Using flipped classrooms when teaching research methods. Great, but how to prepare as an instructor?

This guest post is part of a series linked to the publication of G. Pleschova & A. Simon (eds.) Learning to teach in central Europe: Reflections from early career researchers. This post comes from Johan Adriaensen.

When teaching writing skills, our objective is not to have students explain what a good paper looks like, we want them to write a good one. Similarly, through our methodological courses, we hope students not only understand the logic of a research method, but that they can apply it in practice.

This need for practical application inevitably pushes us towards active learning pedagogies. One way to achieve this is through a flipped classroom model. This requires students to learn the essentials of theory at home so that contact hours can be devoted to practical applications and discussion. This enables the instructor to provide support where it is most needed. As a result, student engagement with the material is stimulated through learning by doing.

In her chapter, Kateřina Fridrichová elaborates on her experiences while applying this method in an elective course on research methods for Master’s students of international relations at Masaryk University in Brno. As I was familiar with the potential of flipped classrooms in teaching research methods through the work of Michael Touchton, I formulated myself a set of questions on the practice of teaching in a flipped classroom as opposed to their effects on students (which are also analysed in the chapter).

Firstly, I wonder how to best facilitate the learning process during students’ self-study? Fridrichová referred to the use of general readings and short explanatory videos. To ensure the students get prepared in advance, she requested summaries of the readings from students. Unfortunately, despite an elaborate assessment of student and teacher experiences, we learn little about the need, perception or effectiveness of pre-recorded lectures and/or the short explanatory videos used by Fridrichová (and how to determine which topics merit such support).

Second, I ask myself how to organize the in-class sessions so as to improve learning?  As common in flipped teaching, there was still scope for ‘mini-lectures’ in her class to address issues requiring further explanation. These were then followed by various practical applications and exercises. I particularly liked the idea of working with data collected from the students. The exercises were diverse, well-designed and also appropriate for a method as QCA which is commonly applied to small and medium-N.

Thirdly, I remain puzzled about the implications in terms of preparation and workload for the instructor. Fridrichová’s honest and open reflection highlight the importance of preparation for the class sessions and in particular how to cope with small class sizes. The shift from traditional teaching practices to a student-led, active teaching format often necessitates a different type of preparation to keep the class engaged. In her case, the small group of students (4) further complicated this challenge. 

While the initial time-investment seemed to be significant, the rewards seem more than worth the effort. The impacts on her students were diverse ranging from greater confidence in applying the method, greater engagement during class, the scope for peer-learning and an appreciation of applying the theory in practice. Having read the chapter, my interest in flipped teaching has only increased.