February 25, 2014

The Flipped Classroom – Turning Student Engagement Around

by Amanda R. Bertele, Pharm.D., PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Frederick Memorial Hospital

Imagine that you are a second year pharmacy student enrolled in a pharmacokinetics course. Your professor assigns readings prior to the class. She then spends the two-hour lecture period with her back to the class deriving equations. You are dismissed from class with 20 practice problems for homework. The topic seems understandable during class and you think that your note taking skills are adequate.  But when you arrive home and begin working on the first problem, you soon realize that you understand very little about the information covered during lecture.  Moreover, your notes are incomplete because you could not type or write as quickly as the teacher was speaking. As you wade through the 20 problems assigned the homework grows increasingly frustrating.  You feel defeated and you decide that pharmacokinetics just isn’t “your thing.”

Source: http://elearningindustry.com/flipped-classroom-2012-infographic
How can this scenario be avoided? The answer may be the flipped classroom. The flipped classroom is a learner-centered teaching model that reverses or “flips” the order in which learners are exposed to new material.1 In the model, new course material is covered prior to class using common instructional methods such as videos, readings, podcasts, or powerpoint slides with recorded audio. Presenting new material to students prior to class provides the opportunity for learners to view and review the material as many time as necessary until it is understood.2 The scheduled class period is dedicated to hands-on activities requiring higher levels of cognition (analyzing, evaluating, and creating). Activities may include discussions, exercises, projects, or cased-based role playing.2 Instructors often use class time to monitor student’s progress, guide them in their approach to learning, and revise course content based on student response.

One of the potential advantages of the flipped classroom is that the model facilitates the implementation of in-class activities that can appeal to multiple learning styles. During in-class activities the teacher is better able to spend one-on-one time with each student and to provide immediate feedback.3 Additionally, providing new course material in formats that may be viewed more than once can be especially helpful for students with barriers to learning (English as a second language, attention deficit disorder, hearing impairment).1 To be successful, students are required to be self-motivated and active learners.

The flipped classroom is not a new instructional model as it contains elements similar to the Socratic method (5th century BC) and has been implemented in traditional undergraduate courses like physics for decades.4 However, it is a model that gaining more attention in pharmacy education. Until recently there was little evidence demonstrating its effectiveness. In 2012, the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy assessed the effect of implementing a flipped classroom model in a pharmaceutics course on student academic performance, engagement, and perception.4 The intervention consisted of pre-class assignments including readings and pre-recorded video mini-lectures.  During each class period, four active learning exercises were implemented. The effectiveness of the active learning exercises were assessed using several methods including clicker questions, think-pair-share, student presentations and quizzes. The assessments allowed instructors to gauge students’ knowledge in real-time and deliver micro-lectures (1-3 minutes) to clarify key concepts. Students were also assigned 2 course projects, given multiple quizzes, a mid-term exam, and a cumulative final exam. Based on data collected using pre and post course surveys it was determined that learning foundational content prior to the scheduled class period significantly enhanced student learning of course material in class (p = 0.001) and interactive in-class activities significantly enhanced student learning overall (p = 0.01). After completion of the course, more students indicated that they preferred the flipped classroom structure over the traditional classroom structure (p = 0.001). Despite positive outcomes related to student engagement and perception, student academic performance based on examination scores was not significantly improved using the flipped classroom model when compared to the traditional model (p = 0.31).

While there are potential benefits of the flipped classroom, there are potential pitfalls that educators should be aware. The first is student workload.4 If careful consideration is not given to the length of videos or volume of reading required prior to class, students may become overwhelmed, show up unprepared for class, and unable to engage in the in-class learning activities. Educators should also consider the time and effort required to re-design lesson plans to fit the flipped classroom model.5 Educators will need to dedicate more time to evaluating activities and projects designed to assess student learning. Lastly, educators and students must have access to certain technology, like high speed Internet.

The flipped classroom method will probably never eliminate the need for traditional models of teaching but, it is a method that should be added to the teacher’s repertoire in higher education. When educators observe that lecture attendance is low, students seem bored during class, or when course material needs to be refreshed, the flipped classroom may be an effective strategy for re-engaging learners and teachers alike.


  1. EDUCAUSE: uncommon thinking for the common good [Internet]. Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE. 7 things you should know about flipped classrooms; 2012 Feb 7 [cited 2014 Jan 26].
  2. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching [Internet]. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University. Flipping the classroom [cited 2014 Jan 26].
  3. Knewton [Internet]. New York, New York: Knewton Service. Flipped classroom a new method of teaching is turning the traditional classroom on its head; 2011 [cited 2014 Jan 26].
  4. McLaughlin JE, Griffin LM, Esserman DA, et al. Pharmacy student engagement, performance, and perception in a flipped satellite classroom. Am J Pharm Educ 2013; 77(9): Article 196.
  5. Edutopia: what works in education [Internet]. San Rafael, CA: The George Lucas Educational Foundation. The flipped classroom pro and con; 2012 July 10 [cited 2014 Jan 26].

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