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Exploring new perspectives in biology with the flipped classroom approach

G. K. Harish Balaji & Vijeta Raghuram

A flipped classroom is a traditional classroom turned upside down! This means that the students listen to lectures, videos and other course materials at home, and solve problems (normally done as homework’) or engage in discussions with their classmates and teachers in the classroom. This article explains why such a mode of learning is useful with the help of a case study from an Indian context.

Harish flipped
Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

The educational landscape has experienced a dramatic transformation in recent years, shifting from traditional, lecture-based methodologies towards more innovative, learner-centred approaches. A standout in this educational evolution is the flipped classroom approach, which redefines the traditional homework paradigm and classroom engagement. 

Contrary to the standard method where instructors deliver lectures in class and assign homework later, the flipped classroom reverses this order. In this model, students first encounter new subjects outside the class, usually through digital platforms, which lets them digest the material at their comfort level and timing. This tailored approach meets diverse learning styles and paces, ensuring every student thoroughly understands the content before attending class.

In class, the emphasis transitions to applying and dissecting the information via different interactive and cooperative exercises. This allows deeper topic exploration, practical activities, and collaborative learning, building upon the knowledge students have already gained. This dynamic learning setting promotes advanced thinking and reinforces students’ comprehension by connecting concepts with real-life situations. It also creates a more lively and engaging classroom environment, where students feel more interconnected and actively involved in their educational process. 

The shift to flipped learning also marks a significant cultural transition in educational environments, prompting a re-evaluation of traditional roles and expectations for both learners and educators. In this updated framework, educators evolve into facilitators and mentors rather than sole knowledge dispensers, and students take greater charge of their learning, entering the classroom ready to expand on their foundational understanding. Furthermore, the flipped model improves interactions between teachers and students, allowing teachers more time to address individual inquiries, lead exploratory discussions, and supervise group projects. This individual focus helps pinpoint and resolve educational obstacles more efficiently, fostering a nurturing and inclusive learning atmosphere.

Challenges in flipped classroom adoption

Despite its significant potential to enrich educational experiences, adopting the flipped classroom model poses notable challenges. One major obstacle is developing captivating and informative content for students to explore before class, demanding substantial time, effort, and resources from educators to gather or create videos, readings, and other instructional materials that are not just enlightening but also engaging. Moreover, the flipped model’s success heavily relies on students’ readiness and capability to interact with the pre-class material. This adjustment demands a cultural shift, requiring students to recognise and embrace their active role in the learning process, which may be daunting for those used to more passive learning settings.

Another critical challenge is ensuring equitable access to necessary technology and resources for all students to participate effectively. This includes stable internet, digital devices, and a suitable learning setting outside of school. Additionally, transitioning to a flipped classroom might encounter resistance from both students and educators accustomed to traditional teaching styles. Addressing these barriers requires careful planning, transparent communication, and continuous support to help teachers and students smoothly transition and benefit from this innovative teaching approach.

A case study

The case study from GMERS Medical College in Gujarat, India, offers a tangible illustration of the flipped classroom’s impact on a medical biochemistry course for first-year MBBS students. Traditionally viewed as a dense and difficult subject, medical biochemistry often leads to passive learning and surface-level understanding, which is unsuitable in a field where profound knowledge is essential. The instructors in this study acknowledged the necessity for a pedagogical shift to boost student engagement and comprehension. By implementing the flipped classroom model, they aimed to transform the learning atmosphere from a passive, lecture-focused format to an active, learner-centric one. 

The researchers who conducted the study belonged to the Department of Biochemistry, GMERS Medical College. Along with two other faculty members from the department, they selected two topics and prepared study materials, like videos, PowerPoint presentations, and a list of textbooks and other reference materials. They enrolled 76 students from the 1st year MBBS course for the study and divided them randomly into two equal groups. Each group attended a didactic class (where they listened to a lecture) for one topic and a flipped class for the other topic; the topic taught in a given style was switched between the groups. The students received the study materials for the flipped class three days before the class while remaining unaware of the topic for the didactic class. The class was followed by an assessment test for each topic. The researchers also asked students for their feedback on their learning experience from the flipped classroom. 

The researchers observed that for each of the topics, the group that took a flipped class scored better than the group that learned the topic the traditional way. They found the difference in the scores statistically significant while acknowledging that the size of the study was small and needed to be repeated with a larger number of students. The researchers also received encouraging feedback on the flipped classroom from the students, who identified it as more engaging and capable of raising more interest in biochemistry. The students also expressed wanting to learn more topics this way. 

Embracing the flipped classroom in education

This case study highlights the significance of adaptable teaching strategies and the role of technology-enhanced learning in boosting educational outcomes. However, it also emphasises the necessity for supportive infrastructure, including technological access and educator and student training, for effective flipped classroom implementation. These challenges are not insurmountable. With dedication and collaboration among educators, students, and administrative staff, the flipped classroom can become an integral component of the educational landscape.

In sum, the flipped classroom approach presents a promising route for enhancing education quality. It caters to modern learners’ needs and the demands of current professional environments, emphasising active learning, student involvement, and personalised instruction. As educational institutions recognise and tackle the associated challenges, the flipped classroom is poised to become an increasingly prevalent and effective educational strategy. Therefore, adopting the flipped classroom signifies not only an advancement in teaching methods but also a commitment to more effectively equipping students for the complexities of the real world.