The flipped classroom is so much more than just video

“Rewarding experience”, “incredibly high levels of engagement”, “unprecedented pass rate”: Dr Melanie Bishop reflects on her flipped MAR202 unit and student feedback which demonstrate not only students’ positive perceptions associated with active learning but also the importance of high-quality engagement with content, peers and teaching staff.

A common dilemma for higher education academics is choosing the best mode of delivery to guarantee their content is being successfully conveyed to students as well as confirming this mode is the most effective way to ensure their students understand the topic. It has been documented in a number of papers that the traditional lecture, although allowing the delivery of information, especially to a large cohort, may not be the most effective way to ensure student learning (Smith et al, 2015).

Much mooted in recent years is the ‘flipped’ mode of delivery that would facilitate both the delivery of content as well as providing a more effective and engaging learning experience for students. The underlying premise for flipped is that some or most of the content delivery occurs outside of class, and students come to class to participate in active learning activities (Hughes, 2012).

However, the definition of ‘flipped classroom’ is broader than merely watching lecture video prior to attending class and more about careful consideration of learning activities which enable students to develop a more nuanced understanding of the content. For the purpose of this article and the design of MAR202, the term ‘flipped’ refers to the provision of tailored online resources and learning activities that facilitate student preparation for face-to-face sessions that are focused on application and consolidation (Sankey & Hunt, 2013).

In 2013, Dr Melanie Bishop and the Learning & Teaching Centre collaborated on a project centred on the development of a new core unit for the marine science degree within a ‘flipped classroom’ model. In MAR202, the traditional lecture format was replaced with interactive online activities and challenge-based workshops where students discussed and debated various marine issues through case studies on topics such as coastal erosion, marine pollutants, and aquaculture. This flipped structure provided improved opportunities for student engagement and for more active learning. By structuring the unit in this mode, Melanie believes it improved student understanding of the complexities of maintaining and managing marine resources.

In successful deliveries of flipped units at Macquarie University, the focus is about active learning and how delivering a portion of the content outside the classroom allows time and space for more engaging, higher-order collaborative active learning in face-to-face time. In MAR202, Melanie and the project team developed a range of online learning resources beyond video alone, using interactive teaching strategies and iLearn components with both Macquarie and open source material so that students were well-prepared for the face-to-face sessions.

The ‘flipped’ approach encourages tutors to re-evaluate their teaching (Smith et al, 2015). Following the first delivery of MAR202, Melanie reflected that her role of the educator changed from lecturer to “a curator of content”. This was mirrored in a study at University of Southern Queensland, where the role of university teachers became facilitators that guide student learning, “a shift from lecture driven courses to process-driven curriculum design, based on learning activities” (Sankey & Hunt, 2013).

Melanie shares some of her reflections on the first delivery of MAR202 in 2014.

In a 2012 study of a flipped basic pharmaceutics course, student perceptions of learning enhancement and engagement were measured (McLaughlin et al, 2013). Several major themes emerged from student feedback as to why there was a preference for the flipped delivery. These centred on positive student perceptions associated with active learning and the importance of high-quality engagement with content, peers and instructors. Feedback from Melanie’s unit also reflected this, with comments such as:

“Online modules worked better than lectures; felt I learnt more / did more work than any other subject I’ve previously taken.”

“Very positive learning. Extremely enjoyed this unit.”

“My overall experience was great, the experience of working with the information made it real instead of having lectures and just remembering facts. This model of active learning allowed me to really engage with the material, which then can be used more effectively. Thank you for the experience.”

Disentangling the delivery style of flipped from the engaging and current content of MAR202 Marine Environmental Issues is hard but on an anecdotal level, the student interaction, understanding, and application of content and interest level indicate a successful level of student learning. The more active workshops, the minimised ‘lecture’ style, and the opportunity for students to bring their own perspectives to the activities, provided students with a means to share their own experiences and passion about the environment. This focus on active learning was also highlighted in an action research study on a flipped specialised MSc course at University of Wolverhampton (Smith et al, 2015). In this paper, the authors specifically focused on how to ensure students are fully engaged in activities. Conclusions and recommendations included that the ‘flipped’ lecture should not to be the primary source of information delivery within the module and that both online and face-to-face activities should maximise the opportunity for students to become active learners, empowering them to take charge of their own learning.

Where to from here?

If you would like to start thinking about flipping your unit or even one topic of your unit, visit The Flipped Classroom which has more reflections from Macquarie academics. You can also get in touch with your Faculty LTC contacts to start brainstorming options.


Hughes, H. (2012, June). Introduction to flipping the college classroom. In World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (Vol. 2012, No. 1, pp. 2434-2438).

McLaughlin, J. E., Griffin, L. M., Esserman, D. A., Davidson, C. A., Glatt, D. M., Roth, M. T., & Mumper, R. J. (2013). Pharmacy student engagement, performance, and perception in a flipped satellite classroom. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 77(9).

Sankey, M. D., & Hunt, L. (2013, December). Using technology to enable flipped classrooms whilst sustaining sound pedagogy. In Proceedings of the 30th Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education Conference (ASCILITE 2013) (pp. 785-795). Macquarie University. No 1

Smith, S., Brown, D., Purnell, E., & Martin, J. (2015). ‘Flipping’the Postgraduate Classroom: Supporting the Student Experience. In Global Innovation of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (pp. 295-315). Springer International Publishing.

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