My son is in a graduate program in Medical Physics at the University of Toronto.  I sent him this recent article from the Atlantic on the concept of the flipped classroom (in higher education).

The Post-Lecture Classroom: How Will Students Fare?

He sent a thoughtful email response which was interesting from a student perspective (in addition to seeing more words from him than “send money”!)  He just finished reading Quiet by Susan Cain and I like the connection he makes here.

Good article dad. I’d be interested to actually read the research article  myself, to look at sample sizes and statistical analysis showing their confidence intervals for the data and how statistically significant it is. I think a push towards new and improved teaching techniques is awesome, but you have to be really cautious with it. They mentioned that one year there were student presentations with discussions led by those students, which I have had several courses implement, and it’s a pretty mixed bag. At their worst, those presentations were students presenting the material in just as much of a dry, “Powerpoint poisoning” kind of way as possible. In one class, they were a bit more successful because the prof really helped structure the discussions so we all got a lot out of it.
I also have experience with the technique of having us read the book before class and answer clicker questions during lecture, to root out common misconceptions. There were online quizzes before lecture (very simple) on the readings to make sure we did them. I think that this was a VERY effective technique, and made me feel much more engaged in class, and definitely succeeded at giving the professor the information they needed in order to teach the class well, addressing problems that were common in the class.
I’m also uncertain about the whole discussion and collaboration in class. That CAN be a good way of engaging the class, but having read “Quiet” by Susan Cain, it definitely seems to fall squarely into this push towards an “extrovert ideal” in education, where it is really designed to most benefit those with more extroverted personalities, and can actually lead to less creativity and innovation, since the consensus in groups will be built by those with the loudest opinion, not necessarily the most informed one. That doesn’t mean this type of teaching isn’t without merit, but I think it should be used with caution, and not be made the centre of the curriculum.
Lastly, I think that it’s always important to consider what is actually being taught in these kind of studies, and not apply it to other teaching subjects without due consideration. Graduate Pharmacology seems like a perfectly suited topic for this kind of topic, since everyone is aware of the foundations of the subject, and can focus discussion on “higher-level” stuff like clinical trials. I can tell you that, in my experience, not all attempts to deviate from standard lectures are successful, and there are times, especially at a foundational level, where I personally think that it’s much more beneficial to acquire the knowledge in a more traditional lecture setting, even if it’s less engaging.
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