In a flipped classroom, students watch or listen to lectures on their own, then spend class time working on projects.
Picture the typical College 101 class. You may be thinking of a big lecture hall, filled with hundreds of budding young minds, and a professor in the front dictating information to the class while the students fastidiously take notes. But the lecture could increasingly go the way of the dodo.
Many teachers are turning to "flipped" education. In flipped classes, students consume pre-recorded lectures on their own, while class time is reserved for more "active learning" like discussions, projects, and workshops.
While classes at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont are not exactly College 101, professors there will no longer be able to use in-class lectures to teach medical students.
"It's really fun to be a lecturer if you're really good at it," says Senior Associate Dean Dr. Bill Jeffries. "But the students on the other hand are just sitting there like lumps."
Jeffries says flipped classes are more effective, "based on the published literature about how the human brain works and about how people learn."
The evidence on flipped classrooms looks promising. In one study, from a group advocating the practice, two-thirds of teachers who flipped their classrooms reported increased student test scores. A meta-analysis by scholars at the University of Washington found it could raise average exam scores by about 6 percent, or half of a letter grade.
Yet it also means students spend a lot of home time learning digitally, and as we've covered in the past, some research has shown readers process information differently on screens than in print.
And it's not easy. Writing, delivering and editing the lecture videos is time-consuming, as the New York Times has reported. At least there is less grading.
Another critique is that the flipped classroom model may not work for students of low-income backgrounds, who might not have regular computer or Internet access.
Jeffries says if students get the support they need, students of all backgrounds can thrive under what he is proposing. He points to one study that found black-white achievement gaps were halved in active learning classes.
The success of flipped classrooms may depend on how it is implemented. A teacher from Colorado says he makes sure students watch the lecture videos by checking their notes and requiring students to come to class with a question based off of lecture.
Lectures now make up around 40 percent of the UVM medical school's curricula. But Jeffries hopes by 2022 all classes will follow the flipped model.
"What we are primarily proposing to do," he says, "is transform the way that we do medical education."