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Professors ‘flip’ classrooms, enhance learning

Some UNC professors are adding new meaning to the phrase learning outside of the classroom.

Several have adopted flipped classrooms for their courses, a model where students learn most of the course material on their own and then use class time to discuss it.

Pharmacy School Vice Dean and Professor Russell Mumper implemented a flipped classroom for Basic Pharmaceutics II in 2012 and measured student success following the change.

To flip the classroom, Mumper changed the format of the biweekly, 75-minute class by uploading prerecorded video lectures for students to access beforehand and discussing the material during class.

Students watch a half-hour video for each lecture and are assigned a reading each week.

“I often describe it as controlled chaos,” Mumper said, “that’s what creates the opportunity because if a student is engaged, no one is bored, and that’s a wonderful learning opportunity.”

Mumper, who has been teaching pharmaceutics for more than a decade, previously taught the class with PowerPoint lectures and an occasional quiz.

While his students were performing well on exams, he said he eventually realized he was not getting through to them.

“They’re on their mobile phones, they’re on their laptops, and they were just not engaged. I felt somewhat unfulfilled when I realized I wasn’t being as effective as I could.”

Pharmacy doctoral student Kristin Meckola took Mumper’s class in the Spring 2012 semester and said she thought the method was helpful but very demanding.

“You have to work just as hard as you do for any other class, but you do come out with more,” Meckola said.

Doctoral student Caleb Little, from the same course section, said that the teaching method helped him learn better and allowed him to study less for the final exam.

“For a traditional lecture you just sit there and you frantically write or type whatever you possibly can, whatever the professor says, whether you understand it or not, but this way I can pause the video to look something up,” he said.

After conducting a three-year study, Mumper found that final exam scores rose from 80 percent in 2011 to 85.1 percent in 2013.

Journalism professor Paul Jones, who has used a flipped classroom model since 2009, uses what he calls vernacular video to teach JOMC 449.

Jones said that the use of video has allowed him to connect his students with experts in the field at a low cost.

“A video-only class is a way to change the learning context. They discover a new way they learn and they discover some skills,” Jones said.

Psychology Professor Viji Sathy said she redesigned one of her classes by requiring students to watch 100 short videos throughout the semester and reserving class time for practice.

“I increased the time working through problems and analyzing data from about 20 to 25 percent of class time to about 75 to 80 percent of class time,” she said.

“In class it was just adding to the knowledge you had and adding color to it and seeing it in different situations. I wish more classes were like that,” said Jill Menard, a junior psychology major.

Mumper said he is not the first professor to implement a flipped classroom, but he thinks the teaching style is applicable to almost any topic.

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“Our school is in the midst of a major curriculum transformation where we’re changing much of our program, and as a faculty we have agreed that all our classes beginning in 2015 will be taught in a flipped classroom model,” he said.

Mumper says he was surprised by the results of his study, and sees potential for more courses to adopt the flipped classroom format — a trend which he believes is catching on among students.

“I like to say we flipped their preference.”

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