Flipping Your Classes to Enhance Active Learning

This mini-primer is designed for instructors who would like to learn about the concept of the "flipped classroom" or "flipped learning" and the goal to reserving more in-class, group-based time for active learning tasks. In addition to the introductory resources presented here, instructors are encouraged to look for evidence-based studies about the impact of the flipped classroom on learning within their respective disciplines.

What are the ideas about teaching and learning in a flipped classroom approach?

The idea of a flipped classroom comes from a constructivist approach to learning theory and is based on the assumption that people have to actively construct knowledge to learn. If you are not yet familiar with the concept of active learning and teaching strategies that support active learning, you might enjoy watching the video "What is Active Learning?" (4:12min) by the Northwest Iowa Community College (2011).

The overall approach is to move from a teacher-centered practice during class sessions to a learner-centered one. During the class session, students will be actively engaged with the material and exercise complex, higher level thinking tasks, both alone and in collaboration with peers. Peers and instructor can then provide immediate feedback, which means that students have more and faster access to assistance. Moreover, experiencing more personalized contact time improves the motivation to engage in active learning. In turn, most didactic materials will be frontloaded, often in digital formats, and reviewed by the students before the class session. Students take more responsibility for their learning and process preparatory instructional materials based on their own learning preferences.

To approach a more detailed definition of a flipped classroom, have a look at the following resources:

A longer resource with historical background on the flipped classroom, critical considerations, and many tips and resources is Leslie Owen Wilson’s “The Flipped Classroom: What exactly is the flipped classroom design?” (The Second Principle, 2017).

When considering to flip your classes, keep a few pieces of advice in mind:

  • Don’t flip everything at once: Creating good materials and practice activities takes time; students also need time to become familiar with the approach.
  • Practice good course and lesson design: Align all materials and strategies to your objectives; keep it relevant. Communicate objectives and expectations clearly and explicitly.
  • Keep it simple: Allow yourself a little time to look for the tools and methods that resonate with you. Technological (IT) tools vary and change rather quickly; use only what supports your teaching techniques and is feasible for you and your students, but keep yourself aware of possible alternatives and new IT possibilities.
  • Be inclusive: Multiplicity in the types of course materials and activities responds to the diversity and versatility of our students. Create multimedia materials for the students, e.g., a mix of readings, websites, and videos, and make them accessible; advice and support are provided through the DRC.

How do I design a flipped lesson?

Flipped or not, lesson planning is a matter of effective course design. You first map out a lesson and then consider how to implement it in a flipped classroom. Here are some key resources about effective course design:

To begin, you may identify a single lesson you may teach in the near future as part of a course or clerkship. Assess the situational factors or context of your class:

  • Who are your students and what is their level of preparedness?
  • What is the format of your course (amount of hours spent online and in person), and do you have any flexibility regarding the format?
  • What is your teaching and learning environment (D2L, integrated IT tools, other IT; classroom space)?

Once the contextual information is known, you can plan your lesson:

  1. Formulate the teaching objectives/outcomes for your lesson. Make sure that your objectives are measurable (use action verbs, e.g., to analyze, to evaluate). This website on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy can help with that task.
    1. Tip: Lower level thinking skills can often be practiced at home when students review didactic materials in preparation for the class session. Follow-up tasks that aim at higher level thinking skills are great candidates for activities during the in-person class session.
  2. Decide how you plan to assess whether the students reach the outcomes. On the lesson level you will likely focus on formative (developmental) assessment - the practice of growing knowledge and skills with a strong feedback component. On the course level, you may start with selecting more summative or evaluative assessments.
  3. Infer what guided practice (especially practice with peers and instructor in class) the students need, for instance, to prepare for a more summative assessment (if given). The website "Course design: planning a flipped class" (University of Waterloo) may help to develop a good sequence for out-of-class and in-class elements of the practice.
  4. Lastly, list which instructional materials you need to prepare the students and facilitate their practice.

At this point, you have determined what your students are supposed to learn and how you will assess that learning is taking place. The next step is to determine the nature of active and collaborative learning tasks for your in-person meetings.

How do I design the in-person lessons?

Flipping one’s classes means that a lot of in-person content delivery now may become online material and more activities for intellectual exchange and guided practice in the in-person lesson have to be designed. 

To identify effective techniques for active learning, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The UALibraries have a good number of publications - some of them as ebooks - that take a manual-style approach and provide long lists of ready-to-use classroom assessment techniques, student engagement techniques, and collaborative learning techniques that can facilitate higher level thinking. These books present each technique with step-by-step instructions and case examples from different disciplines. The techniques may range from activities that take a few minutes to those that take several class periods. Examples of such publications are:

More considerations to ensure student preparedness, to bridge individual and group learning, and to design active learning tasks can be found in teaching blogs online; here are a few examples:

Once you have designed the practice and interaction for the in-person session, you can determine what content and materials will be needed to prepare the students ahead of time.

What tools do I need to put more instructional materials online?

Online materials may consist of ebooks, PDFs, websites, videos, or come in other formats. We might use a blend of self-made instructional videos, e.g. screencasts, and those created by others. We may choose to keep these within our learning management system, e.g. using PanOpto in D2L, or posting them on YouTube. While the ultimate function of the videos is the instruction of our students, creating the videos also boosts reflection and improvement of our instructional skills and produces materials that can be used for our teaching dossiers, as Lodge McCammon explains in “Rethinking the Flipped Classroom Pitch” (Video by Flipped Classroom Teacher, 2014; 4:05min).

Taking lectures online also allows us to rethink our use of lecture. Linda Hodges’ blog post “Making Our Teaching Efficient: Flipping the Classroom” (2015) outlines some of the pitfalls of traditional, long, in-person lectures and gives us some idea of how lectures can be redesigned for better learning.

However, this is not to equate a flipped classroom with creating videos or pushing all lecturing online. For more thoughts and background on this common misconception see Robert Talbert's blog "No, you do not need to use video in flipped learning (and five alternatives)" (Robert Talbert, 2017). Keep in mind that flipped learning is a more encompassing teaching strategy with the ultimate goal of enhancing active and collaborative learning.

The University of Arizona provides many IT tools and assistance:

Here are some further thoughts and ideas from a variety of resources:

Thus, what is left for you to determine is the tools, formats, and media that help you implement your lesson plan and to set up the time to gradually familiarize yourself with these tools. If you would like to explore IT tools in an exchange with colleagues, we recommend participating in the free OIA Mini-Course Introduction to Online Teaching, which is offered up to four times each year.

At this point, let us return to the advice given in the beginning: Take your time, use the assistance of faculty development at your institution, implement change and tools gradually, have the courage to try out something new, and ultimately keep what enhances your teaching approach and your students’ learning.


Great overview article in HETL Review (4) 2014: “A Review of Flipped Classroom Research, Practice, and Technologies”

Regular contributors on the topic of flipped classrooms are Robert Talbert, James Lang, and Barbie Honeycutt. Have a look for them on Twitter and browse their blogs in places such as The Chronicle of Higher Education or Faculty Focus. Flipped Learning Global Initiatives runs a blog one can subscribe to.

Ebooks available through the UA Libraries:

You are welcome to contact one of our faculty developers to discuss your teaching ideas, concerns, or questions, related to this mini-primer, or any other topic related to teaching and learning. We are happy to work with you via email, phone, or Skype, or meet with you in your office or at the OIA.