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07/06/2022

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4/4 and more

Whether the flipped-class thing can succeed depends a lot on what you are teaching and who you are teaching it to. Each semester I have multiple sections of an intro course for freshmen and sophomores. The biggest mistake I made when I started was that I went into each class meeting expecting that the students had done the work before class to get ready for our discussions. I laugh at my naïveté. I was a fool.

Given the school I'm at and who my students are, I now teach each class meeting as though not a single person has done the reading (and for most students, that is true). But I don't focus at all on covering the reading; I focus on the key problems raised by the reading, and ask questions to cause those problems to emerge in the students' minds. Then I can use passages from the reading to riff on comments they make about them. I don't know whether this is "flipping" anything, but the classes go so much better and the students learn so much more than they used to.

Another grad student

I share the tendency over-prepare for teaching. I have to force myself not to do it, so I've started to wait to begin prep until a couple hours before the lecture. Skip the detailed powerpoint slides and plan to write a few key points, questions, or an argument reconstruction on the board, instead.

I also agree with the flipped-class suggestion. Flipped and discussion-oriented class periods are better for the students' learning anyway, especially if you give assignments that incentivize reading and preparation on their end (e.g., students prepare questions, write critical responses to readings, etc.). I recommend Stephen Brookfield's "Discussion as a way of teaching" for strategies.

Another thought: You have professors and peers who may have taught the same material before. Ask others if they are willing to share notes, lessons, handouts, and powerpoints they have used in the past so you don't need to reinvent the wheel.

Marcus Schultz-Bergin

A few notes about the Flipped Classroom approach:
1. There is some research indicating that students will tend to *feel* as if they are not learning as much via active learning activities compared to a straight lecture. But, in actuality, they tend to learn more. I think this is useful to keep in mind (and perhaps share with students) because you will likely face some pushback from some students on this front.

2. To make a flipped classroom really work, you must have a means of increasing student preparation. You can do this directly via things like small quizzes at the beginning of class (bonus if you have students do these individually and then again in a small group to reinforce learning and have students correct each others' misconceptions). And you can do this indirectly via class structure - ensure the activities are such that they can really only be done if the students have done the appropriate preparation. Design the activities on the assumption they have done the work.
Early on, this may cause some issues as the students may be used to not having to do the work. But rather than giving up quickly, just keep demanding it and they will tend to raise to the occasion.

3. Try to identify some standard activities that you can reuse. Check out *Making Thinking Visible* or the *Visible Thinking* project (these are related, the first is a book, the second a website that contains a number of the same routines).
Having basic activity "templates" will speed up your creation of new activities (which can otherwise be quite time consuming) but it also helps the students over time as it reduces the cognitive load they have to spend understanding the activity, providing more ability to focus on doing the activity

------
Anyway, hope that helps a bit. One other thing I will mention, though, is that those who promote flipped learning often note that it can be *more* work than a traditional lecture style, particularly for someone less familiar with the material. So, as a graduate student, if you are reading the material partly for your own understanding because you just aren't as familiar with it yet, then unfortunately a flipped learning approach may not really help much with that.
Still a good idea generally, though.

3/3 and less

I am all in favor of certain "flipped classroom"-style activities to lighten your load--including breakout groups, individual brainstorming assignments, assigned oral presentations. Marcus mentioned several of these. Not only will this entail that you have to prepare less, but it will also be more fun for the students. Nobody likes to sit a listen to a lecture for 1-2 hours. (Have you ever sat through someone reading a philosophy talk? Now imagine doing that three times a week for a semester. Yuck!)

However, I wholeheartedly agree with 4/4 and more. 75%+ of the freshmen in my Intro to Philosophy sections (40+ students each) have not done the reading and will not do the reading. There is no possible way that I could incentivize them to prepare well enough to run a class made up of solely flipped classroom activities. So you really need to conceptualize what type of students attend your school, how large are your class sizes, etc. in order to evaluate whether doing a true flipped class is a good idea. If it's not a good idea, just work in more flipped classroom-style activities that require NO preparation on the students' behalf.

Unapologetic prepper

Writing a new class in grad school will be time-consuming, if you're aiming to teach well. It is rewarding work, though. There is no better pressure than teaching pressure to attend carefully both to details and big picture. Though my grad-school coursework was a necessary condition of being able to teach at all, I learned much more once I was forced to approach the material as a teacher, not a student.

A full day of preparation for a brand new class session on material you've never taught before does not sound excessive to me, especially if this is the first time you're writing your own course.

The flipped classroom advice is probably bad, if it is offered as a time-saving strategy. To run a good flipped classroom, you have to:

- carefully set up a plan that makes lots of correct guesses about students' zones of proximal development (which is hard to do prior to experience)
- design classroom activities that a) are engaging and b) thoughtfully support developmentally appropriate deliberate practice of the skills you are trying to teach
- invest a lot of time finding ways to encourage or compel students to prepare (which often requires either 1-on-1 relationship building or the writing of quizzes/homework for every class meeting)
- know the material so dead-to-rights that you can feel comfortable in a classroom environment where totally unexpected things can happen.

I'm enthusiastic about flipped classrooms in environments where that can be made to work. And once you've got the plan and activities in place, re-running a flipped course can save prep time in future semesters. But writing a new flipped course takes more time than writing a series of short lectures and accompanying discussion prompts. And it typically requires more expertise and experience than a grad student can have.

Flip your classroom because, when it is done well, it is better for student learning. Don't flip it to save time. And maybe flip it in a year, after you have some experience with your students, and after you're totally confident that you have such a deep and flexible understanding of the material that you can be the teacher students need in a flipped room. In the meantime, don't regret investing the time to master the details and the big picture of your course. Make your lectures and discussion prompts as good as you can make them--those notes will serve you well later. (And maybe ditch the slides.)

Bill Vanderburgh

I remember those days. My first course as a grad student, I did six hours of prep for every hour of class time. As a result, I had these pristine lecture notes that I felt like I had to read to the class. It was brutally bad for all concerned. I'm not sure it was a stage every teacher has to go through, but maybe.

These days, I usually do an hour or two of prep for every hour of class time the first time I prepare a class, maybe a little more if it is a topic or reading I've never taught. (A lot less on subsequent runs of the course.)

The key thing is that students can absorb MUCH less info than you might think/hope, so cut down the amount of reading you assign and the proportion of it you plan to talk about in class. "Covering" the material is a fallacy to be avoided.

There's a school of thought that says that since most of learning does/should take place outside of class, in class activities are primarily about motivating students, introducing basic concepts and ways of thinking, and clarifying their understanding of complex material (note, not acquiring that understanding).

In intro classes, just focus on key arguments, including writing them out in standard form and analyzing them. Model that for students at first, then ask them to do it and slowly help them refine it.

In any "lecture" situation, do 10 minutes or so of explanation, followed by discussion, questions, short in-class writing exercises, think-pair-share events, etc. Mix it up.

I use PowerPoint for slides, but I keep in mind the concepts from a great little book called Presentation Zen. One of its key points is that there are three separate functions of PowerPoint: Visual aid for the audience, speaker notes, and notes for the audience to take home. Keep those separate. In other words, make three separate things (if you want them all), don't mash them together into one slide deck. The book recommends an image and no more than six words per slide. That's an ideal that doesn't fit philosophy well and which I have never achieved, but you get the idea: simplify.

BTW, one of the best Pp tricks is that during a presentation you can hit the period key and black out the screen so students can focus on you, a discussion, etc., instead of on the slides.

Studying

I agree that you should put some responsibility on the students. But you should give them the tools so that when they study on their own, it makes their studying more intellectually efficient and fruitful. You don’t want to burn your students out. Professors aren’t the only ones who can go through that. You want to make sure that you and your students aren’t burnt out. Otherwise, studying and teaching can be unsuccessful. Here are some things you can do:

1) recommend students effective studying methods.
2) give them the Critical Thinking Cheat Sheet Questions (who, what, when, where, how, and why) to memorize and ask when they read philosophy articles
3) get your students to habitually demand justification for such articles they read: why did the author decide to write this? This method will help them get into the habit of justifying their own essays.
4) provide an example of your own thought process when you read articles or somebody else’s that you consider an excellent example. These include detailed annotations, questions, and criticism of the text. It gives students an idea of how-to read like a professor, specialist, or philosopher.

The more fruitful tools you give your students, the better they’ll be at studying on their own.

Just asking questions

I have my students do all readings via Perusall, make the readings total 20% of their grade, and require them to pass at least 50% of the reading assignments with a 70% or more - something like 90% of the students have now clearly done the reading in some serious depth before each class.

I also give them what I call "skeleton notes" - basically my class notes, but with all of the content left out, asking them to define certain key terms, write down certain key ideas, explain how those ideas relate to each other, etc. I don't require students to fill these out before class, but my guess is that about 30% of them do, and a lot of students have said it helps them feel much more prepared for class.

Then, in class I basically get the students to teach the notes, giving them time in breakout rooms to work out particularly tricky concepts/connections, or to raise original criticisms of a position, or to brainstorm solutions, or whatever. My role is basically just to ask questions when they're going off course that prompt other students to try to fix/reformulate.

I absolutely cover less this way, but it helps me to think about what I *really* care about them understanding, and my class prep then is really just a matter of figuring out which questions work best to help them figure out for themselves what matters most.

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