Our guest blogger is Professor Kym Long-Wallace from Health and Human Performance.
Exactly how boring can human sexuality be? Most students are enthusiastic for their new classes, especially at the beginning of the semester, and particularly for the topic of human sexuality. When my classes reach maximum capacity, I receive numerous requests from students “dying” to get into the class and begging for overrides. Therefore, one would expect that these students would come in ready to engage in riveting discussions from day one.
Unfortunately, due to the sad state of sexuality education in grades K-12, students instead come into a college human sexuality class with very little basic knowledge of reproductive anatomy and the endocrine system. Concepts such as the developments of gender identity and sexual orientation are even more of a mystery. In the past, my approach has been to spend most of the first few weeks lecturing from Powerpoints so that students would progress to the minimum level needed to participate in meaningful and thought-provoking discussions. Imagine my surprise when I see some students trying to hide the fact that they are using their phones underneath their desks and others fighting back sleep. Sure, the first few seconds of looking at genitals on the Powerpoint slide is attention-catching, but even that grows boring for some.
Since attending the FTT session in May of 2013 I have toyed with the idea of practicing a flipped classroom, where students are expected to educate themselves about the topic before class and come in prepared to engage in discussion and activities. My biggest apprehension was that students would not do the reading before coming to class and, therefore, not gain the knowledge I was trying to impart, causing them to fall behind and do poorly on tests. To some extent, this has proved to be an accurate concern. I know that many are not doing the prep work. The class averages on tests, in spite of this, have remained steady from previous semesters.
One thing I did not do is announce to my students that we were going to practice flipping the classroom. I have always urged my students to read assigned materials and watch assigned video clips before coming to class. In my experience, those who do so score higher on tests no matter the type of classroom. All my Powerpoint presentations are loaded onto OAKS from the outset and assigned readings are listed in the syllabus. I still use the Powerpoints in class but am now using them mostly for the purpose of stirring conversation. My purpose in not making a big deal of the flipped classroom is that I did not want students to think of this as a “new thing” on which they were going to be tested or judged. I gradually began to ask more questions, and though sometimes the silence was awkward, I waited for someone to start the conversation. After rephrasing the question, if no one answered (this was rare but did happen occasionally), I proceeded to either lecture for a few minutes, ask a “show of hands” question, or show a video clip to get the students thinking.
I feel that one of the skills needed to successfully flip the classroom is to be able to think on one’s feet. It actually takes more awareness and concentration to lead, guide and direct classroom discussions than to stand and teach for an hour. At the end of a class I am more exhausted than if I had lectured the entire time, but the rewards are worth the work. This semester I have had several students email links to sites they found while further exploring the topics we had discussed that day in class and have even had a couple of students suggest interesting books they read because those books were pertinent to our discussions. Of course, being a scientist, I know that these are just anecdotal accounts. It could be that I had an extraordinary group of students this semester who were more prepared for a flipped classroom. Next semester might be different. Time will tell.