Double-flipped learning: What is it, and does it work?

Double-flipped learning: What is it, and does it work?

Note: Please see the end of this post for a special notice.

Readers of this blog know that I have practiced and promoted flipped learning for about 15 years now. I even wrote a book about it. But despite all that, I don't want to be known as an "evangelist" for flipped learning, but rather be open to evolving in my teaching as the world changes and we learn more about how students learn. Getting married to flipped learning prevents this. Instead, I always try to stay grounded in research about flipped learning, ready to adapt and even possibly make wholesale changes to my flipped learning practice if there's good evidence this would help students.

It was in that spirit that I came to a new paper, currently in preprint form but published today, that has some results worth considering:

Teaseman, U. "Double-flipped learning: A framework for student learning and lessons learned from an undergraduate calculus course". Preprint.

What this study is about

In this paper, Prof. Teaseman has developed an instructional paradigm called double-flipped learning. Based loosely on the concept of flipped learning (defined here), double-flipped learning works as follows:

  • Unlike flipped learning in which students get first contact with new ideas prior to group activities through the use of structured learning activities, students in double-flipped learning get their first contact with new ideas in the group space with no preparation expected or required beforehand. This ensures that students enter class meetings or asynchronous group activities with as empty of a mind as possible. While the exact reasoning for this "empty mind" state is never fully situated in a research-validated framework that would suggest it's a good idea (this is a preprint, after all) it's possible that Prof. Teaseman is drawing from the long-standing tabula rasa concept that undergirds much of the history of education.
  • The group space is then transformed from a student-driven learning environment with the instructor as a guide and coach, to an environment that ensures that significant class time is spent on the simplest possible learning tasks coming from the lower third of Bloom's Taxonomy — tasks such as stating definitions (or rather, copying definitions from the instructor's notes), locating examples in the textbook, and listing the the more advanced topics that will be studied later, on the student's own time. And unlike flipped learning, the focus is firmly on the instructor to ensure that everyone has a single source of truth.
  • Following this group space experience, students are led to encounter the top 2/3 of Bloom's Taxonomy by applying basic definitions, processes and concepts to situations that are typically found after the first 10% of the new material is covered, entirely in their individual spaces where they are encouraged to wrestle with this more advanced material in as isolated of an environment as possible. This, it is claimed, will prepare students for many modern technical professions and, especially, graduate school.

Prof. Teaseman writes,

Double-flipped learning is developed as a reaction to flipped learning, which places the unrealistic expectation on students of being able to learn without instructor guidance; and as a return to form for higher education, which has lost its sense of direction by giving students so much agency in their learning processes.

The article not only lays out the double-flipped learning framework but also describes its implementation in an undergraduate calculus course. Let's look at how that went.

How the study was designed

The research study within this article asks this basic research question:

Does the implementation of double-flipped learning lead to an improvement in students' affective responses to their learning environment in an undergraduate calculus course?

To study this question, a double-flipped structure was set up for Fall 2020 semester in one section of a calculus course taught by Prof. Teaseman. In contrast to a flipped environment, where students are typically given a wide range of support materials to aid their learning outside of the group environment, no preparatory materials were given prior to group meetings. This was, in Prof. Teaseman's words, "to ensure that students' preconceptions about the material are minimized, and their ability to absorb material in the group space, on the instructor's terms, is maximized".

Instead, student support materials were given to students during the class meeting in the form of typewritten notes arranged on rectangular slides, projected to the students using computing technology. Prof. Teaseman helpfully notes that the computing technology part of this process is optional and this "projection" can easily be obtained as well by simply writing on a chalkboard. As long as there is a significant amount of talking taking place, students are being exposed to the material all the same.

Prof. Teaseman notes that while a continuous exposition of ideas for the entire group meeting is possible and in some cases preferable, students today might be so used to having hands-on activities during a group meeting that allowing them to do so in a double-flipped environment is probably necessary to maximize student affective responses. Prof. Teaseman's classes therefore included punctuated moments of activity, such as being asked if they had any questions; and on some occasions they were asked to work quietly at their desks on a problem that uses the basic definitions that had just been projected onto the screen. In the latter case, Prof. Teaseman would give students 2-3 minutes to complete the problem, and again ask if they had any questions before either putting the solution on the screen or simply moving on.

At the end of the semester, students were administered a multiple-choice survey asking for their feelings about their experience with the course. (This survey is given to every student in every class campus-wide at the end of each semester, and the results are aggregated and used for personnel and salary decisions.) While concerns about the misuse of this survey are abundant, the use of a pre-existing survey is congruent with the overall philosophy of double-flipped learning, which is described as "having other people do as much of your work as humanly possible".

What the study found

The study presents a number of quotes from students as evidence of a general positive affective response to the double-flipped concept:

I really felt like I understood everything during the class presentation.
I liked having not having to do anything to get ready for class.
I felt Prof. Teaseman really cares about students because I really didn't feel like I was working at all!
I wish all my classes were this easy.

These quotes appear to confirm that students in a double-flipped class have a positive affective response to the structure. However, as they only represent four students out of a class of 35, it is difficult to say whether these are representative or have any kind of internal or external validity. Prof. Teaseman does in fact note this in the paper:

I know what you're thinking: These are just four quotes cherry-picked out of thin air without any context, to support my narrative. To this concern I would just say, does it really matter what research says or whether we're doing research right, or at all? We've made it 1000 years in higher education without using research to back us up, so why start now?

What this means for the rest of us

This article presents some evidence that a double-flipped structure may be correlated to an improvement in students' affective responses to our courses. If making students happy is what you want, in other words, then this might be a framework to consider. In this sense, the answer to the question in the title of this article is "yes": It works.

The paper does not present any evidence, and indeed does not refer to any other research that does present credible evidence, that double-flipped learning is correlated to any of the following:

  • Success in doing the coursework reserved for after the class meeting is over
  • Improvement in student problem solving skills
  • Development of students' abilities to self-regulate
  • Conceptual understanding of ideas from calculus

Because of that lack of evidence, instructors considering double-flipped learning would be advised to think carefully (or think at all) about the learning objectives they have for their students. Flipped learning has over a decade of mounting evidence about its effectiveness in helping students attain the four outcomes in the bullet list above, while also having a track record of having to work and communicate with students to manage their affective responses to this framework. By contrast, double-flipped learning seems to effortlessly produce good affect, but has no evidence to suggest that the four higher-order skills above are in any way strengthened.

So, as with any teaching method, we need to understand what it is we want students to achieve, adopt methods that fit those outcomes, and stay open to the possibility of change.

Special notice: This post was originally published on April 1, 2021. That should explain a few things.

Robert Talbert

Robert Talbert

Mathematics professor who writes and speaks about math, research and practice on teaching and learning, technology, productivity, and higher education.