Flipping your colleagues’ classrooms


You’re convinced, Peer Instruction works better than lecture. Now, how can you convince your colleagues of the benefits of moving lecture out and learning in to our classrooms?

Madeline, a Peer Instruction Network member (PINm) who teaches science at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, warns, “Don’t expect to convince people easily.”

Indeed, educational reformers have been calling for radical pedagogical change for much longer than you might think. For example, in his 1869 inaugural speech President of Harvard University Charles Eliot remarked: “[A] n unintelligent system of instruction from the primary school through the college, is responsible for the fact that many college graduates have so inadequate a conception of what is meant by scientific observation, reasoning, and proof” (p. 3). In explaining his vision for the future of higher education, Eliot claimed, “The actual problem to be solved is not what to teach, but how to teach” (p. 3).

Charles Eliot 1869

One hundred and thirty years later, that “actual problem” persists. Government agencies, institutions, and non-profit organizations have invested billions of dollars, commissioned thousands of initiatives, and published hundreds of sound, empirical research articles in an effort to increase the uptake of interactive teaching and learning. Yet, lecture remains an old and extremely stubborn beast, who despite unprecedented cajoling from even the most credible visionaries (e.g., Carl Wieman), refuses to go quietly from our university classrooms.

All this to say change is hard, and in education it moves at a glacial pace, much slower than any other modern industry (see Cuban, 1999; Christensen, 2011) .

So, what to do?

In Switch: How to change things when change is hard, change researchers, Chip and Dan Heath answer the question, “Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?”

The primary obstacle, say the Heaths, is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly. (Excerpted from Health Brothers website).

The Heath Brothers’ game plan for change involves appealing to both sides of this conflict in our brains and then clearing the path of any situational obstacles.

In the complex quest to evoke longstanding pedagogical change, there is no one-size-fits all solution. However, we’ve put together three simple tips following the Health Brothers’ logic to help you try to flip your colleagues’ classrooms.

1. Inspire from the outside-in (Emotional)

Our experience proves that it is difficult to be a sage in your own village. To strengthen your change platform, consider inviting a credible speaker from outside your university to give a talk on Peer Instruction.

Many PINms from all over the world report the influence an outside expert can have on their teaching: Robert Woodward at University of New Hampshire, said: “After listening to Mazur’s ‘Confessions,’ I decided to flip my senior level undergraduate health economics this spring.” Té Van Deurzen from Ster College in the Netherlands reported, “After watching Mazur’s Confessions of a Converted Lecturer, I am trying to get started with Peer Instruction.” And, Marc Veletzos of Merrimack College said, “I watched Confessions of a Converted Lecturer and was quickly convinced that there is a better way to structure a class.”

You can watch Confessions of a Converted Lecturer here.

2. Appeal from the inside-out (Rational)

Turn to Your Neighbor readers, such as Steve McCrea, suggest “showing ample research” to colleagues as an important first step for change. In the below video, Eric and physicist Rebecca Younkin, formerly of Mt. Hokyoke College, talk about the importance of using data to respond to resistance from colleagues.

2.a. Go local 
Going local isn’t just good for the environment. While recommendation #1 above extols the power of outside sages, using evidence from other universities is usually not enough to convince those on your home front. If this was the case, the extant literature on interactive teaching would have already resulted in a sea change. Local data is important to demonstrate to colleagues that flipping their class using methods such as Peer Instruction will work in their situational contexts, with their students, and their institutions.

Exam scores from Eric's traditional (red) versus PI (purple) course

PINm, Merideth Frey of Yale University says on the appeal of local data, “perhaps try providing your students, colleagues, and the department leadership with assessments you have made of your class and the enhanced learning as a result of Peer Instruction. They may trust the data from your class more so than data in research papers that are in different subject areas.” And PINm Amer Kahn of Swineburne University of Technology in Malaysia suggests inviting “a doubting colleague to do a ‘peer review’ of your class.”

3. Clear the path to change

Along the muddy terrains toward education change, teachers’ aspirations to improve aren’t usually the biggest problem, rather it is situational barriers and individual misconceptions about the change itself. A common misunderstanding about Peer Instruction, for example, is that clickers are required for effective implementation. Our research demonstrates that while clickers are logistic gems and students like them, they are definitely not required.

Another common teacher belief is that you must implement Peer Instruction in your entire course, which may seem like a daunting task when your heart feels the tug of those 16 or so beautifully-crafted lectures you have been perfecting for years.The reality is, you can slowly implement PI, concept by concept or unit by unit. Finally, PI is not synonymous with zero lecture; we lecture every single class period, we just lecture much less.


Comments RSS
  1. Just browsing on Yahoo and saw Flipping your colleagues’ classrooms – Turn to Your Neighbor: The Official Peer Instruction Blog . Thanks for the info.

  2. Anonymous

    Peer instruction is a wonderfully broad term. Readers of this blog contribute significantly to the discussion of the many ways one can implement peer instruction.

    “Flipping”, on the other hand, is often used to describe a specific classroom format. Different groups may use the term differently, but there is often little room for discussion about what it is.

    Please, can we take the politically charged word “flip” out of the discussion of peer instruction?

    • Julie Schell

      peer instruction, lower-case, does indeed indicate a broad teaching methodology. However, this blog is about Peer Instruction, as developed by Eric Mazur and refers to a coordinated and specific in-and-out of classroom format (see Mazur, 1997, Peer Instruction Manual). In this format, students cover materials on their own, outside of class by reading or watching videos or some other coverage task (this is specifically not homework). In class, time is spent going in depth with students’ conceptions and misconceptions about that subject matter. Peer Instruction is not simply peer, collaborative, team, or group learning. You are right! There are indeed variations on how to implement Peer Instruction (and healthy debate about each them). That said, as an active learning method, Peer Instruction does “flip” the traditional classroom through a set of research-based, empirically supported procedures that demonstrate the benefits of moving coverage out and moving “uncoverage” in (see Wiggins and McTighe’s, 2005, for explanation of the term uncoverage). Rather than interpreting the term “flip” as a politically charged word, we think it is a wonderfully simple and sticky word (see Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick) that helps educators consider ways of moving coverage out of the classroom that have existed for over a hundred years, such as the Case Study Method.

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