Saturday, September 14, 2013

Feedback, Part II

The editor of our local newspaper contacted me this week wanting to write an article about what flipped learning looks like in my classroom.  Since my science-teaching colleague has also starting flipping this year, I asked her to participate in the interview as well.  She had a great idea - "Why don't we survey our students and include some of their opinions in the article as well?"  So I whipped up a quick Google Form and we took a couple of minutes in our classes Thursday and Friday for students to complete the anonymous survey.  I have been stewing over the results ever since.

Now, before I launch into the crux of this post, I want to say that the survey revealed that the majority of our students prefer the flipped classroom to traditional classes.  Here is an overview of the questions and results:
  • A "flipped classroom" allows more time for teacher and student interaction than a normal classroom.  76% Agree, 24% disagree  
  • A"flipped classroom" gives students more time in class for help from the teacher when compared to a normal classroom.  72% Agree, 28% disagree
  • I would rather watch a video for homework than work on a problem set (typical homework).  72% Agree, 28% disagree
  • A benefit of the "flipped classroom" is that it allows students to work through class content at their own pace.  70% Agree, 30% Disagree
In the free-response portion of the survey, students had many positive things to say about the class, such as loving the ability to watch the videos at their own pace and appreciating the extra time in class to work with other students and their teacher.  But of course, in typical teacher-fashion, it is those unsatisfied students that are occupying my thoughts right now.  I went through all of the comments of the students who do not like the flipped format, and categorized them into seven different areas of concern.
  • Students think that videos take up too much of their "free time."  They don't like to do homework, even if it is videos.  (13 comments)
  • Students feel they don't understand the video content as well as they would if it was in lecture format.  (6 comments)
  • Students worry that if they have questions while they're watching the video they won't get them answered during class.  (6 comments)
  • Students commented that if they're going to watch videos at home for class, the entire class might as well be online. (3 comments)
  • Students were concerned about internet access for watching the videos.  (3 comments)
  • One student felt there were too many distractions at home while watching videos.
  • Students commented that learning from the video was harder than learning from an in-class lecture.  (2 comments)
I have to tell you, I've been agonizing over these comments.  I don't want my students to dislike my class or feel like it's a waste of their time.  Some of the students who made these comments were very livid in their opposition to flipped learning.  It stung a little bit to have something I believe in so strongly and have put so much blood, sweat, and tears into ripped apart by a few caustic comments.  I should have known better to open up an anonymous survey, but I wanted the students to be honest.  

So even though a large percentage of my students report flipped learning is working for them, I still feel like I need to address that 30% of dissatisfied students on Monday.  I've been thinking about how I'll approach each comment.  Here is what I've come up with so far:
  • For the number one complaint, "too much homework," I added up the total number of minutes of video I've assigned in these first four weeks of school for all my classes.  For my Biology and College Biology classes, it was a total of 40 minutes of video in four weeks, averaging out to 10 minutes a week.  Now I know that it takes longer than the run-time of a video for students to do their homework, because they take notes and fill out a form as well.  From my observations of students who watch video in class, it can take up to twice as long as the run-time to complete an assignment (although it's faster for most students).  So, if I use this highest estimate of video time for homework estimation, it ends up being 20 minutes of homework per week.  I just don't feel that this is too much too ask of 10th and 11th graders.     
  • I am okay with the second comment that students don't understand the videos as well as they would content from an in-class lecture.  I feel like learning a new topic should be confusing at first - otherwise you're not really learning anything new.  I don't intentionally make my videos confusing, but if students come to class with some uncertainty, I'm positive that what I do with them in class will help to sort that out.  There is research showing that students making initial mistakes in their understanding is actually a good way to learn, as long as those misconceptions eventually get cleared up.  Does this mean that students are comfortable with feeling like they don't understand everything?  No way.  Which leads into the last comment - learning from videos is harder.  Yes, it might be more challenging.  And that is okay because we have the classroom space to work together.
  • I feel like the the student comments about asking questions is an area that I can improve upon.  I have the students ask questions on an online form every time they finish watching a video.  I really do look over all of these questions before the next class and tailor what I'm doing in class that day to address their questions.  Most of time I know that what I already have planned for class will take care of a lot of the questions that came up because I was able to anticipate what would confuse the students during my lesson planning.  But occasionally I will verbalize to the students, "A lot of you had questions about _________, so we're going to do this in class today to help with that."  I need to do more of this - I need to be more clear with my students about the fact that I am paying attention to their questions and structuring class in a way that helps to answer those questions.
  • As far as the comments about the entire class being online, I have to defer back to my calculations for the time spent working on video assignments.  Twenty minutes a week are spent in the "online" format.  My classes are 53 minutes long, five days a week, so approximately 250 minutes a week are spent in class, working face to face with students.  I'm not sure how students could learn the material if those 250 minutes we're spending together simply disappeared, as some students suggested.  Enough said.
  • The final comments deal with home environments, either lack of internet or too many distractions at home.  I do worry about marginalizing these students.  I have kept my videos short this year so that they can be watched during lunch, before or after school, or in a study hall.  I try to give students a couple of days notice before a video needs to be completed.  I know which students don't have access because I did a technology survey at the beginning of the year.  I have offered to put videos on flash drives and/or DVD's for these students, but they would all rather find time at school to watch the videos.  It is not a problem I have solved yet, but I continue to try to find better ways to serve these students.
So, now I forge into Monday, ready to discuss these concerns with my students.  I don't want to make a huge deal out of it, because many students are really excelling in the flipped classroom.  However, I do want to make sure that the students who are not liking the class right now know that I hear them and take their comments seriously.  I know that many students will be afraid to speak up when I initiate this conversation in class on Monday, so I'm also going to encourage students to send me messages via our class Schoology account when they're feeling frustrated with class.  I think I'm done with the anonymous surveys for now (!), but I will continue to look for ways to continue this conversation with my students.

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