Do you believe in magic? – How not to do flipped classroom

Eric Mazurs peer instruction is very interesting and the article describing it’s use is inspiring. I found another article “Don’t lecture me: Rethinking how college students learn” describing his style of teaching by Emily Hanford. The article itself mirrored the others written on the topic and my attention was drawn to the comments section. One comment especially caught my attention.

A student opened up about his experiences on a physics class taught using only peer instruction. His experience was extremely negative as the class lacked structure and the TA did not even point the students to a correct direction during supplemental class, even if it was clearly needed. The answers to this post were basically telling the student to suck it up, work harder, and questioned his motivations.

This could be a case of resistance to learner centered model, but the student’s response hinted, that he had tried to talk to the professor and the university to have some sort of a balance. This alone could be a sign of commitment to the class. He was trying to make it better. The teacher has responsibility here to listen to the student and alleviate their anxieties. In case of one student, an open conversation is a good way to start. If multiple students in the class struggle severely despite the effort they put in, the teacher has a bigger problem.

To me this comment about peer instruction showed how the approach can go terribly wrong. Student could not make sense of the bigger picture or even the assigned. Even if this was just one students experience, I would be worried. The lack of any posts or responses from any professor or university on this matter leaves their side defenseless, so I cannot for a full understanding of the situation.

If any of the new or re-emerging pedagogical techniques are used like magic, they will not work. Just making students learn from each other will not work. The teacher needs to be invested in the students and their learning. This is the case with Dr. Mazur. He assesses students before starting the peer instruction and listens in on the conversations. When communicating about these “new” pedagogical techniques, we need to underline the increased involvement of the teacher. If this stuff was magic, universities and teachers would be no longer needed.

1 thought on “Do you believe in magic? – How not to do flipped classroom

  1. hokiebadger

    I completely agree that the instructor needs to be invested in the student’s and their learning. I have had very bad experiences in the past with peer tutoring and discussion in the past. There are definitely circumstances when groups can’t come up with the right answers, especially when they are ill-prepared to tackle a problem. Nothing is gained from those discussions except frustration and confusion, especially when there is no “debriefing” session to explore the correct answer and problems associated with arriving at the correct answer.

    Furthermore, many peers do not know how to behave as an effective instructor. They have had no training in pedagogy or tutoring. Egos and competition are involved, and students may lack maturity. They can ask questions like “why don’t you get it” or give a student a look like they are completely stupid. Many lack patience with students that need extensive explanations or need seemingly “easy” steps explained to them. Frustration and anger on the part of the “tutor” can emerge if they can’t seem to get their group to understand or participate on the level that they would like them to. This can cause the student that doesn’t understand to withdraw from participation, get lost in the content, and eventually fail. This is NOT a resistance to an LC approach, this is the failure of a conducive environment to learning.

    Of course, instructors can be guilty of these things as well, but they may be less likely if they have had lots of experience with the content, know what students have trouble with, and how to approach problems. Generally, they are more mature (personally and intellectually) than students (undergraduates, in particular). Ultimately, instructors do have the answers, or at least the correct associated thought processes with solving problems. Responsibility for teaching is lost if we simply allow the blind to lead the blind in certain cases with sole peer instruction.

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