Flipping the University

Flipping the University:  Challenges to the Professor’s Role, Learning, and Teaching

David Stoloff, Professor, Education Department, Eastern Connecticut State University

A media review for the e-Vanguard, the e-newsletter for the Connecticut AAUP chapters

An enhanced online version appears at


The image of the brick-and-mortar university in the media is being challenged, resulting in calls for changes to the roles of professors and students.  Prensky (2001) classifies our students as “digital natives”, while professors are most often seen as “digital immigrants”.  Impacts to our livelihoods and our institutions are coming from two sources – the attraction of online learning to replace oncampus courses and the extensive uses of online resources to deliver instructional content.

Online Learning

Online universities – the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, Walden University, Liberty University, and lots of other nationally accredited universities – are often non-profit or for-profit institutions in growth mode.   Mansueto Ventures’ Fast Company (2013) named “Southern New Hampshire University the 12th of the 50 most innovated company in the world for relentlessly reinventing higher ed, online and off.”

Did you see the television spot about Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) during Super Bowl XLVII? The 30-second presentation by SNHU (2103) included –

“Whoever said earning your degree meant putting your life on hold? SNHU offers 180 affordable undergraduate and graduate programs that fit the life you want to live. Attend online, in class or both.”

BestCollegesOnline.com (2013) is in the business of supporting learners in the process of selecting online courses and programs –

“Your future starts with education. We can help you compare the best online colleges and choose an excellent, affordable program to suit your needs. Find the top online colleges in your intended field of study, and explore our school profiles with stories and advice from real students, faculty, and alumni.”

Even “elite” universities are also exploring the delivery of knowledge online.  BDPA Detroit Chapter (2013) provides a list of “elite” universities which have or are developing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).  MOOCs are designed, according to one of these universities’ consortium, Udemy, with the goal to “disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world’s experts.” It is reported that “160,000 students from 190 countries have signed up for Stanford’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course, with 23,000 reportedly completing.”

Cormier (2010) explains that a MOOC, a massive open online course, is a response to an era when information is readily available but needs to be structured, participatory, and part of a lifelong learning plan.  Although MOOCs may provide curricular content to wide audiences, Gillette (2013) relates that there are low completion rates and challenges to developing sustainable funding plans.

In March 2013, the state universities in California and New York synchronically developed policies to further encourage the integration of online courses into the undergraduate curriculum.  Kolowich (2013) reports that “the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees … endorsed an ambitious vision for how SUNY might use prior-learning assessment, competency-based programs, and massive open online courses to help students finish their degrees in less time, for less money.”  Lewin (2013) adds that ”the California Senate began considering a bill that would require that the state’s public colleges and universities give credit for faculty-approved online courses, those offered at other university campuses and by non-profit and for-profit courseware providers, taken by students unable to register for oversubscribed classes on campus.”

Students who have experienced online learning may expect changes in the delivery of instruction on campus.  Two strategies are being suggested – flipping the classroom and flipping the curriculum – to enhance the campus learning experience for digital natives, students who have grown used to obtaining information via screen time.

Delivering instruction by flipping the classroom

You may have also read about “flipping the classroom” – an instructional strategy in which students are assigned to view online informational resources to prepare for more of a workshop, problem-solving, or seminar approach during class meetings.  Some of these resources include the informational segments in math, science, economics, computer science, and humanities in the online Khan Academy; informational segments, games, and simulations for the Arts, Business, Education, Humanities, Mathematics and Statistics, Science and Technology, Social Sciences, and Workforce Development within Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT); and the lectures series in TED on Technology, Entertainment, Design – subtitled “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

Those who are proponents of instructional design see this instructional strategy to be an expansion of the events of effective instruction, first formulated by Gagne (1985) and here illustrated by Malamed (2013). 

Internal    Learning Process

Supporting    Instructional Event

Learner – generated Event

1. Alertness Gain learner attention Activate your attention
2. Expectancy Inform learner of lesson   objective; stimulate learner’s attention; provide overview Establish your purpose; arouse   interest and motivation; preview the content
3. Retrieval to working memory Stimulate recall of prior learning Recall relevant prior knowledge
4. Selective Perception Present information and examples Process information and examples
5. Semantic Encoding Guide learning; prompt use of   learning strategies Refocus attention; employ   individual learning strategies
6. Retrieval and responding Elicit performance Practice
7. Reinforcement Provide informative feedback Evaluate feedback
8. Cueing retrieval Assess performance Assess your own performance
9. Generalizing Enhance retention and learning   transfer Transfer learning to the real   world


In this flipping the classroom model, there is an emphasis on the presentation and processing of information before the class starts.  The instructor’s role then becomes more of a guide for practice, providing feedback and assessment, and enhancing retention.  In an article considered amust-read for anyone talking about education in higher education,Gerson (2012) envisions that the flipped classroom goes beyond reflection and personal understanding in that learners have to create something that is individualized and extends beyond the lesson with applicability to the learners’ everyday lives. Opportunities should be provided for students to, at the very least, make concrete plans how they will use the course content in other aspects of their lives.”   

Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, in a video presentation in TEDtalksDirector (2011) provides a montage of the range of online curriculum that may be used to flip the classroom.

McCammon (2011) illustrates how video presentations might provide students with the essential information with which instructors might build student collaborative learning, problem-solving, and the differentiation of student experiences to allow for the assets they bring to the classroom.

Experimenting with flipping the classroom requires active learners who come prepared for the classroom, arriving ready to apply knowledge they have gathered prior to class to problem-solve and collaborate with other students within a learning community.  It also envisions the development of a teaching style more of guidance than of one that emphasizes the assessment of information retention.  Demski (2013) interviewed three leaders in flipped classroom instruction on the university level.  They suggest that instructors considering implementing a flipped classroom should “1) use existing technology to ease faculty and students into a flipped mindset, 2) be up front with your expectations, 3) step aside and allow students to learn from each other, 4) assess students’ understanding of pre-class assignments to make the best use of class time, 5) set a specific target for the flip, and 6) build assessments that complement the flipped model.

Beyond flipping the classroom, some have called for a reconceptualization of the entire undergraduate curriculum, known as flipping the curriculum.   How best might the mentoring abilities of faculty members be employed to support student academic development?   A group of faculty members at North Carolina State University (2011) present the SCALE-UP project, Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-Down Pedagogies, which builds on ”state-of-the-art learning studios, teaching methods, and instructional materials that are based on more than a decade of discipline-based education research” to offer “highly interactive, collaborative, guided-inquiry-based instruction.”

Selingo (2012) introduces a flipping the curriculum model that calls for “small classes in the freshman and senior years and larger classes for sophomores and particularly for juniors.”

Shimabukuro (2012) suggests that after the flip, there will be a skip and a leap.  The skip will be “the ability to skip past the physical classroom and into the virtual learning environment where they’ll [the learners will] have 24-7 to accomplish what they’re now trying to do in an hour – and they’ll be able to work when they want from a place of their own choosing.”  The leap will “ground education in the world, both virtual and real. It will take both teaching and learning out of the box, turning the planet into a classroom and the entire globe into resources for learning.”

Clearly these ideas are utopian and very technology-dependent.  In most cases, our students obtain information and create meaning using new tools and methods.  Will the “traditional” model of the university survive YouTube and the internet?  For more information, please follow the web links in the webliography below.  Please email me at stoloffd@easternct.edu if you have any questions or comments.


BestCollegesOnline.com (2013).  Go inside the best online colleges.  Retrieved from http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/ .

BDPA (Black Data Processing Associates)Detroit Chapter (2013).  MOOCs: Top 10 Sites for Free Education With Elite Universities .  Retrieved from http://www.bdpa-detroit.org/portal/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=57:moocs-top-10-sites-for-free-education-with-elite-universities&catid=29:education&Itemid=20 .

Cormier, D. (2010).  What is a MOOC? Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW3gMGqcZQc .

Demski, J. (2013).  6 Expert Tips for Flipping the Classroom.  Retrieved from http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/01/23/6-Expert-Tips-for-Flipping-the-Classroom.aspx?Page=1.

Gagné, R.M. (1985). The Conditions of Learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Gerson, J. (2012).  Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/flipped-classroom-the-full-picture-for-higher-education/ .

Gillette, H. (2013).  MOOCs: A pivotal development in higher education – or a complete miss?  Retrieved from http://www.voxxi.com/moocs-pivotal-development-education/.

Khan Academy (2013).  Learn almost anything for free. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/

Kolowich, Steve (March 20, 2013).  SUNY Signals Major Push Toward MOOCs and Other New Educational Models. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/suny-signals-major-push-toward-moocs-and-other-new-educational-models/43079?cid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en.

Lewin, T. (March 13, 2013).  California Bill Seeks Campus Credit for Online Study.  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/education/california-bill-would-force-colleges-to-honor-online-classes.html?ref=education&_r=0.

Malamed, C. (2013).  Expanding on the Nine Events of Instruction. Retrieved from http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/expanding-on-the-nine-events-of-instruction/ .

Mansueto Ventures (2013).  Southern New Hampshire University the 12th of 50 the most innovated company for relentlessly reinventing higher ed, online and off.  Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/most-innovative-companies/2012/southern-new-hampshire-university

McCammon, L. Dr. Lodge McCammon’s FIZZ – Flipping the Classroom.  Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PcSafUTNd8 .

MERLOT (2013).  Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT).  Retrieved from http://www.merlot.org/.

North Carolina State University (2011).  Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-Down Pedagogies (SCALE-UP).  Retrieved from http://scaleup.ncsu.edu/ .

Prensky (2001).  Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.  Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf .

Selingo, J. (2012). Flipping the Curriculum: Introductory Courses Should Be Just as Good as the Capstone Experience.  Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/next/2012/12/02/flipping-the-curriculum-introductory-courses-should-be-just-as-good-as-the-capstone-experience/ .

Shimabukuro, J. (2012).  After the Flip — The Skip and the Leap?  Retrieved from http://etcjournal.com/2012/05/21/after-the-flip-the-skip-and-the-leap/ .

TED Conferences, LLC (2013).  Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.  Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/

TEDtalksDirector (2011). Let’s use video to reinvent education.  Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTFEUsudhfs .

Southern New Hampshire University (2103).  Your Life. Your Degree.  Retrieved from http://www.snhu.edu/ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xA_-71NR4bU .


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