An advantage of flipped learning

The 6th of October (a Monday) is Labour Day in the state of NSW. The classes for my subject are on Mondays. We potentially lose a day, but no probs.Their second assignment (a critical literature review) is not due until 24 October, so they will not be inconvenienced by no tutorial that week.  I looked ahead when designing the course and set assignment deadlines so there were none that week, which is when students tend to most panic and seek face to face advice. Since the lecture and the set readings will be up on the WordPress blog site 2 weeks in advance (as usual), students can do self-directed learning and communicate with me via email or Skype with their queries. I will also set them an extra task in lieu of the tutorial and we will discuss it in the following week’s tute. Conventional teaching, when everything is done face to face, struggles to overcome such obstacles and setting a different class time for that week often clashes with students’ timetable and so there is a poor turnout.

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Testing pre-class learning

Students are required to read and think about the set content for each week. They are then supposed each email me a comment, question, query about something they don’t understand or on which they would like more information. I am loathe to make this a punitive exercise (attach marks to it) if they do not respond. At first I got a lot of comments, then a drop off, and then a build up again. At first I put down the rapid loss of interest in sending questions/queries to lack of interest in the subject because of the flipped design (in other words, a “failure”), but now I think it was due to two factors: a sudden bout of self-conscious about possibly submitting “silly” questions (a student comment); and a lack of confidence with some of the ideas, concepts and theories. But as we have progressed and we have “scaffolded up” into some of the difficult concepts, students seem more confident and the questions I get are more profound. For example: to explain the concept of “transculturation”, a very important (and contested) concept in Latin/o American studies, I first explain the origin of the word “culture” and the various ways it has been historically used. I then move to the genealogy of the term ‘transculturation” itself and its various appropriations and why theorists use it (its explanatory possibilities). I also apply the concept to similar phenomena in Australia, including Indigenous cultures, so that it does not seem so abstract. This means a slow approach to explaining key terms, concepts, theories and getting students to engage and feel comfortable with them. By placing the case study assignment due date in Week 7, I hope to give them all sufficient time to absorb such key concepts and theories and thus be able to reference them and use them with confidence in their assignments.

I also reminded them that there are no “silly” questions in my class – just questions.