A new teaching method pays dividends

A new teaching method pays dividends


Bishop’s gets rave reviews from its students for its small classes, which affords them the opportunity to form close bonds with their professors and their peers. But a small classroom can sometimes allow flexibility for a professor like Dr. Kerry Hull, who has been teaching in the Biology department for nearly 20 years.

Dr. Hull teaches physiology. Over the years, an increasing amount of content on her subject has been made available on the Internet for anyone who wants to learn more about it. Dr. Hull decided to use this to the advantage of her students by ‘‘flipping’’ her class.

‘‘Basically, flipping the class means that a student’s first contact with the material happens outside the classroom, before the class,’’ she explains. ‘‘In a traditional science classroom, students come in knowing nothing about the subject matter. The professor is the knowledgeable authority in the classroom, and typically delivers a lecture which students absorb.’’

‘‘Now I often give students something to do before the class. It could be watching an animation, completing a pre-class assignment, working through a study guide, etc. When they come to class, I help them apply the knowledge,’’ she says.

Dr. Hull came upon this method at a teaching conference she attended. She noticed that many professors in her field are flipping their classes. ‘‘I can’t speak about the experimental sciences, but I have noticed that the campuses that concentrate on pedagogy are adopting this type of teaching method. Flipping the class is about bringing more learning into the classroom,’’ she says.

One of Dr. Hull’s students, Laura Crack, has an interesting view on flipping. ‘‘I spent more time than usual learning about a particular subject, but then I didn’t feel I needed to study for the exam because I felt I was fully prepared,’’ Laura says. ‘‘Because of the nature of her course, you can prevent the cramming that a lot of students tend to do during exam period. I feel I retained a lot more information by learning this way. I can still easily discuss topics that were covered last semester, which is great.’’

In fact, Dr. Hull has noted that the average mark for her flipped class was 5% higher than for her traditional class. But choosing to teach this way is more than just about students getting a higher mark. ‘‘In the flipped setting, I can concentrate on skills. If I stand and lecture at you, you’re not developing any competencies. In this setting, students are doing more group work, and they are learning to learn. I know it’s a challenge for them, but there is no doubt that every student is benefitting from this method, whether they know it or not.’’