It’s official: flipped classroom boosts student grades

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The “flipped classroom” works and researchers should focus on how to optimise it, according to the team behind the biggest ever study on the topic.

Researchers say they have shown definitively that the flipped classroom benefits students, producing an average “effect size” of 0.37 – meaning students perform about one-third of a standard deviation better in flipped than in traditional environments.

Many studies of the flipped classroom – where students absorb basic concepts before class and refine their understanding in face-to-face active-learning sessions – report significant improvements in learning outcomes. But some have shown no benefit, while others suggest the approach can be detrimental.

The new research, reported in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, attempted to settle the matter once and for all through a “second-order meta-analysis” – essentially, a meta-analysis of 15 previous meta-analyses – that synthesised published and unpublished research involving more than 155,000 students.

“We have enough studies about whether the flipped classroom works or doesn’t work,” said co-author Phillip Dawson of Deakin University. He said that while 0.37 was “not a huge effect”, it was “pretty substantial” given that thousands of students were often involved. “This is a worthwhile educational intervention to implement,” he said.

Studies suggesting different conclusions have included a 2016 trial at the West Point Military Academy. It found that rather than boosting overall achievement, flipped classrooms exacerbated gaps between typically white high-achieving students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.

Professor Dawson said flipped classrooms could place greater demands on students’ self-regulation and general academic skills. “Anyone who’s at a disadvantage in those sorts of areas might find the flipped classroom more challenging,” he said.

“If you talk to educators, the sad story you too often hear is: ‘My students didn’t do the pre-work and I ended up having to give them a mini-lecture when they showed up.’ That can be disheartening. However, our results still suggest a significant benefit. If we can address the self-regulation issue, we might see an even larger benefit.”

The paper advocates more research into how to motivate students to complete their pre-class work, and which disciplines are most suited to flipped classrooms. The research uncovered particularly substantial benefits in meta-analyses involving Chinese nursing students.

The paper speculates that the “strict expository teaching culture” in China’s “authoritarian” classrooms can dampen students’ enthusiasm. “The flipped learning approach, which emphasises student active learning, may lead to even larger benefits when compared with expository teaching.”

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