Have you heard that one year of a high school world language course is equivalent to one semester of the same language at the university level? I’ve heard this many times since I started teaching at Miami University just over 20 years ago, and a Google search will show that this idea is still alive and well. Let’s take a moment to consider the contact hours for those courses. High school language courses typically have between 135-150 contact hours in one year. College courses require ~60 contact hours for a four-credit hour course (typically the beginning language courses) and ~45 contact hours for a three-credit course (often for the intermediate level language courses). How can college courses cover the same material or increase students’ proficiency when they have half or even a third of the time as a full-year high school course? Realistically, they can’t. However, they can leverage technology to get closer to that goal by adopting an inverted or flipped classroom.
What is the flipped classroom?
The flipped classroom seems like a recent buzzword, but the concept was piloted as the inverted classroom over 20 years ago at Miami University. Lage, Platt, and Treglia described this concept as such:
Inverting the classroom means that events that have traditionally taken place inside the classroom now take place outside the classroom and vice versa. The use of learning technologies, particularly multimedia, provide new opportunities for students to learn, opportunities that are not possible with other media (Alexander 1995). For example, the use of the World Wide Web and multimedia computers (and/or VCRs) enables students to view lectures either in computer labs or at home, whereas homework assignments can be done in class, in groups. The general principle is to provide a menu of options for the students to use in learning. The instructors focus on the desired outcome (for instance, having the student prepared for discussion) and allow the student to choose the best method to reach that outcome.1
I first piloted this approach in 2008 in the SPN 111 Intensive Basic Spanish courses and have since expanded and refined the format to include all language and linguistics courses that I teach. Though we’ve moved well beyond VCRs in terms of technology, the key point is still to provide a variety of options for students outside of class to then maximize in-class time.
Before class, students complete knowledge-based assignments (usually for a grade) or review material through the learning management system (Canvas) or our text’s companion website. These assignments introduce students to the vocabulary, structures, cultural information, etc. and focus on What do you know? The assignments include flashcards, interactive tutorials, videos, interpretive listening/reading activities, and more.
During class, we focus on What can you do with what you know? Class time is primarily spent on activities to practice interpretive listening/reading skills, along with interpersonal communication. Students also use class time to begin preparing presentational speaking/writing assignments. These skills help prepare students for each unit’s five-part integrative performance assessment.
After class, students complete assignments through the text’s companion website to review what we’ve practiced in class. They might also complete assigned presentational speaking recordings, recorded synchronous conversations, or simulated asynchronous conversations through Canvas.
What do students say about the flipped classroom?
Overall, my students have responded very well to the flipped classroom. Though a few students each semester report that they don’t prefer the flipped format, the vast majority like it and realize the benefits it provides them. On anonymous end-of-semester evaluations, students are asked What elements of the course and instruction did you find the most helpful to the accomplishment of the course’s goal? I typically receive comments similar to these:
- The professor provides students with multiple ways to learn the course material instead of insisting on any singular teaching approach.
- The flipped classroom for sure. I think by allowing us to have an understanding of what we are learning prior to class time made a huge difference in the way I understood material.
- I felt like the combination of online work and classroom work made it a lot easier to understand the content that was presented.
- I feel like all the talking we did in the course really helped with my speaking. I feel more confident when I speak Spanish with the customers who come into work and it’s a really nice feeling.
- I really enjoyed the flipped classroom idea, which helped me learn a lot better than I have in previous Spanish courses. This helped me learn the material before each course and then made it easier to see what I needed extra help with.
- I liked how we did many different activities to learn the topic we were studying.
- There was a great mixture of listening, reading, speaking, and writing in the language.
- Group work helped a lot and made it easier to learn the language.
1Lage, M. J., Platt, G. J., & Treglia, M. (2000). Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment. Journal of Economic Education, 31(1), 30–43. https://doi.org/10.2307/1183338