The flipped classroom approach can have a positive impact on English language learning at university, but it does come with challenges.
A flipped classroom approach (FCA) to language learning - which encourages students to carry out online guided learning at home before entering the classroom – was the topic of a talk at the 2023 World Education Summit. Graeme Harrison from Cambridge University Press & Assessment summarised his findings from a study which looked at the implementation of this approach at the Universidad del Valle de Mexico’s (UVM).
How did UVM flip the classroom?
UVM is part of the Laureate group of universities with 32 campuses across Mexico and a staggering 25,000 of its students are learning English. UVM began using the FCA to teach English in 2020 and it was in contrast to the more traditional approach they had taken in the past. UVM’s approach to flipping the classroom required students to carry out self-guided study using an online platform at home. Students were expected to do a minimum of two hours a week of online self-guided study and three hours face-to-face in the classroom. When online, the students focussed on language content such as grammar, vocabulary and writing skills. This home learning was designed to help them prepare for their regular teacher-led classes, which had more of a focus on real-life communication skills such as speaking and listening.
The two main aims of this approach were to help students to learn independently and to support them in becoming better communicators.
Cambridge helped with an impact study
UVM wanted to know what impact the flipped classroom was having on their students, so our experts agreed to carry out an impact study. In order to do so, we looked for answers to a number of questions, including: how engaged are students and teachers with learning? How motivated are the students and do the online self-study lessons actually prepare them for their classes? We also looked at whether teachers felt that students’ communication skills had improved, and whether the flipped classroom approach encouraged students to become independent learners. Around 3,900 students and 200 teachers took part in questionnaires, focus group interviews and classroom observations.
What were the findings?
We found a number of positive things about UVM’s integration of the flipped classroom. Teachers and students liked the approach and felt their communication skills were improving, which was really encouraging. However, there were also a number of areas that we found that could be improved. We packaged these up as five key takeaways for UVM to consider in the future. These were as follows:
Takeaway 1: We found that 36% of students spent less time on the self-guided study than the recommended two hours. Our tip: we suggested that UVM implement induction sessions so that students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them as learners using the FCA.
Takeaway 2: We found that the demands on new students were quite high, and teachers were trying to cram in too much during the lessons. This can result in students falling behind. Our tip: we recommended teachers take things more slowly at the start to help with the transition to the new approach.
Takeaway 3: We found the FCA did help to encourage independent learning. Our tip: independent learning can create better leaners so keep pushing this!
Takeaway 4: We found communication skills were increasing in the classroom, but more could be done. Our tip: teachers need to maintain a focus on communication skills, and even though it is fine to use other languages in the classroom, teachers need to make sure English is used as much as possible.
Takeaway 5: We found that some teachers need to understand how to implement the FCA better. Our tip: invest in training teachers how to teach more effectively using the FCA.
This was a fantastic project to work on. UVM are taking our recommendations on board, and they are still using the flipped classroom. We learnt so many lessons from the project not just for UVM but anyone considering the flipped classroom approach. The main thing that struck me is that the flipped classroom is a really useful model for improving communication skills, but it requires the right levels of teacher pedagogical skills, and a clear approach to implementation, to make it work.
Find out more
The World Education Summit, on 20-23 March, is now in its third year. It brings equitable access to the best speakers and practitioners in the world.
Read about how we approach measuring impact here: