Applying Flipped Learning to an Unfamiliar Context
As faculty working with language learners in a writing center in a non-profit, competency-based, fully-online university, we see flipped learning as a pedagogical methodology that creates a critical opportunity for our students to engage with peers, faculty, and writing concepts in an individualized way. We believe this inverted learning environment cultivates a sense of community for our multilingual writers within the larger institution.
An Innovative Way to Deliver Differentiated Instruction
In 2017, Dr. Robin Gbur, Dr. Doe Kim, and Dr. Nikki Holland formed a new ELL specialist team. We agreed we needed to develop a live webinar series to reach more of our multilingual students early in their academic journey. Many of our multilingual students shared similar writing challenges (e.g., article use, sentence boundary decisions that impact fluency, word choice, paraphrasing, etc.), so we developed a monthly synchronous webinar experience for hundreds of students. We knew that the key was to make the one hour session as engaging as possible. The flipped learning approach created the perfect learning environment: students would view a 10-minute video on the content and strategy to be highlighted in the webinar. Students would come to the live cohort event with questions that would drive the real-time session. Then, the facilitators would move into demonstrating how to apply the new language learning tools, responding to student concerns as they arise.
Regardless of the teaching and learning context, high-quality instruction requires a lot of front end labor. The same goes for the flipped model. When we launched our first multilingual cohort, we spent a great deal of time preparing the captioned video we produced (i.e., starting with Screencastomatic and then polishing with Camtasia software tools) that we expected students to watch before they came to the session. The video showcased a tool, the Corpus of Contemporary American English and demonstrated how to trust observable language patterns to make some word choice decisions. During the live, synchronous webinar via Adobe Connect, students participated through chat and polls as we articulated the micro-decisions involved in making decisions about prepositions, articles, and verb tenses. Students were also invited to bring their own writing samples to the session and to share their questions with the group.
Like our peers in brick and mortar institutions, we struggle with the challenge of how to work through material in our classroom environment (the webinar) when students have not yet had the opportunity to review the material (the video). However, we are designing our webinars with this reality in mind. In addition to making sure that the activities and conversations are accessible to all students, even those who haven’t reviewed or haven’t understood the material, we hope that the webinar experience encourages students to return to the video to review those concepts. We remain optimistic that these multilingual students will appreciate the focus on strategy application over basic information sharing during our precious synchronous time together.
Authors’ Flipping Backgrounds
Dr. Robin Gbur: Having worked within the university K-12 literacy teacher preparation setting, I witnessed classroom teachers experimenting with home-grown ways of changing how they organized their lesson plans, ultimately shifting the way kids learn. I immediately embraced the simple logic of frontloading information, as in flipped learning, especially with multilingual students, who often need extra time and unpressured space to process new concepts and vocabulary, dig around for missing background details that afford relevant connections, and cognitively organize these new ideas for future retrieval. I decided that this inverted approach could easily transfer to my teacher education courses, modeling for these future teachers in my literacy-focused hybrid courses what I hoped they might use in their classrooms during student teaching and beyond.
As I experimented with different ways to implement this new approach, I found that the classroom discussions, both face-to-face and online, changed dramatically. My students began sharing less basic information and taking more critical thinking risks; less class time was devoted to reviewing something they had read or viewed while more time was spent asking provocative questions, making connections to other concepts or theories in other courses, etc. Soon enough, I began to feel like we were learning together, as a community.
When I took a new faculty position at a Writing Center housed within a competency-based, fully online setting, I wanted to find ways to incorporate the flipped learning strategies that had proven so successful into my writing center practice, with ELLs as my target audience. I began with small changes. For example, I started asking students to complete some basic tasks before coming to our one-on-one instructional phone appointments. Modeling and guided practice during our sessions became the norm, with students taking on a more active role in their learning.
Dr. Doe Kim: I don’t think I ever taught a completely flipped class before, but my first steps into this format was probably when I realized that the time in the classroom was not enough to help struggling ESL students who had difficulties in combining sentences with a relative clause. The course management system I used had a statistics feature that showed which items students were having most difficulty with. To help students overcome this difficulty, I created screen-captured videos of myself showing the process of combining sentences. The course management system facilitated this process as I was able to see who accessed the video as well. Time was spent in class applying what they learned through solving quiz items and explaining individually to students what they needed to make these sentences grammatically accurate. Thus, the flipped classroom helped me use in-class time for more individualized support.
Dr. Nikki Holland: Like Robin and Doe, I took my first steps towards flipping my classroom in response to my realization that my undergraduate composition students needed more time to work together on the actual work of the course: the writing. I was already cancelling a week of classes before big writing assignments in order to carve out time for hour-long appointments with each of my students, but the practice was unsustainable, and I was on the hunt for more time to write together. So, I began experimenting with converting my lecture notes and classroom activities into take-home work and saving classroom time for composition. I remember clearly how nervous I was about being observed. Though I felt confident that my classroom was creating a safe and generative space for students to try on their identities as academic writers, I was still worried that my teaching wouldn’t “look like” teaching. Over time, however, I came to understand how critical that writing and thinking time was for my students, and I carried the approach with me, “flipping” my undergraduate and graduate classes, and eventually flipping professional development for teachers as well. When I came into the entirely online space, however, I felt like I had wandered into new territory and wasn’t sure what flipped learning might look like in a non-traditional space like our fully online writing center.
Robin Gbur is a faculty member at the Western Governors University Writing Center. She holds an MA in TESOL from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from the University of New Mexico. Prior to her shift to Writing Center instruction for multilingual students, Robin focused on best practices in literacy instruction for new teachers and implementing technology, such as virtual learning communities and flipped classroom techniques, into second language acquisition pedagogy and research at Western Connecticut State University.
Nikki Holland is a faculty member at the Western Governors University Writing Center. She holds a B.A. in African literature and culture from Middlebury College and an M.A. and Ph.D in English rhetoric and composition from the University of Arkansas. Nikki has taught courses in composition, literature, literacy, and education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Also a grant administrator, she currently directs a National Writing Project grant supporting the teaching of argument writing across the disciplines.
Doe Kim is a faculty member at the Western Governors University Writing Center. He has a BA in English Language & Literature from Hannam University, an MA in Teaching of English as a Second Language, and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Doe has taught at Seoul National University, University of Illinois, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Georgia Gwinnett College. He has taught courses ranging from technology integration for teachers to oral communication, advanced grammar, and reading & vocabulary to college-level ESL students.