Flipping the classroom: Physics Prof. Tim Good uses technology to engage students with classwork

Tim Good

What made a 24-year veteran of the Gettysburg College faculty decide to try a completely new teaching style?

“There’s been a lot of research done on physics education over the years, and the findings have shown that lecture is not always the most effective form of teaching.  Having an active classroom is key,” physics Prof. Tim Good said.

For a decade now, members of the physics department have been taking steps toward more active learning by encouraging group work and spending time with small numbers of students in lab or office hours.

“Working closely with students is why I wanted to come to Gettysburg. When I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work closely with faculty members and get involved in their research. I wanted to give Gettysburg students that same opportunity.” Good said.

A little over a year ago, Good would adjust his teaching approach once again, taking a major step toward an active classroom when Ron Smith ’72 recommended that a physics faculty member attend a workshop on blended learning, which combines classroom and online education.

Tim GoodGood attended the workshop. As one presenter talked about his use of the flipped classroom, a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures at home, and what used to be homework is done in class with teachers offering more personalized guidance, Good immediately knew the model would fit his own teaching style perfectly.

Smith and Good’s paths recently intersected once more, as Good was named the inaugural Dr. Ronald J. Smith ’72 Professor of Applied Physics. Good’s endowed professorship will help facilitate his ongoing development of innovative teaching methods, including his recent efforts to use technology to enhance student learning.

Find out more about the $1.5 million gift from The Ronald J. Smith & Diane W. Smith Charitable Fund, which is part of Gettysburg Great: The Campaign for Our College.

Good piloted his “Gettysburg style” flipped classroom during the Fall 2013 semester with the 11 students in his Intermediate Physics class, which focuses on electricity and magnetism, and is a requirement for all sophomore physics majors.

Now, when students come to class, there is no lecture. Instead, he produces an online lecture (including web resources, animations, Good’s spoken audio track, and more), which students view before coming to class.

When they arrive in the classroom, students break into small groups and collaborate to solve what used to be the homework problems.

Good notes that during class, he is largely an observer. The students work through the problems, learning from one another, and he is there to help if a group gets stuck.

“For physics, it is really important to have a good understanding of the problems. I found it so helpful to work through the problems with other students,” said Tessa Thorsen ’16, a physics and math major. “Plus, being up at the board working through problems gave us no opportunity to zone out. We got a lot out of the class.”

One of Good’s key motivators for trying the flipped classroom approach was for his students to learn to think and speak on their feet.

Madison Hill ’16, a physics and math major agrees, “Each day we got to class and we were working with a new group. Some days we were the one presenting the solution to the rest of the class and others, we were recording the problem and solution in its entirety for future review. Those things forced us out of our comfort zones, and meant we had no choice but to understand the material well.”

Another benefit, added Andre Hinds ’16, a physics major and math minor, was that studying for quizzes and exams was much easier with the flipped model, as the lectures and class problems were all online and easily accessible for review. Hill also said he felt that he had more time to go back and read the textbook, as he was not spending a lot of time outside of class trying to work through problems.

Being a scientist himself, Good wanted to measure the success of his new teaching style. He noticed significant learning gains throughout the course of the class during the 2013 fall semester.

Additionally, when compared to the last time he taught the Intermediate Physics course with similar material and problems four years prior, the 2013 class’ quiz and exam grades were much better and class averages went way up. In fact, the lowest scores in the 2013 class were higher than class averages in previous years.

With a few minor tweaks, Good will use a flipped classroom model once again during the 2014-15 academic year with his Intermediate Physics class – this time with 16 students.

But, he’s not the only one trying a new teaching approach. Several colleagues in the sciences are working toward a more active classroom, including fellow physics Prof. Kurt Andresen, who, in some of his introductory courses, has students focus on problem solving in class and watch lectures from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or read the textbook beforehand.

“Lectures are too easy. Watching a lecture is like watching TV. Very little effort involved,” said Andresen. “Doing a problem on the board or with a classmate is difficult. It hurts your brain. When you feel like your brain is lifting a ton of weights, that’s when you are actually learning. You are actively making new connections or changing old ones so that you can see the world in the correct way. That’s how we learn!”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Mon, 11 Aug 2014


Good communications work telling The Gettysburg story about Dr. Good and the interns as well. Hot topics these days!

Royall Harner | Posted Aug 12, 2014 12:45 AM

Although I am certain the flipping the classroom method might have perhaps worked for Dr. Good I cannot more strongly disagree with this concept. I have taught for twenty seven years as an advanced acadmemics high school history instructor and an adjunct professor of history. I used such methods and students craved a lecture style and said flipping was a joke and didn't find it to provide a benefecial learning outcome. This is one of the latest fads of foolishness in the education field much in the same sense copperative learning was just a few years ago. I am certain Dr. Good will eventually abandon his methods. One may make the argument that I am not qualified to make such an assertion, however, I was last year named one of the top three American History teachers in Texas by the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as given a distinguished teaching award by my district. Both of these awards were awarded on the basis of what students thought of my teaching style. Thanks for reading my comments

Eric Oglesby | Posted Aug 14, 2014 10:37 PM

Here some evidence that flipping the classroom is a failed technique: This is a guest post by Ryan Kilcullen, Williams College Class of 2015. Flipped classrooms are the hot topic in education right now. The idea of having students read a textbook or watch a lecture at night and do “homework” in class is a fresh new take on the educational approach (Deslauriers et al, 2011). The added interactivity seems much more attractive and beneficial than the dull, hands-off lecture-based approach. The flipped class is such a novel concept, though, that the research on its efficacy is limited; so let me take this opportunity to warn you—especially you naïve undergraduate students such as myself—to be wary of the flipped class. Many teachers are very enthusiastic about flipped classrooms. I'm offering a student persepctive. I took one of these hip new classes this year and my experience was far from ideal. Although my evidence is purely anecdotal, I’m basing my observations on scientific research about learning. Bjork (1994) summarized research on how best to enhance long-term retention of knowledge or skills in human beings. Bjork first suggests that just the right amount of increased difficulty, known as desirable difficulty, in a learner’s training leads to substantially increased results in later performance and in long term retention of knowledge. He encourages learners to struggle their way through practice sessions because such struggle will better prepare learners for post-training evaluations. While flipped class advocates could argue my struggles this year could be indicative of this desirable difficulty, I would counter that the setup of the flipped class increases difficulties in a way that does not satisfy Bjork’s conditions for properly introducing difficulties to the learner. Related Links Do You Decide What Clothes He Should Wear? Why Do You Procrastinate? How to Ask For What You Really Need Word-mentum Foolish Humor Find a Therapist Search for a mental health professional near you. Find Local: Acupuncturists Chiropractors Massage Therapists Dentists and more! Bjork stresses the need for varying the conditions of practice and contends that unpredictability in the training environment keeps the learner on his toes by forcing him to transfer knowledge efficiently to novel tasks. He argues that such variation is achieved through random problem assignment rather than assigning consecutive problems of the same kind and defends the idea that contextual interference promotes difficulty for the learner in training that will lead to improved scores on future tests. So far in my experience, problems have been assigned in a very linear (no pun intended) and predictable fashion: we prepare for a given chapter or section before class and in class drill problem after problem on the topic of the previous night’s readings. In fact, the only varying experience for me as a learner has been that this flipped class is simply different from every other college class I’ve taken; and the novelty of the flipped class wore off quickly as a result of this repetitious drilling approach. Bjork argues that reduced feedback forces a learner to work his way through a problem, which again produces positive struggle during training for improved post-training performance. The flipped class directly conflicts with this idea as it is predicated on feedback. My professor makes up for the fact that he doesn’t have to work as hard in preparing a lecture for class by being as helpful and communicative as possible for us students in class. Further, we are encouraged to look back at the previous night’s lesson to help us through any problems we may be stuck on in class because time is of the essence and we must complete as many problems as possible in our brief meeting period. Such sources of feedback, I believe, have led to a false grasp of the course material. When I’m introduced to novel problems on my upcoming midterm and have neither the professor nor the textbook to rely on for help…well, I’m really not ready to handle that thought yet. The notion of the professor over-helping in class to make up for the lack of time spent of lecturing and preparing lectures is an important one and ties into Bjork’s misperceptions of the trainer. Trainers are validated by the successes of the trainees. It is very likely that my professor, who is clearly a proponent of the flipped classroom, wants to see it succeed. So, not only does the professor over-help students with problems in class, he is also susceptible to delivering the solution to a question on a silver platter because it’s satisfying to take the superficial and usually halfhearted “Oh, now I get it” from his students as validation that his students are grasping the material and that the flipped classroom is the future of education. It turns out we did not really get it. The class average on the first midterm was disappointing enough that the professor completely changed his approach to the class and went with a traditional lecture. Do I sound like a whiny, spoiled undergraduate student overly concerned with how one class will ruin his precious GPA? Almost certainly. However, I would argue that my doubts regarding this flipped class and my performance in it are backed by Bjork who noted, “Individuals who have illusions of comprehension…pose a greater hazard to themselves and others than do individuals who correctly assess that they lack some requisite or skill” (p. 194). Just because a new approach might be unique and interesting does not mean that it is automatically valid. I think it would be great if the flipped classroom did revolutionize American classrooms and help mend the current education issue in the United States. However, before more school officials and educators jump on the bandwagon of the flipped class, more conclusive experimental research and investigation into the pros and cons of the flipped class are necessary. Without this kind of research, sometimes flipping will work and sometimes it will not. The real question is not whether flipped classes work. The real question is, what is the best way to flip a classroom and make it work?

Eric Oglesby | Posted Aug 14, 2014 10:43 PM

Thank you again for considering my thoughts. Here's another piece which indicates Dr. Good's flipping the classroom may not be the best model for your students. Thank you again for considering these thoughts: 'Flipped classrooms' may not have any impact on learning Emily Atteberry, USATODAY 3:25 p.m. EST December 5, 2013 Professors at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. who are studying the effectiveness of a flipped classroom have bad news for advocates of the model: it might not make any difference. (Photo: Dan Henry AP) Story Highlights Preliminary research at Harvey Mudd College suggests the benefits of 'flipping' a classroom are dubious. Two high school teachers started the 'flipped classroom' trend in 2007, supplying lectures online in video form. The non-profit Flipped Learning Network has more than 11,000 members 512 CONNECT 341 TWEET 37 LINKEDIN 17 COMMENTEMAILMORE The concept of the "flipped classroom" has become the education world's darling within the past few years. In a flipped classroom, students watch their professors' lectures online before class, while spending class time working on hands-on, "real world" problems. The potential of the model has many educators thrilled — it could be the end of vast lecture halls, students falling asleep and boring, monotone professors. But four professors at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. who are studying the effectiveness of a flipped classroom have bad news for advocates of the trend: it might not make any difference. On Oct. 1, professors Nancy Lape, Karl Haushalter, Rachel Levy and Darryl Yong received funding for a three-year, $199,544 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of the flipped classroom on students' learning. Though their official research is just beginning, the professors flipped their STEM classrooms as a pilot during the 2012-2013 academic year and gathered some first impressions on the matter. While Lape stresses that their preliminary research is just that — preliminary — she says the benefits of flipping a classroom are dubious. During this pilot, each professor taught two sections of the same course — one "flipped" and one traditional, using the same material as much as possible. The professors tested numerous aspects of the flipped classrooms' effects, such as a students' ability to transfer their knowledge to a problem, their attitudes toward learning and whether they could demonstrate their learning on exams, Lape says. In the majority of the measured categories, there was no demonstrable difference between the two class types. "I would say that the fact is that there is no statistical difference," Lape says. "People are really gung ho about the (flipped) classroom, but there's no real results." Students reported in anonymous surveys that they either loved or hated the new model, and some said they felt the flipped classroom had a heavier workload since it required students to set aside time to watch the lengthy lecture videos. Professors, too, had to spend considerably more time making and editing the videos and crafting engaging, hands-on sessions for their classes, she says. Given these drawbacks, the fact that the actual learning outcomes seemed unaffected by the switch suggested that it might not be worth the hassle, Lape says. "(The professors') lives might be easier and their students might be happier if they just do a traditional class," she says. The flipped classroom trend first took root in 2007 when high school teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams began offering their lectures in PowerPoint version online to students who missed class. In 2012, Bergmann and Sams founded the Flipped Learning Network, a non-profit organization that seeks to help educators make the switch. Within a year, it jumped from 2,500 members to more than 11,000. Their research, conducted in conjunction with ClassroomWindow, suggests that the flipped classrooms make a tremendous amount of difference, executive director Kari Arfstrom told EdCompass in February. If you're not a good instructor, flipping the classroom won't really ensure better learning. If you aren't doing something to fill that space, it won't do you any good. Andrew Miller, education consultant Teachers reported that 80% of their students have improved attitudes toward flipped classrooms and that standardized test scores were up 67%, according to the survey. "Students can watch the short recorded lectures as many times as they wish to grasp the content, and then come to class ready to jump into the lesson, answer questions, work on collaborative projects, and explore the content further," Arfstrom said. Andrew Miller, an education consultant who teaches online classes for a variety of universities, agrees that benefits such as students' ability to review material are promising, but says nothing will change if professors don't handle the "flip" correctly. For example, the newly freed-up class time can be daunting for professors, especially those who are particularly gifted at lecturing, he says. RELATED: Bill Nye thinks 'flipped classrooms' are the future Sometimes these professors aren't able to come up with good hands-on activities and resort to filling the time with even more lecturing. "If you're not a good instructor, flipping the classroom won't really ensure better learning," he says. "If you aren't doing something to fill that space, it won't do you any good." Miller says the flipped classroom makes more sense for some studies more than others. It can be easy to come up with "real world" applications for a business class, but not necessarily something like philosophy. "There's a lot of 'ifs' and variables in the implementation of the flipped classroom that can make or break it," Miller says. Lape says she hopes those within academia take a more critical look at flipped classrooms. "It's a hot topic, and there are reasons why I think people believe it will be a good method," Lape says. "But I would really put the call out to more people to really look at this."

erico oglesby | Posted Aug 14, 2014 10:55 PM


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