Today we have the final post in a series on building a flipped course by Natascha van der Zwan and Alexandre Afonso, 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.
Our previous posts discussed why we wanted a blended learning approach to our research methods course, the design of the course’s online modules and offline workshops, and the involvement in colleagues. We have saved the best for last: what did students think of our redesigned course?
Because of the time and energy required by this project, we became very invested in it. We thought the flipped classroom was awesome. So when the course evaluations came back in, we were happy to read that students generally liked the flexibility that the new course design gave them, the look of the online environment, and research methods content. A few students even mentioned their appreciation for the academic skills modules — they had been struggling with certain skills like academic writing, but as graduate students they had felt too embarrassed to ask for help.
Some students had quite the opposite reaction: they had found the workload too heavy, thought the online format too impersonal and were dismayed with the experimental nature of the course. One student wrote, “Why are these teachers using us as lab rats?” We had been prepared for this type of negative feedback; our instructional designer had already warned us that some students simply resist new forms of teaching, especially when they require students to be more actively involved in their own learning experience.
The comments that really surprised us were along the lines of: “The teachers are only using this format to reduce their own workload. Why can’t they just give a traditional lecture instead of letting us do all the work?” Comments such as these were far removed from our own experience of creating the flipped classroom (so much work!) and our conscious choice not to do big lectures (not suitable for this course). We had been so focused on producing content for the course that we completely overlooked the need to communicate more clearly to students why we were doing this. We now start each new edition of our course with an introductory meeting that explains to students the rationale for the course’s design, and we keep repeating the message in the workshops and online.
All in all, it’s been quite the ride. We made mistakes along the way, but we produced a course that we are proud of. Most of all, thanks to this project, we were able to spend a lot more time on evaluation, rather than just on preparation. We learned more about how students experience our teaching, and on that aspect alone, we are now better off than when we started.
Links to all posts in this series: