How do you make sure your students come prepared to your flipped course?

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As I mentioned a while back, we are preparing a flipped course. And the biggest question always is how to make sure students actually prepare for class. Because if they weren’t prepared, what would you do? Repeat the content they should have read about at home and bore the few students who actually did the reading, risking that they won’t bother reading before the next class? Just pretend everybody did their reading even though they clearly don’t have a clue what you are talking about, hoping that they’ll see the necessity of preparing for your next class? Either option isn’t very tempting.
But luckily I came across a study by Heiner, Banet and Wieman (2014): “Preparing students for class: How to get 80% of students reading the textbook before class”. They describe two introductory courses, physics and physiology, where they tested the method they describe, and they find that 80% of students regularly read the textbook (a lot more than what we would expect and than what has previously been reported!). So what is the secret?
They give explicit best practice suggestions, but here is what I took away from the article:
  1. Make sure the pre-read material is actually necessary for the class! So build on it rather than re-teaching it.
  2. Keep the readings short and with a clear connection to the next class. In the study, they pointed out which parts of the texts were essential and which were not.
  3. “Force” the students to look into the textbook. By referring to figures in the textbook rather than reproducing the figures in the online test, students actually have to find the book and open it – a big threshold to reading overcome right here and my favorite trick!
  4. Don’t just prescribe reading, make sure to give opportunity for practice and feedback as well. In the study, they give a 10-15 minute quiz as part of each one-hour assignment.
  5. In your quizzes, make sure the questions are easy to answer for those students who did the pre-reading assignments, and difficult for everybody else.
  6. Explain and remind students of the purpose of the reading: To prepare them for class so class time can be spent more efficiently and the expertise of the instructor is used better.

Another very encouraging finding of the study is that students report benefits of the pre-readings, for example being prepared for class, managing to keep up with the pace of class or getting feedback on their knowledge. 75% of the students state that the pre-readings were helpful for their learning (which is incidentally a higher percentage than those who mention that marks motivated them to do the readings! But since the latter one was in response to an open question this isn’t a fair comparison ;-).

Are you flipping your class already? Any advice for us?

Heiner, C., Banet, A., & Wieman, C. (2014). Preparing students for class: How to get 80% of students reading the textbook before class American Journal of Physics, 82 (10), 989-996 DOI: 10.1119/1.4895008

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