The Evolution of Learning: A Biologist Flips the Classroom at The University of Birmingham

It’s the first morning on the first day of university. A raft of new students sits in a hall eagerly awaiting their first lecture. An academic faces the room and asks themselves the question:

“How do I engage with 300 students at 9am on a Monday morning?”

It is a scene echoed across every university around the world.

In his role as Senior Lecturer and Head of Education at the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences, Dr. Jeremy Pritchard had found himself pondering just this question – what is the best way to engage with today’s students?

The inevitable follow-up question then presents itself: is the traditional lecture format still relevant for this generation of learners?

As Dr Pritchard explains: “While the primacy of the lecture as an educational tool has been challenged many times in recent years, the simple truth is that students still expect lectures to form a core part of their university experience. One particular issue with this is that the dynamic of the lecture hall reinforces the idea of the lecturer (and perhaps particularly the science lecturer) as the arbiter of knowledge and students as the passive recipients.”

Using Panopto to Rethink the Lecture

The University of Birmingham had been using Panopto’s lecture capture and video management software for some time and when Dr. Pritchard began recording his lectures, he started to see possibilities to curate his learning materials in new ways that would suit his students better.

“One really crucial turning point was when I was thinking about how to deliver my session on the Hardy-Weinberg principle – an equation used to calculate the genetic variation in a population,” Dr Pritchard reflects.

“This had long formed part of my lecture series, but in fact it’s actually hard to lecture didactically about it. It’s a tricky topic and one that students absorb at different rates. Once I started recording my lectures, I decided to use the flipped classroom approach to deliver the Hardy-Weinberg session, capturing the lecture and then getting my students to watch it in advance of our scheduled slot.

Dr. Pritchard sees this as simply an evolution of the lecture, rather than signalling its demise. He goes on to explain: “By flipping the classroom, you are not necessarily throwing the traditional face-to-face lecture out completely – in fact it gives academics the chance to reinvent the lecture as an inspirational tool.”

Of course, flipping the classroom does entail behavioural change for academics. When the lecturer realises that his or her lecture slot has actually turned into an interactive discussion or an opportunity for a workshop because the lecture has already been watched online, they need to be geared up to facilitate that kind of learning. It will mean a radical rethink of the way in which academics approach their teaching. However, the positive benefits for both lecturers and learners are significant.

Find Out More!
To hear more from Dr. Pritchard on his success in using video to flip the classroom and improve the learning experience for his students, download our case study and read his follow up guest post.

If you want to start flipping your classes, Panopto can help. Request a demo to find out more about how other institutions are using our system to flip, or sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Published: June 04, 2014

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