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This story from September 5th in Inside Higher Ed bummed me out. It's about a professor who "flipped, but then "unflipped" his class. But in my opinion, he did it all wrong.

First of all, taping long lectures isn't ideal. It is way worse to watch a thirty minute video alone in your room than being there. And I can't tell from this short piece if the instructor had them come to class to apply the information. But it's clear that he thought watching a long video lecture was the same as being in class listening to one. It's not.

Flipped classes can work if you have students watch some lecture segments, short, broken up, to get specific pieces of information. But it is then imperative that they then come to class and do something with it. That way, you can see if the students have understood the concepts by asking them to apply it to new contexts and situations. But just giving them the content and stepping away (which it is not clear this professor did, but it sounds like he did)? That is not an effective way to flip a class.

I have flipped my western art survey part one and now teach it in a hybrid manner, meaning that students watch videos online on works of art about which in the past I would have lectured. The ideas in the Standard of Ur are just as clear from Smarthistory/Khan academy videos as what I would say. I really don't have anything innovative to say about that work for an introductory level class.

But what makes the class work, and what I bring to it, is to come up with assignments in which students apply the information to a new context. This is what I, as the instructor, bring to the table that is innovative and can't be replicated as easily online. So, this year, my student will learn about the art of the ancient Near East and Egypt, and then design a digital exhibition. During the unit on Greek and Roman art, when we are in class together, they will take part in a structured debate that will take two full class periods and time outside of class to decide if the Elgin/Parthenon marbles should be returned to Greece.

What we do in the face to face class should be something that can't be easily replicated in an online environment. The hybrid format of classes allows more flexibility for students to learn factual information on their own time. Then we do meet as a class, I can lead them in something that is more active and engaging, and allows me to see how well they understood the content.

How might you shift your teaching so that your in-class time is devoted to making sure students understand the material rather than lecturing to them?

In the first part of the introduction to western art, we talk about the move to farming from hunting/gathering. To have students really understand how difficult it was to move to farming, I use a case study/role-playing scenario that I have adapted from Paula Lazrus’ Reacting to the Past game, Hunter Gatherers in Transition. Because this is a content-heavy introductory course, it is difficult to use an entire Reacting game. [I have written about Reacting to the Past games in the past and more on the Reacting to the Past as a pedagogy can be read here.]

For this case-study, students are placed in groups and each group is given their specific scenario that describes their current circumstances and situation. The scenario is different for each group, though they are divided into three types: those who are still hunter-gatherers, those who are in transition to farming, and those who have adopted farming practices wholly.

After they read their scenarios, they choose cards from a deck that have “events” listed on them. In this deck of cards are events such as floods, that destroy all the seed inventory, or illnesses that wipe out a large portion of the population. Or other events happen like lessening access to animals for those that are still hunting. The choosing of the cards is random and they read the card event to the entire class. They then have time to figure out what they will do to respond, if they are even able to respond. To help them figure out their response, each group is also given at the start of this class a set of “tools,” printed on cards. They can use those tools (which can range from animals to stone tools or other objects) to solve their current predicament. They have about 10 minutes to come up with a solution, and then choose another event card and repeat the process.

One goal of this entire exercise is to have students understand the difficulties in the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. In the past I had always taught rather casually that this transition went smoothly and have even – wrongly – suggested in past classes that it was somehow inevitable. Reading and using Lazrus’ game has taught me differently. And students who participate in this role-play/case-study have a chance to really experience the difficulties of the transition as they make their way through the deck of cards.

The context of the movement of people versus the stationary establishment of farming communities becomes clearer through this exercise than a lecture from me about the differences.

How might you adapt such a case-study/role-play model to a class in your discipline?

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