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Resistance to the inverted classroom can show up anywhere

February 6, 2012, 2:52 pm

This past Saturday I was paired with one of our faculty from the College of Nursing to interview several prospective students for academic scholarships. In between interviews, we had a great conversation about the inverted classroom. It turns out that the College of Nursing is implementing an inverted model in some of their classes, although they don’t know it by that name and are not trying to jump on an educational bandwagon. They are taking some of their courses, putting the “theory” (as it was called) online as audio files accompanied by sets of notes, and then using the class time for practica, labs, and discussion. When I described what I’ve written about here on the inverted classroom, my colleague readily agreed it was the same idea.

This makes a lot of sense in the health sciences because as a practitioner, theory and raw information are important, but it’s the practice itself that really matters. (Just ask my wife, who is now successfully sticking people with needles on a regular basis.) If I were sick, I would certainly feel a lot more comfortable having a nurse who’d spent his or her class time practicing being a nurse with the active guidance of an expert nurse than I would someone who’d sat through a bunch of lectures by a nurse, even if they were great lectures. As my colleague put it, nurses have to be out-of-the-box thinkers who can adapt quickly to rapidly-changing and complex situations. I’d add that the best nurses do this with unfailing professionalism and empathy. Can you possibly learn this in a lecture?

As obvious as this seems, what my colleague mentioned next was interesting too: they are getting from some students the same kind of resistance I received when teaching the inverted MATLAB course. Many students simply want to be lectured to. When I taught the MATLAB course inverted, all of the students were initially uncomfortable with the course design, some vocally so. I invited them to come in individually to discuss it, and I asked them: What would you gain from regular in-class lectures that you are not getting from the screencasts and lab activities now? Unfailingly, the objections ultimately boiled down to: I just feel better when lectured to, even when they themselves could point out the educational advantages of a more active class. My colleague readily agreed the same thing was going on with that (small!) subset of nursing students.

My MATLAB students were fundamentally good students, and so are all of our nursing students now, so this isn’t about “good” or “bad” students. What I think this illustrates is that there is a cultural expectation about how college classes ought to go that is very hard to change. Many students — and faculty! — in higher education are sold on what I called the renters’ model, which is basically transactional. I pay my money and inhabit this space while you take care of my needs, and when I’m done I’ll move on. The inverted classroom is one style of teaching that insists on ownership. There will be some friction when two fundamental conceptions of class time are in such disagreement with each other, no matter how much sense it might make in your content area.

For those who have encountered this kind of resistance, whether it’s from the inverted classroom or some other style of course design and teaching, how did it go for you and your students?

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrysti/

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