Active learning at Columbus State University (CSU) has been implemented in a variety of ways through both the flipped-classroom and HyFlex environments. The flipped-classroom model has been instituted since Fall 2017, and I have valued my experiences as an instructor in this kind of educational setting. 

The main tools that I use to successfully adopt the flipped-classroom model are multimedia resources, such as Perusall and instructor-made videos, which expose students to content before our class session through short, recorded mini-lectures that cover specific sections of the Karty text, and then directed textbook reading that is followed by students making interactive annotations using the Perusall application. 

For example, confusion reports—which are automatically generated by Perusall—provide feedback to instructors that detail any challenging sections that need to be more fully addressed in the classroom for students to truly understand them. As such, I’ve found that Perusall helps my students master the course readings faster, understand the material more clearly, and get more out of the lecture experience.

To further these outcomes, students work collaboratively while annotating the textbook with their peers outside of class. While they read, they receive rapid responses from each other and help their classmates resolve their questions, which helps everyone, not just those with questions, more fully learn and understand the topics at hand. Each of the online threads that are tied to the reading and annotation assignments transforms into a lively chat with multiple members of the class communicating with each other in real time—how cool! In turn, all of this activity helps me plan how I can best make the most productive and efficient use of class time when we reconvene during our lecture.

More specifically, the two primary goals that I have for students as they annotate each Perusall reading assignment are to stimulate discussion by posting insightful questions or comments and to collaborate with each other by answering their peers’ questions. To help students more easily connect with their classmates and instructor outside of lecture, they have the option to mention a friend or their professor in a question or comment; the Perusall system will then immediately notify the appropriate person via  email, which encourages the conversation to continue. For each of these assignments, students’ annotations are evaluated as the comments are submitted. Based on the overall content of their annotations, students will receive a score ranging from 1 to 3 for each individual reading.

  • 3 = demonstrates an exceptionally thoughtful and thorough reading of the entire assignment
  • 2 = demonstrates a thoughtful and thorough reading of the entire assignment
  • 1 = demonstrates a superficial reading of the entire assignment or a thoughtful reading of only part of the assignment 

Because it is expected that students complete their reading assignments prior to our class session, each lecture begins with a 10–15-minute presentation that I develop using student questions and the Perusall confusion reports. After this short review, we spend the majority of our time together in lecture solving various problems and exercises, or working on group activities and demonstrations, based on the material from the assigned readings.

There are so many reasons that I conduct my organic chemistry class in a flipped format, and every single one of them are meant to benefit my students. If I had to pick the most important of these reasons, though, I would say that it is for my students to gain experience with self-learning. In no course is self-learning more important than in organic chemistry. The material itself is intrinsically quite difficult, so everyone has their own “challenges” to deal with, no matter what their background may be. Because no two students are exactly alike, the specific challenges they may face will, in many ways, be different from those that their classmates face. Therefore, it is impossible for me, as an instructor, to present the course material in a single attempt (i.e., “lecture”) with the expectation that it will make all of the learning objectives completely clear to everyone at the same time.  

Ultimately, it is the job of the student, each and every day, to identify which sections of the material they do not find clear. And there is no better way for students to do so than by reading the material on their own time before class and then testing their ability to apply their newly learned knowledge during class. Both of these elements are exactly what I consider to be the two hallmarks of a successful flipped and active-learning classroom, all for the benefit of our students.

-Kerri Taylor, Columbus State University

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