What are students’ roles and responsibilities in learning environments that use the FLIP classroom model?  This is the question I wanted to explore with the incoming Pharmacy students at Chapman University’s School of Pharmacy (CUSP) during their new student orientation.

A little background…throughout the past year and a half, we have been working closely with the faculty at CUSP as they prepare for their first incoming class. We have worked alongside the faculty to develop a flipped curriculum which intentionally integrates our FLIP model  into all aspects of the students’ coursework. Faculty participated in a series of FLIP workshops where they defined what they wanted the FLIP to mean at CUSP, developed flipped lesson plans, mapped courses to learning outcomes, planned assessment strategies, and explored how to effectively integrate technology. As part of our faculty development program, we offered faculty coaching sessions to review lesson plans, and we scheduled sample teaching demonstrations to practice teaching using the FLIP philosophy.  It has been a rigorous and intensive (and fun!) process, and it’s been so exciting to be on this journey with the faculty. Faculty can make or break the flipped learning experience, so we want to make sure they feel confident with their shifting roles and prepared when designing flipped learning experiences for their students.

But faculty are only part of the process.  What about the students? What is their role? How does it change? And what do students have to say about it?

At the end of August, during the new student orientation, our team facilitated two days of workshops focused on the FLIP model and how to succeed as a student in the flipped classroom environment.  (Sidebar: It speaks highly of the CUSP faculty to include an introduction to the flipped model during new student orientation.  By doing this, they showed students how much they are committed to student success and supporting students through the process. The faculty and campus leaders have made it their mission to prepare Pharmacists, not just graduates. And it has been a privilege to be part of this experience.)

All 80 students were already aware of the flipped classroom and the specific way CUSP is defining the FLIP in terms of Pharmacy education. The students knew the FLIP means more than watching videos. They knew their classes would look and feel different than most of their undergraduate experiences. They were now expected to work collaboratively, come prepared, and be ready to engage in the process of learning at higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

They said all the ‘right’ words when I asked them about the flipped classroom. They explained it, they defined it, and they analyzed the pros and cons successfully. But then we dug a little deeper…what exactly will their role be in this new learning environment? What do they expect? And how do they feel about it?

Here are the top 5 comments I heard from the students as we discussed how their roles and responsibilities will change in the flipped classroom:

  1. “I will not be able to procrastinate.”
    This comment led to quite a few laughs and nodding heads from more than half of the students in the room.  They acknowledged that they cannot cram at the last minute for an exam when they are expected to be “on” every day in class. They recognized that most of their prior learning experiences had been lecture-centered courses during their undergraduate years and those formats might have permitted them to procrastinate and squeeze by when they took their mid-term and final exams. They quickly realized the habits that led them to be admitted to graduate school will not necessarily keep them in graduate school.
  2. “I can’t let my group members down.”
    Most of the students described the flipped classroom as a place where they engage heavily in group work both during and out of class. Working with others, working in teams, collaborative learning…this was the language they used when they thought about how the learning environment is different from a traditional lecture. They recognized the positive aspects of working in teams, especially in the healthcare profession, but they also recognized how much their group’s success depends on their individual success.  The FLIP does involve teams, but the individual work and accountability will still be part of the learning experience.
  3. “I have to be aware of how other people learn.”
    The group discussion led to the awareness of how different people in their groups learn. I included a ‘learning styles and preferences’ workshop as part of their orientation experience, and this was an eye-opening conversation for nearly all of the students. They finally had a framework and a common language to describe the differences in how they approach problem solving, studying, and analyzing information. As soon as they knew how to recognize the strengths and challenges within their own learning ‘style’, they were quick to explain how this knowledge empowers them to support their peers and work together to be successful in the flipped learning environment. One of the most important parts of this conversation was how each individual student recognized the challenges he/she will face in the flipped classroom based on his/her preferred approach to learning.
  4. “I have to be prepared.”
    They explained they had to be prepared for their classes in the past, but in a different way. They could “get by” with not doing the homework because they could take notes during the lecture and then catch up before an exam. In the flipped classroom, they have to be prepared and ready every time. This caused some stress. As they thought about the intensity within each course, the high expectations, and the pressure to succeed, they struggled with the anticipation of being overwhelmed by always having to be prepared for every class every day. The CUSP faculty anticipated this, and they have been intentional in the design of their curriculum to avoid burnout. They have designed the curriculum to ensure more balance as the students transition to this model and begin their studies in Pharmacy. This is probably one of the most significant challenges for faculty who FLIP and for departments or programs who want to implement flipped models across all of their courses. Finding balance without overwhelming the students (or the faculty!) takes careful planning. I was glad to see the students were already taking their part of this responsibility seriously.
  5. “I am excited. And a little nervous.”
    Fear is one of those emotions that can paralyze a classroom. If students are afraid to speak up or take risks to answer a question they might not know the answer to, then the learning environment is not going to foster collaborative, student-centered learning experiences. I was glad to hear the students were both excited and nervous. One of my mentors in graduate school told me, “If you’re nervous, it means you care.”  Students care about their courses, their grades, and their future. They want to succeed. What makes the flipped classroom model work is our ability to engage and connect with our students more frequently. We know what they “get” and what they don’t. We know where they are struggling because we are right there by their side as they struggle. We know when we need to spend more time practicing and when we can move on to the next chapter. The FLIP  puts us beside our students rather than in front of them which allows us an opportunity to harness the excitement and calm their nerves so we can all focus on the learning.

As a faculty development professional, I’ve spent most of my time these past few years studying and supporting faculty as they explore their changing roles and responsibilities in flipped classrooms. It was challenging and eye-opening to look specifically at the students’ perceptions of the flipped model and how they interpret their changing roles and responsibilities. Recognizing these shifts and the challenges for both students and faculty is part of what will enhance our classrooms and our faculty development programs.

Let’s keep the conversation going!  Have you developed resources to support students in the flipped classroom? What strategies have been most successful for you as you help your students transition to this new type of learning environment? What other comments have you heard from students about their roles and responsibilities in the flipped classroom?

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