featured Teacher August 2015

Professor Linda Thompson

ThompsonIf you dared to ask Dr. Linda Thompson, “Have you flipped?” she might tell you, “Yes”—as long as you were referring to her classroom.  As an Assistant Professor of Nutrition in the College of Nursing & Allied Health Sciences, Dr. Thompson was one of the first Howard professors to adopt the pedagogy known as “flipping the classroom” or “flipped learning.”

Popularized by two high school science teachers, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, “flipped learning” is often described as “school work at home and home work at school.”  However, Bergmann and Sams emphasize that “flipped learning” is much more.  According to Bergmann and Sams, “flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter” (see http://FlippedClass.com).

Bergmann and Sams published their best-selling book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, in 2012.  The same year Dr. Thompson joined Howard’s faculty after serving as a nutritionist for Head Start, a member of the DC Mayor’s Commission on Food Nutrition and Health, and an independent consultant.  Barely a year later, she joined a CETLA learning community of faculty who were interested in “flipped learning.”  The learning community participated in workshops on course redesign, active learning, and video-recording.  In particular, they learned to use Tegrity to record lectures that they could post online to “free up” time for active learning in the classroom.  Then they learned how to use Poll Everywhere, a web-based polling application that allows instructors to assess students’ understanding in the classroom.  The learning community also learned how to motivate students to watch online lectures before class by administering quizzes on Blackboard as homework or pretests at the start of a classroom session.

Since Dr. Thompson had already earned Blackboard certification from CETLA, she began to build a Blackboard site that would “flip” 30% of her Spring 2014 Nutrition for Health Majors course for forty nursing and allied health students.   At first, she posted only Tegrity PowerPoint lectures and mastery quizzes.   As a result, students were able to check their understanding and review the lectures whenever or how often they wished.  When she compared average exam scores with those from the previous semester’s class, she discovered that there was a statistically significant increase in the grades of the spring “flipped” class.*

That increase was more than enough to convince Dr. Thompson to apply to the HU-Teach Program, which the Office of the Provost launched during the summer of 2014.  The program provided not only a summer stipend for redesigning a course, but also additional training and peer reviews.  With support from the program, Dr. Thompson redesigned her 30% online “flipped” course into a 60% online “hybrid” course.  Unlike her “flipped” course, the “hybrid” reduced classroom time by shifting more instruction online.  However, Dr. Thompson still sought to stimulate more active learning—in the classroom and online.  This time she made greater use of Tegrity and Poll Everywhere as well as Blackboard’s discussion board and groups.  She also required students to bring their laptops or tablets to class to take pretests on Blackboard before they engaged in active learning in the classroom.  At the end of the Spring 2015 term, on anonymous student evaluations, nearly all of the students who responded said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the course, especially the online quizzes.  Moreover, the median grade in the class of forty-two rose to an “A” (from “A” and “B” in 2014), and the withdrawal rate dropped from 15% to 0%.   However, some students reported that the course was more difficult than expected because, as one student wrote, “I had to be more responsible and manage my time better.”

So what is next for Dr. Thompson?  Flipping other courses, designing more hybrids, or building a 100% online course?  Who knows?  But whatever Dr. Thompson does, you can be sure that it will be designed to engage students actively in the learning process and to help them “understand the information, think independently, and perform better on examinations."