The aim of my FlipTech 2018 presentation was to introduce the Class Preparation Session strategy (CPS) and how it has been implemented to support students’ learning in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Program at the Universidad de la Sabana in Colombia. Educators from the USA, Singapore and Colombia gathered in this session to brainstorm about flipped instruction and to share their experiences teaching English, German and Spanish.
There are about 3,000 undergraduate students enrolled in the general English program per semester, distributed into nearly 150 groups, according to seven English levels. These levels range from elementary to upper-intermediate. The implementation of the CPS was possible thanks to the commitment of an academic team composed of an academic director, a faculty coordinator, an assessment coordinator, 7 level coordinators, and 36 teachers. Inspired by the sheer size of this truly collaborative effort, one of the attendees remarked: “This is the largest scale of flipped instruction I have ever seen.”
Our English program aims to graduate students with a B2.1 level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Experts state that the amount of exposure to the target language is the key to achieving a threshold level of proficiency (Desveaux, 2018; The British Council, 2018). For this reason, maximizing time that students devote to independent work is crucial for our program to succeed.
In the past, students had to work independently on Moodle activities, which consisted of reviewing material previously studied in class. These virtual activities were called “the fifth hour,” so-named because students had to do it after the 4 hours of face-to-face class. However, it was difficult for teachers to persuade their students to be autonomous learners. The department tried giving a grade to these activities, and even went as far as promising that the quizzes would derive from that content. Nonetheless, as a department, we did not see any significant change. Now, on the other hand, since introducing the flipped learning concept, students use this out-of-class virtual time to prepare content related to the next class, which is why this strategy is entitled Class Preparation Session or CPS.
But not only did the students have to face some changes in their learning process, we as a faculty also had to adjust our planning and teaching practices, and naturally, some fears surfaced. In my FlipTech session, attendees discussed the fears that teachers usually have before and during the implementation of flipped learning. We noticed that although we all teach different languages in different contexts, teachers’ fears are usually very similar, as discussed in the video below.
Video 1. Some teachers and coordinators from La Sabana sharing the challenges they have faced and the solutions given.
With those challenges in mind, the implementation had to be undertaken gradually. To start, a pilot was launched in a “crash course” during December of 2015. These courses are offered twice a year during vacation period, and are directed to students who need to advance in the program in a shorter time. After a year of preparation and planning, the academic team started tackling the challenge of implementing our CPS in all the English courses, reaching 3,214 students in the second semester of 2016.
Figure 1 below shows how the program has adapted its procedures to make the CPS happen. Before, students attended face-to-face classes as the first step of the academic process. After that, they reviewed the material they had studied in class, using Moodle for about an hour, the “fifth” hour. Finally, students did more reviewing independent work (I.W.) in the platform offered by the textbook.
In our new flipped instructional model, the routine for students is to still work in Moodle, but now students complete their studies a week in advance, in the CPS. They must access the platform and work for about an hour on the activities that the coordinators have designed. Then, during class time, students compare their notes, work collaboratively, share what they learned in the CPS, resolve any doubts that they might have, practice what they learned, and apply it to the creation of a tangible product. After this procedure, students work on the I.W. in the textbook platform and prepare their next CPS for the process to start again.
Trial and Error
During these first few years of implementation, some challenges have arisen, so the academic team has worked continuously on improving the CPS. In the beginning, we noticed that students worked on the platform, but since it was done a week in advance, they did not remember the content when it came up in class. In order to help students connect the information presented in the CPS to classroom content, we decided to create the “Ticket-in.” The Ticket-in is a way for students to keep a record of the new content and to be ready for the class.
However, the Ticket-in had its own set of issues. It was a format that students had to complete on a weekly basis. We used it for a semester until students complained about it in the teacher evaluation surveys. They said it was tedious and predictable – and they were right. From then on, we have had different ways of consolidating the CPS information. Now, students are expected to take notes, answer questions in their notebooks, record voice messages, and take pictures, or other tasks to help them demonstrate that they are processing the content. We still have a Ticket-in, but it is not always the same format.
After almost three years of implementation, we have noticed remarkable improvements in the English program. When comparing the 5th hour with the CPS in a sample of 430 users of the platform, it was found that the students’ participation in independent work has increased by 33%, under the same conditions of evaluation. Moreover, teachers assert that as a result of the CPS, the classes themselves have become more dynamic and more student-centered, with students having increased opportunity to practice the foreign language. Our next step is to continue curating our CPS resources – the Fliptech audience gave us valuable feedback – and the next challenge is to continue the implementation in the other language courses offered at La Sabana.
Desveaux, S. (2018, April 25). Guided learning hours: How many hours do I need to prepare for my exam? [Web post]. Retrieved from https://support.cambridgeenglish.org/hc/en-gb/articles/202838506-Guided-learning-hours
The British Council. (2018, April 25). Our levels and the CEFR. [Web post]. Retrieved from https://www.britishcouncil.pt/en/our-levels-and-cefr