How a flipped classroom benefited one St. Mary’s student

We flipped it. (St. Mary's University of Minnesota)
We flipped it. (St. Mary's University of Minnesota)

A lot has been written about the concept of "flipped" classrooms, in which students watch lectures and do readings before class so they can spend class time applying the material they've learned.

Qvale (LinkedIn)

To me it's seems like a common-sense approach that provides obvious benefits: better-informed conversations and more efficiency in addressing students' questions and reinforcing concepts. (A number of my grad-school seminars ran that way, though no one ever used the expression "flipped.")

But it wasn't until I spoke with Erik Qvale that I realized the flipped method may have an added benefit to students outside the mainstream.

Qvale, a 24-year-old who just graduated from the Winona campus of St. Mary's University of Minnesota with degrees in marketing and sports-management, says he learns better through listening than through reading.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

(Associate business professor Shelly McCallum said Qvale struggles with reading, and uses special software to take oral exams in the university's testing center.)

Qvle says he's an A-to-B student, but has had a hard time keeping up with others when it comes to note-taking and reading. That has left him to work extra hard after class, he said, and not get the most out of class exercises.

Last semester, though, he was able to take his first flipped course: a 20-person business course taught by McCallum.

Qvale said that he liked being able to listen to McCallum's lecture without having to worry about keeping up with notes. He could replay sections that he didn't understand, and could "pause, take my notes and continue."

He could then tackle the readings, class discussions and exercises with confidence. He could pay more attention in class. And because the professor had the whole class period to apply the material, he said, exercises were more in-depth and meaningful.

Although Qvale says he spent as much time studying as he did in his unflipped classes, he says his comprehension was better.

He told me:

"I felt like I took away the key points from that class, and two days later I could say, 'This is what we focused on.' In a normal lecture, I would have just written them down and had no idea what they were a day later."

And here's a key benefit that should apply to all students: Because he'd prepared for each class, Qvale said, he knew the material well and didn't have to spend as much time preparing for exams.

"Overall, it was about the same amount of time invested. And I remembered the stuff better. The time commitment was loaded up front, and that was a good thing for me. "

Key caveat: Both McCallum and Qvale said it was tough to compare his performance in the flipped class with his performance in other classes, largely because of the differing subject matter. And McCallum said the university hasn't scientifically measured the performance.

But from anecdotal findings -- McCallum sees many of the same students in other classes -- she did notice a shift upward in performance, especially among the lower performers.

She told me:

"They were better prepared for class, better participants, and so I saw a big difference in what I got to work with."

I'll have more from McCallum in a later post.