear. We learn from our mistakes.

As part of the learning experience, we need to give students problems which allow them to develop and test their understanding and knowledge. Predictably, they will make mistakes. In the case of the car door, I received instant and memorable feedback – pain. In the case of an exam at the end of semester, there is no feedback to students, just a grade. It is an old way of assessing, and an ineffective way of assessing. We allow students to get half of what we decide to test wrong, often with no understanding of why, and we will call it a pass!

A semester of learning that culminates in an exam as the only large form of assessment with no subsequent feedback does not support good learning. It usually promotes rote learning (or cramming) which is of little value for students learning approaches. It doesn’t provide students with opportunities to display what they have learnt and what they understand with relation to the course.

As students progress through the semester, we should continually and progressively assess them. For instance, we can give them real life projects that allow them to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the subject material, followed up with tests that importantly provide good feedback. Then they can learn from their mistakes.

Students not only have differing learning styles, but also have different ways of expressing what they have learnt. They need to be given options that allow them to best demonstrate what they know. Not everyone is good at sitting exams, and worse still, not all teachers are good at writing them!

Reviewing how you assess your students may not only increase their satisfaction and experience in your course, but it is likely that they will learn more because they enjoy the process.

Firstly, do you really need one big assessment at the end of semester? Would it be better to teach in segments, and assess each segment as you proceed through the semester? It is possible to take an incremental approach to learning and progressively build students’ knowledge and depth of understanding, and increase the complexity of projects, essays, etc. as time goes on. With continuous assessment using multiple assessment methods, you can provide timely formative feedback from a range of perspectives about their mistakes that will better support their learning. They may even take the assessment again, to make sure they have filled the gaps in their understanding.

Nice, but how can I easily do this?

A Learning Management System (LMS) like Blackboard can help. You can create quizzes or tests in Blackboard which automatically give feedback on correct and incorrect answers. You can monitor your students’ progress in Blackboard’s grade centre as the tests are automatically marked.

Amongst other features, you can create question pools. Blackboard will give students random questions from the pool so each student will get a different set of questions. Questions can take a range of formats including formulas, essays, fill in the blanks, hot spot graphics, multiple choice short answers, true/false. What’s more, the students can do the quiz or test whenever it suits them.

To get going, log into Blackboard, and in any folder click on “Create Assessment” and select “Test”. (If test is not there, check “Tool Availably” option under Customisation). Then choose “Create”.

Give your test a name, description and supply instructions to the students, and hit “Submit”. Now create some questions. Developing good questions is another whole topic. Look back at your course’s learning outcomes and frame the questions to test your students understanding of them. Careful you don’t just test facts, make sure your students have to think about and consider their responses. With each question, complete the feedback boxes for both correct and incorrect answers that will help the students understand their mistakes, or reward them for a correct answer. Remember this test is not only for assessment, but is also a learning exercise.

As each student completes the test, you can check on their progress in the grade centre. Have they done it yet? How well did they do? You can even let them do the test again. You might find from the results of the test that you need to review or modify your lesson plans to emphasise a point that they have not understood.

Blackboard has many options to help you create and assess your students, as well as how to monitor their progress. Understanding how to do this is easy with the Blackboard “On Demand” short videos which are available online and focus on key activities involved in setting everything up. Here are a few to get you going with tests and quizzes.

Creating a test http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_surveys_creating_test.htm

Creating Short Answer Questions http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_survey_create_short_answer_question.htm

Creating Multiple Choice Questions http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_surveys_create_multiple_choice_question.htm

Building a Question Pool http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_surveys_building_a_pool.htm

These short instructional videos will help you create tests and learn how it works. The blackboard on demand site has many short videos to show you how to set thing up everything. The videos at the link below will help you set up assessment tasks to help your students learn.

Help on Assessing Learners http://ondemand.blackboard.com/assess.htm#TestsSurveysandPools

My finger got better, but I will always remember the feedback. Assess your students often, and provide each student with timely and formative feedback, then your assessment activities can become valuable learning activities as well. That’s got to better than one final exam.

FAQ on the new AQF

FAQ on the new AQF

photo by Colin_K on Flickr

Post by Meredith Seaman

You may have heard of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and have questions. The framework is already influencing program/course development work and University planning, but what might it mean for you as a teacher? This is my informal account of the some of the whats and whys.

1) What is the AQF?

The AQF is a framework that underpins Australian education qualifications, and sets the national standards. It sets out the ‘Knowledge’, ‘Skills’ and ‘Application of Knowledge and Skills’ for a range of qualifications across 10 levels (Level 1 being Certificate I qualifications, Level 10 being Doctoral Degrees). It specifies in general terms what each type of qualification should cover in terms of what they provide to graduates, and to what level or standard.

Institutions will be required to refer to the framework when developing new and renewing/amending accredited qualifications. It is the resource to help institutions ‘pitch’ the level/standard of different qualifications, such as the difference between a Graduate Diploma and a Masters degree, or a TAFE Graduate Diploma and Bachelor Degree and so on.

2) Why the AQF?

As well as providing standards and benchmarks for qualifications accredited by institutions. It provides guidelines to help us to ensure that a degree at RMIT is comparable with a comparable degree at other institutions, and that the levels of our qualifications (and what graduates at that level can do) can be easily communicated overseas. It is designed to help ensure equivalence between graduates of different programs as they apply to go on to further study or employment.

3) What’s new? 

 While the AQF has been around since 1995, the current version came into effect July 1 2011. It includes more detail around the ‘Qualification Type Descriptors’ and generic learning outcomes that students will have to demonstrate in their studies. It now provides a taxonomy of what graduates are expected to do, expressed in terms of knowledge, skills, and the application of knowledge and skills for each qualification and level.

It also specifies typical durations of learning that may or may not be entirely consistent with what is offered now by institutions. There will also be greater emphasis on the pathways we provide for our students, the opportunities we provide to further study.

4) Why pay attention?

 Programs and Institutions must be compliant with the AQF by 2015. Universities are already including reference to the AQF in the development of new programs and designing processes to ensure alignment with the AQF by 2015. This is one aspect of a broader agenda of consistency and transparency within the education environment, including the introduction of TEQSA [http://www.teqsa.gov.au/].

5) What does it mean for you?

We will need to develop our programs and courses at the ‘right’ AQF level, express our course and program outcomes in ways that are consistent with the AQF, AND most importantly, teach and assess in ways that ensure our graduates achieve these learning outcomes.

Our graduates will need to have the generic and discipline knowledge and skills (and be able to apply them) in ways consistent with the AQF level and qualification descriptor. We will need strategies – and good assessment tasks – to ensure that graduates meet the specified requirements. We may be doing this already, but chances are in the next few years it will have to be made more explicit, and we will need more evidence that we are doing so.

The processes that will evolve out of meeting AQF requirements may well include greater emphasis on constructive alignment, and more explicit focus on aligning learning and teaching activities and assessments with program level learning outcomes. It may even lead to requirements for peer or external review of our curriculum design and associated documentation, or even some form of external validation/moderation of assessment tasks and students’ work.

6) What does it mean for our programs in practice?

Programs will need to express learning outcomes using language that is consistent with the AQF taxonomy of knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills appropriate to the qualification and level.

EXAMPLE 1. An Associate Degree (a 2 year Level 6 qualification), compared with a Bachelor Degree (a 3-4 year Level 7 qualification) have differences including paraprofessional versus professional, and autonomy, judgment and defined responsibility versus autonomy, well-developed judgment and responsibility. ‘Judgment’ as compared to ‘well-developed judgment’ may look minor at first glance, but are significant in practice – programs and institutions will need to work through the detail of what that means in an industry and/or discipline context.

EXAMPLE 2. Whereas an Advanced Diploma and Associate Degree are both at Level 6 in the AQF criteria, there are differences in the detail of the knowledge and skills graduates are expected to have and apply, such as in their problem solving skills. The Advanced Diploma taxonomy refers to ‘cognitive and communication skills to formulate responses to complex problems’ as opposed to ‘cognitive and communication and analytical skills to interpret and transmit responses to sometimes complex problems’ outlined in the Associate Degree descriptor. Qualifications will need to be designed and renewed with such differences in mind.

EXAMPLE 3. The typical ‘volume of learning’ for Masters Coursework programs is specified in the AQF as 1-2 years depending on whether the student has qualified in the same discipline or not in their pre-requisite degree. The different permutations are:

  • 1.5 years following a level 7 (Bachelor Degree) qualification in the same discipline
  • 1 year following a level 8 (Honours, Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma) qualification in the same discipline
  • 2 years following a level 7 qualification in a different discipline
  • 1.5 years following a level 8 qualification in a different discipline

As currently some Masters programs are 1 to 1.5 years and take students from a range of disciplines, this will potentially extend the maximum duration for some programs and in addition there is a requirement that this include a substantial research-based project, capstone experience and/or piece of scholarship.


The authoritative source for all things AQF is: http://www.aqf.edu.au/

This is where the current version of the framework is available, the Australian Qualifications Framework – First Edition July 2011.

For more on current changes in the Higher Education sector and the agenda of consistency and transparency in Higher Education you might want to have a look at the TEQSA website http://www.teqsa.gov.au/

It’s rubbish, do it again!

Post by: Alex Wake & Ruth Moeller

Image: Leo Reynolds, accessed Flikr, 29 March 2012

This post grew out of a discussion stimulated by a teachers@work session on “Uses of automated feedback in teaching” by Rebecca Young, Games & Animation lecturer, School of Media & Communication, RMIT.

When I started as a journalist there was little in the way of feedback. The sub-editors would simply yell out “it’s rubbish, do it again”. Their desk was beside the ladies toilet. I didn’t pee for a year.

Although I eventually found a mentor who could help me with “there, their and they’re” I still remember the days when I was too frightened to ask for help – and too overwhelmed to know where to start.

These days I try to think about framing more constructive feedback for students. I’m still learning, but I know that I respond best when the feedback I get is clear, tells me what I need to do to fix the problems, lets me know what I did well, and most importantly is specific.

1. Tell them it is feedback. New lecturers may find it useful to be very clear when giving feedback to students. Give them a chance to read the feedback and then talk about the general issues. Use the word “feedback” often.

2. Make the comments useful to them. I’ve yet to see a student read the general feedback – it seems they are only interested in the mark. Moeller advises that it’s best to be practical about the good and the bad … tell them what is good so it can be repeated, then tell them what needs improvement and how it can be improved.

3. Cut and paste examples. When a student continually makes mistakes with apostrophes, give them an example of how apostrophes should be used. (This can be cut and pasted from a master document of common mistakes).

4. Don’t overwhelm students. They can only take in so much. It’s a careful balance.

5. Check your terminology. One of the most disconcerting moments for students is when there is discipline-specific terminology. If you comment, “What you are writing is pedagogically unsound” they will not understand what you are saying if they don’t understand the word “pedagogy”.

6. Marking isn’t a precise science. It can be useful to double check yourself. Look back at your marks – did everyone after the first three get a distinction. Using a rubric can help. They can take a lot of time to set up, but after you have thought it through they can help ensure that you are consistent in your marking.

7. The X Factor. The X factor or “the vibe” is something often used as a way of describing the difference between a distinction and a high distinction. If lecturers can’t describe the difference between a D and a HD, then the students will not know how to achieve it. It takes some thinking.

8. Excellent students. Sometimes students are extraordinary and the feedback needs to be carefully thought through. You can start by identifying what is good. If you can’t suggest improvements, think about extending their skills. You could say, “you’ve met the criteria for this assignment, perhaps next time you could try a different style or approach”.

9. It’s constructive to end on a positive note. Providing a general piece of feedback for students can help those who have done well and want to do better, and will also be invaluable for those who have done badly and need to know that all is not lost. Try to find something they did well and acknowledge it – grammar, referencing, meeting deadlines, attempting original thought.

This is my advice but as I said at the start, I’m still learning; so I’m interested in your ideas.  What ideas/examples/advice to you have for giving student’s feedback?  What traps do I need to be aware of?


Student Feedback Policy for RMIT University

Andy Adcroft (2011): The mythology of feedback, Higher Education Research & Development, 30:4, 405-419