Flipping the classroom

English professor Paul Muhlhauser discusses a project with Travis Hale '15, a Business Administration-Economics dual major from Hampstead, Md., and Josiah Nusbaum '14, a Computer Science major from Westminster, Md.
April 22, 2014

What do you call a class in which students watch videotaped lectures for homework and use class time for workshops, discussion and hands-on activities? It’s one of the latest trends in higher education – the flipped classroom.

Paul Muhlhauser, assistant professor of English, flips classes every Friday in “Advanced Multimedia Authoring,” a move which students say is vital to their command of course material.

For sophomore Danielle Fatzinger, the value of the flipped classroom is that the professor is there for assistance while she works on projects that might ordinarily be done out of class. The students have made the most of their time in the computer lab classroom as they design webpages for a local nature center, develop personalized graphic identities and craft multimedia projects they’ll ultimately submit for publication.

In a flipped classroom, “the professor does little lecturing. Instead, students discover,” explained Margaret Trader, associate professor of Education and chair of the department.

Many new skills are introduced through videos, which students watch outside of class. Typically, Muhlhauser records the videos in his living room, but some are assigned to students to create. They cover topics such as how to make pop-ups and menu bars in Dreamweaver and using HTML5 semantics.

Flipping the classroom
Students designed webpages that will educate visitors of a nearby nature center about birds of prey, such as the Red-Tailed Hawk (pictured). Photo by Lauren Murray '14. 

Armed with building blocks of new concepts from these videos, students use class time to ask questions and then master these new ideas by doing.

“If you have a chance to interact, it’s almost like having a real-life experience in the classroom,” said first-year student Blake Schildhauer, an aspiring math teacher who researched flipped classrooms in Trader’s “Technology in Education” class. The flipped classroom has become a trendy topic – Inside Higher Ed published a compilation of articles and essays about the format – and when smartly used, Trader and Schildhauer agree that flipping the classroom can enhance learning.

The nontraditional classroom format enables Muhlhauser’s goal: to equip students with the real-world applicable tools they need to succeed after college, from how to present messages with multimedia to how to create the right mix of words, images and style to represent an organization.

In pairs, students have spent the semester designing webpages for the nearby Hashawa Environmental Center, which houses educational rescue birds of prey. Park visitors will be able to easily view these informational pages about each species by scanning QR codes near each habitat with their smartphones. Already, the Center uses a student-designed logo from another of the professor’s partially flipped classes last semester.

Fatzinger, who besides English is also studying Writing and Journalism and New Media, feels confident with her new skill set. For her final project, she developed a personal website and plans to maintain it long after “Advanced Multimedia Authoring” ends.

“Now I own my own webspace,” she said.