Flipping the Research Methods Classroom, Part 2

Today we have the second post in a series on building a flipped course by Natascha van der Zwan and Alexandre Afonso. Both are assistant professors at the Institute of Public Administration at Leiden University, the Netherlands. They can be reached by emailing Natascha at n.a.j.van.der[dot]zwan[at]fgga[dot]leidenuniv[dot]nl.

How to Build a Flipped Classroom

University teaching is not very different from the way Adam Smith or Max Weber taught a century or more ago. Aside from the inescapable PowerPoint, there is usually a lecturer standing in front of a group of students who take notes. The reason teaching stayed the same may be purely path dependent: departing from this format may go against administrative rules and habit. Developing new ways to teach requires an investment in resources in time and energy that always run scarce when the new semester looms. At Leiden University, we are lucky to have a great deal of institutional support and a clear commitment from the university for developing innovative forms of teaching.

And this meant . . . going to the film studio!

Leiden University wants to play a leading role in the development of open educational resources. There are several Leiden-originated massive open online courses (MOOCs) on Coursera, including a course on kidney transplants by the Leiden University Medical Center and our colleague Bernard Steunenberg’s MOOC on Politics and Policy in the European Union. Over the years, the university has developed quite an infrastructure to make these MOOCs, with several studios on campus to create instructional videos. Also Leiden’s Online Learning Lab employs professional videographers and instructional designers who specialize in online learning and in helping faculty members such as Alex and myself make the jump to online video content.

We had a list of demands that we wanted for our flipped classroom. These were, in no particular order:

  1. No talking heads: we’re not movie stars and felt uncomfortable with being so prominently featured in our instructional videos. We also did not see the added value of forcing students to stare at our faces for 7 minutes at a time. That was exactly why we wanted to avoid the lecture hall in the first place.
  2. No waste of time: the instructional designers had planned for us to do an online course on online teaching, a day-long session on curriculum design and then spend several weeks in the studio filming the videos. Since this was not a project on which we could work full-time, this was simply impossible for us to do.
  3. No complicated technology. Time is limited, and we needed a format with a low learning curve.

Our instructional designers Joasia and Annemieke were entirely willing to adjust the standard procedure and we agreed on a few compromises:

  1. Instead of us being visibly present in each video, only the brief introductory video (+/- 30 seconds) to each module would feature one of us welcoming the students and providing a general outline to the module. Remaining video would consists of animations with a voiceover.
  2. Limiting the length of “talking head” sequences meant less time in the film studio. Instead, we made Prezi presentations that video-captured and added a voiceover narration to. While this meant one of us (Natascha) had to quickly learn how to use Prezi, we had the freedom to make the videos outside working hours in the privacy of our respective homes. And since nobody would be able to tell anyway, why not get comfortable in PJ’s and a glass of wine on the side?
  3. Since our online modules did not contain anything crazier than a few videos and an quiz, we were able to build the entire flipped classroom within our existing course webpage on Blackboard. Again, having to build something brand new from scratch saved us some time.

In our next post, we will discuss our face-to-face workshops.