November 9, 2018 at 1:00pm
Dane Lisser

Millikin pilot course delivers content outside of class and activities during class

The term flipped classroom, or flipped instruction, is becoming a unique form of learning in the field of education, and it's being adopted at Millikin University through a pilot course titled Earth & Space Science.

So how does a flipped classroom work? It reverses the traditional learning environment by delivering instructional content, often online, outside of the classroom. Students gain necessary knowledge before class and teachers can guide students to actively apply that knowledge during class.

Millikin Flipped Instruction

At Millikin, Dr. Chris Cunnings, assistant professor of education, is using this concept for the Earth & Space Science course by having his students watch video podcasts, he produced on different subjects, outside of class. The class meets once a week to apply those podcasts to their lab work.

"What's really great about flipped instruction is that it allows teachers the opportunity to showcase their creativity," said Cunnings, who got the idea in 2013 at the Illinois Science Teachers Association Conference.

"The whole premise behind is that if you move the lectures and course content out of class, by using videos, you will have more time in class to do hands-on learning and exploration," Cunnings said. "The hard part was transitioning to that because it takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. What's great is that I can personalize the content and take ownership of it. This class is built on giving students chances to do activities, to collaborate, and to see science as more of a process than a product."


On most occasions, the class meets at the New Technologies Lab in the University Commons where they regularly use the lab's virtual reality tools for Google Expeditions related to the subject of the week, most recently weather and climate. Google Expeditions allows teachers to guide students through collections of 360° scenes and 3D objects.

While at the New Technologies Lab, the students are also encouraged to ask questions about the video podcasts and will sometimes do concept mapping. Afterwards, the students migrate to the Leighty-Tabor Science Center where they work on a weekly lab experiment.

"The labs are really helpful because in a traditional classroom you are doing instruction and you only have time for a lab once every few weeks. But with this class, we watch the videos and have prior knowledge, and that gives us time to formulate questions and explore concepts more in-depth," said Baylee Baxter, a first-year elementary education major from Eureka, Ill.

Millikin Flipped Instruction

Baxter says the class is helpful for preparing future teachers. "Overall, I think a teacher's goal is to have their students ask questions, be curious and excited about learning, and Dr. Cunnings is instilling those values in us," she said.

"When you do the flipped class you're able to go in the next day or next week and ask those questions that you have," said Baxter. "It helps us understand the material."

When it came time to produce the videos, Cunnings says it was "reverse-engineered" where he looked at the big picture first and then he made sure the videos aligned with what the students were learning. He used Camtasia, an editing software for creating video tutorials.

Millikin Flipped Instruction

"Their tests were written based on the content of the videos," said Cunnings. "We have a total of 64 videos and they range from three to 15 minutes. What's great about the videos is that the students can watch them whenever they wish, they can pause and take notes. It allows them the creative liberty to make sense of the content in way that fits their learning style."

The question going forward is whether this is something Millikin University will continue to invest in. Cunnings believes the students are enjoying it because they get to do activities related to concepts on Earth and space science, but the course is also helping to address the shortage of science teachers.

"I think our goal at Millikin is that we want to be trend-setters and we want to set the pace," said Cunnings. "We're going to start to use this flipped model in other classes and I'm excited to see where this goes, but it's only through feelers engagement we learn limitations and we learn what we can do well."