Publisher of Humanities, Social Science & STEM Books
Students sit and chat around a tablet screen

The Online Flipped Classroom: Using Exploration and Discovery for Student-Centered Learning

Posted on: April 14, 2021

Written by Miguel A. Roig-Francolí, author of Understanding Post-Tonal Music and Anthology of Post-Tonal Music

Teaching from home through the pandemic has led me to discover the advantages of online flipped-classroom instruction (a classroom strategy in which students prepare new assigned materials before the class meeting, and the actual meeting is devoted to activities like discussion and problem solving). I have strived for years to create a more interactive, inclusive, student-oriented class environment in physical classrooms. I have done so by using Socratic questioning and dialogue with students, and by including boxes titled “Exploration” and “Application and Class Discussion” in my textbooks, which then can be used in the classroom in a process of exploration and discovery. 

Exploration and Discovery

Instead of lecturing on a particular topic—in my case, for instance, the analysis of a musical fragment—in the exploration and discovery process I ask students questions that will guide them through the analysis (the exploration process), to which they will have to provide the answers themselves (the discovery process). In these guided analyses students don’t always or necessarily provide the answers that I would have expected or that I would have provided myself, but that is part of the open inquiry and discovery process. Student answers are often surprising and enlightening about the piece we are discussing.

The Online Flipped Classroom

1. The Assigned Readings and Video Lecture. Rather than giving synchronous Zoom classes in traditional lecture style, I assign readings from my textbook and the corresponding scores from my anthology ahead of each class meeting. I also provide links to online recordings of the music discussed in the assigned readings. Moreover, I explain the materials from the readings in a short, recorded video lecture (20 to 30 minutes) that students are required to watch on their own time before the class meeting. Although these short video lectures explain the material from the reading, they always begin with questions that lead to exploration and discovery on the part of students, and which they are expected to answer on their own before they continue watching the video. 

2. The Class Meeting. The subsequent synchronous class meeting, no longer than 30 minutes, is devoted to questions from the students, discussion, and student interaction on the material from the reading and video presentations. The class meetings, thus, create an environment of collaborative learning that involves students very directly, and in which they can clarify the concepts studied at home through the readings and video I previously provided.

Advantages of the Online Flipped-Classroom Model

I have found multiple advantages in this teaching and learning model.

  • By studying the materials ahead of the class meeting, students find themselves engaged and involved in an active learning process through direct interaction with the class content.
  • The class meeting itself becomes a lively interactive event, where students not only ask questions but provide answers, engage in discussion, and reinforce their previous learning of the class content.
  • The Zoom (or WebEx) format is a great equalizer of student presence in the classroom. All students are equally present on the screen and can be called upon at any time either by the instructor or by other students. There are no students in the back rows that, willingly or not, do not get to contribute to the class as much of some of the more active students on the front rows. 
  • Instructors themselves are no longer standing at the head of the class facing students with an oversized (and potentially intimidating) presence and authority. Instructors now inhabit little windows of the same size as any student’s, and thus their presence is not physically larger than that of any student in the class.

Considering all these factors, I have found that interaction both with and among students in this environment has been easier, more positive, and more conducive to an active learning experience than in similar physical classroom situations. In fact, the level of student comfort and ease with this format has resulted in clearly enjoyable and openly fun class meetings. Students have felt free to introduce their pets and plants to the class, to share concerns or even personal situations that might be impairing their contributions to the class, or simply to joke about whatever light matter might have been in their minds at the moment. Certainly nothing can replace the closeness and presence in a physical classroom, but other rewarding positive factors come into play in an online flipped-classroom model. We all know what they say about lemons and lemonade...