Reflecting on Flipped Library Instruction, Part I

A recently published article develops several design principles that can assist in planning for a flipped classroom:

Kim, M. K., Kim, S. M., Khera, O., & Getman, J. (2014). The experience of three flipped classrooms in an urban university: an exploration of design principles. Internet & Higher Education, 2237-50. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.04.003  [Read this article]

These nine principles, listed below, though somewhat commonsensical, serve as useful touchstones as I reflect on several months of work in flipping my own library instruction.

  1. Provide an opportunity for students to gain exposure prior to class
  2. Provide an incentive for students to prepare for class
  3. Provide a mechanism to assess student understanding
  4. Provide clear connections between in-class and out-of-class activities
  5. Provide clearly defined and well-structured guidance
  6. Provide enough time for students to carry out assignments
  7. Provide facilitation for building a learning community
  8. Provide prompt/adaptive feedback on individual or group work
  9. Provide technologies familiar and easy to access

I have had the chance to work with three faculty this year to plan for a flipped library instruction component in four separate classes.  So while my experience in the flipped classroom is not extensive, I have had enough experience to have formed initial opinions and I have begun to generate ideas about how I might improve this model in the future.

#1 – Provide an opportunity for students to gain exposure prior to class

For library instruction, this is key, and perhaps represents the most radical change from anything I have done before.  Library instruction seldom offers the chance for the librarian to get materials to students before the class.  We are not in position to assign “homework” that can be discussed when we meet.  But in a flipped classroom, this exposure to material before we meet opens up the class to new possibilities.  Most exciting of these new possibilities is the chance to move away from lecture and demo and spend time instead exploring higher level concepts and strategies and serving as “guide by the side” during hands on work in the classroom.

 #2 – Provide an incentive for students to prepare for class

It did not take me long to realize that students do not always complete their homework!  Making my videos available on Youtube allowed me to get data on how many times each was watched.  In four flipped classes, the number of watches was always lower than the number of students in the class.  In an attempt to combat this, most recently, I worked with the classroom teacher to have a list of questions distributed well before the class visit.  These questions essentially restated the goals I had for creating the video.  Students knew these would be addressed at the beginning of the class, and I hoped — as a secondary benefit — they would provide some focus for these students as they watched the video.

Improvement?  Yes.  Perfection?  No.

#3 – Provide a mechanism to assess student understanding

Assessing what we do in library instruction has always been problematic.  For one-shot instruction, it is difficult to add formal assessment into an already tight class schedule.  However, flipped library instruction did provide a type of informal assessment that had previously been impossible to implement.  While working with students, observing the specific difficulties they might encounter, I was able to see where they were having troubling applying concepts and strategies, covered in the video/s, to their actual searches.  Since the goal of assessment is to improve what we do, I am able to work on materials that help address the more common shortcomings I’ve been able to observe.

 #4 – Provide clear connections between in-class and out-of-class activities

In regard to this principle, flipped library instruction truly has been “flipped.”  In traditional library instruction, we do our best to understand the assignment/s and general needs of the students, plan our instruction around our understanding of these needs, and then hope that this prepares students as they begin to work through their assignments and research.

In the flipped classroom, the out-of-class activities come first and there is the chance to provide direct help and clarification as the in-class work takes place.  As noted above, this model provides a chance for reinforcement and intervention as we work in a hands-on environment with students.

Certainly in both models, strong connections between in- and out-of-class activities is vital to effective instruction, but the flipped model provides me with a better understanding of both desired learning outcomes and a way to really determine if I’ve made the necessary connections with the materials I’ve assigned.

#5 – Provide clearly defined and well-structured guidance

The very act of planning for, recording and editing videos has improved the structure and delivery of content in comparison to the same lessons I had previously presented “live.”  Working and reworking the material serves to better focus the presentation and allows for a more narrow focus (perhaps representing a larger presentation broken into component parts).

However, I came to understand that in the class meeting itself a similar level of planning and structure is necessary.  Simply releasing students to their task at hand and roaming as “guide by the side” is not enough to ensure effective learning.  It is critical to set the context at the beginning of the class through a series of questions and discussion.  Interestingly, I have found that the flipped model is helpful in generating a discussion, as students have an introductory knowledge of the subject.  These first few minutes can be spent clarifying points that arise from the out-of-class activities, developing a broader or more conceptual framework.  This allows students to take greater responsibility for their learning and helps build attitudes (for example, persistence, flexibility, patience, curiosity) that are no small part of successful learning.

In the follow up to this post, I will continue with an examination of the principles suggested by this article, as well as discuss changes I hope to make based on these reflections on my initial experiences with flipped instruction.

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2 Responses

  1. In regard to your last point about the flipped classroom (or flipped instruction) being helpful in generating discussion and achieving some important goals of education — facilitating students’ responsibility for learning, persistence, curiosity, etc.: I suppose this is what we intend to do in more traditional instruction where we have students read before class. We hope they come to class with introductory knowledge and ready for discussion. To help make the flipped classroom a different experience than that lies, in part, in our ability as teachers to explain to students how the flipped experience should be different. In other words, we need to stress to them from the outset that these outside materials are really there for them to “teach themselves” in order to open up classroom space for more abstract work like inquiry, analysis, etc. I think too often students don’t read or don’t read carefully because they know that the material will actually be covered in class either via lecture or in discussion. Framing the flipped class/instruction as a mode of learning where students are (indeed, have to be) more responsible for their own learning is important.

  2. […] on flipped library instruction, using the design principles outlined in the Kim article below.  My previous post addressed the first five principles; here I conclude and add thoughts on how I might modify flipped […]

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