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New Tools Being Used to 'Flip' the Classroom at MSU


Dr. Brandi King’s office is filled with towering stacks of boxes filled with Lego Mindstorms kits. When she isn’t teaching early childhood and elementary education, King runs Murray State University’s summer robotics camp. The robots that King teaches adolescents to assemble are capable of solving a Rubik’s Cube in five seconds. It’s this technology and these kids that have allowed King a glimpse at the future of education.

“If the students were to continue like they do in our robotics camps, the professors are going to have to be much more adept to understanding how to challenge students, because they are growing up electronically and in a digital age,” King said.

In an effort to adapt with technology, some MSU professors are “flipping” the classroom. With this model, students are watching video lectures online, on their own time, and then applying what they’ve learned when the class meets.

Instructional Development Coordinator Lilia Murray says with flipping, essentially, homework is now being done in the classroom.

“Take the presentation aspect out of the teaching, and let the students do that at their own time,” Murray said. “But then when they come to the classroom, the students can be active participants. By flipping, it takes them away from that sage-on-the-stage mentality, and provides a guide on the side. And that’s where all the messy learning can happen.”

King attempted this model earlier, to little success.

“I tried doing it through telling them, ‘Okay, read the book and then come to class and that’s when we’ll do it’,” King said. “But it wasn’t very effective. They weren’t taking part in class as much and they didn’t seem able to retain what it was they were getting.”

King didn’t have the tools she needed. Now, Murray State has introduced a new learning management system called Canvas. It’s customizable, and flipping-friendly with the incorporation of lecture capture system Tegrity.

The new tool allows students a high degree of interactivity in their new digital classroom. For example, if a student has a question while watching a teacher’s lecture, they can click on a button, which will then email the teacher regarding what is on the screen at that time. The software also minimizes cheating with online proctoring. And yes, there’s an app for that.

But what do the students think?

“It’s better, but it’s more time consuming,” said Campbell Childers, a freshman in King’s Issues and Practices of American Education class. “We were just talking about this actually. The homework we do in the class takes a lot of time in the class, but at home we wouldn’t have taken as much time on it.”

“I feel like the in-class discussions take things to higher level, rather than if they were just a lecture,” said junior Anna-Marie Ulrich. “Also, being able to do the lectures at home, if I want to go home, and I’m on the lake, then I can download it to my iPod or iPad and be on the lake in my own comfort and still getting my homework done.”

MSU Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology Director Hal Rice says determining whether or not flipped classrooms are having an impact on Murray State GPAs is difficult, and the hard data isn’t there yet.

“As far as the analytics and proving student learning is a very, very difficult and tricky thing to do,” Rice said. “But we firmly believe that they’re there, but it’s going to take some time to gather enough data and analyze that data and say ‘Yes, this is actually working’.”

When asked where education will be in 10 years, Rice says it’s a foolish person that would even try to wager a guess. But a visit to King’s classroom provides some insight into this new role of teacher-as-guide. After a brief call to order, the students engage in group discussions of the day’s lesson, sorted by their major. King walks from table to table, observing, listening, occasionally giving her input. In keeping with Lilia Murray’s rhyme, the lectern at the front of the room seemed extremely lonely without its sage on the stage.

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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