Flipped Classroom Improves Grades by 5%

Source: The Atlantic, Sep 2013

A three-year study examining student performance in a “flipped classroom” — a class in which students watch short lecture videos at home and work on activities during class time — has found statistically significant gains in student performance in “flipped” settings and significant student preference for “flipped” methods.

The study, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, is one of the first to examine a “flipped” classroom in the current state of its technology. Russell Mumper, a Vice Dean at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, conducted the study, and two separate articles based on its findings are now in press in the journals Academic Medicine and The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. The education technology company Echo360, whose technology was used in the classes examined, funded the study with a $10,000 grant.

The study examined three years of a foundational pharmaceutics course, required for all doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students attending UNC. In 2011, Mumper taught the course in a standard, PowerPoint-aided lecture format. In 2012 and 2013, he taught it using “flipped” methods. Student performance on an identical final exam improved by 2.5 percent between 2011 and 2012—results now in press at Academic Medicine—and by an additional 2.6 percent in 2013. Overall, student performance on an identical final exam improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent.

Students also came to prefer the flipped model to the lecture model. While 75 percent of students in 2012 said, before Mumper’s class, that they preferred lectures, almost 90 percent of students said they preferred the flipped modelafter the class.

“The study is well done for a quasi-experimental, year over year study,” he wrote to me. “As the authors note, a randomized trail would be better, because we cannot definitively attribute the differences in outcomes to differences in course experience.” But he added, because Mumper’s Pharmaceutics course was required for all UNC Pharmacy students, the findings were “relatively robust … because everyone has to take the class and the cohorts are so similar year to year.”

Related Reading: TechCrunch, Sep 2013

If 5% doesn’t sound like a lot of improvement, prepare to be disappointed: researchers rarely find anything bigger. I collected every quality piece of research from 1980, related to how high school preparation impacts college performance (in the same subject). The average impact of taking a year of any high school subject is around 2-4% on the final grade in college (out of 100).

Public policy research tank, MDRC, finds that as students age, the effect of any change in education (an “intervention”) shrinks dramatically. The average Intervention for a first grader can bring a failing student in the 27th percentile into the middle of the pack. 10 years later, the average intervention has half the effect. By senior year, it’s expected that students won’t budge more than 6-percentile points.

About the age when a child’s voice stops cracking, education itself has a relatively mild effect on academic success. IQ, good parenting, and personal motivation are by far the most important factors.

Indeed, a recent National Science Foundation report of an online experiment at San Jose State University revealed that student effort was a key variable.

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