Making the flip: Kathy Gallucci finds more time for labs

Biology imageAssociate Professor of Biology Dr. Kathy Gallucci has been gradually introducing elements of flipped instruction into her Biology: The Science of Life course. Flipped instruction functions differently from a typical lecture class because new content is introduced to students as homework, while class time is preserved for activities in which the new content is applied.

Gallucci’s particular class is an integrated lab and lecture course for non-majors. It is gradually being pushed toward replacing the original model, in which lecture and lab were offered as two separate courses. The integrated nature of Gallucci’s course makes it an excellent candidate for flipped instruction. In fact, Gallucci said, “I started flipping before I even knew what it was.”

 Why flip?

A flipped classroom serves as a solution for both Gallucci and her students. She explained, “Now, with the integrated lab portion, we want to have more time to do labs [in class]. We don’t want to spend time doing long lectures and front-loading information that students can get on their own.” Likewise, past student evaluations have reflected that students want to do more labs in class.

Furthermore, the diversity and natural curiosity that Gallucci sees in the non-major students brings another level of excitement to in-class activities. “They have so much to bring to the table. They don’t have an agenda so much,” she said. “They’re concerned about relevance to their life, and I think that’s the most interesting thing about science.” With flipped instruction, Gallucci now has more class time to devote to activities that students can apply their unique backgrounds and interests to. “It’s a perfect fit,” Gallucci said.

Flip evolution

For Gallucci, the class had already been evolving in the direction of a flipped format, so there was no defining moment of change for her students. “For them, the only thing that’s really new is the screencasts.”

A screencast is an audio and video recording of a computer screen, resulting in a video presentation.

MORE: Information about Screencast-O-Matic, an easy screen-capturing program, can be viewed here.

So far, Gallucci finds the screencasts to be very valuable for her students. In a traditional lecture setting, visual and auditory elements are competing for students’ attention. With a screencast, they can view and listen at their own pace, with the freedom to review it as many times as they need to. 

Below is an example of one of Gallucci’s screencasts. Her insider screencast tip: Spread your entire script out in front of you so that you don’t have to turn a page while you’re recording–the sound of the paper turns out to be really loud!

Macrodiversity: Plantae by Elon Biology professor Kathy Gallucci

Any difficulties?

Gallucci’s greatest challenge with flipped instruction is getting students to realize that more in-class labs mean more preparatory work for them outside of class. Gallucci explained that students are more likely to put off reading or watching a video than they are a set of problems. “That’s where the work lies for me–to get them to buy into that,” she said.

Making the screencast was also challenging for Gallucci. “It’s really hard to listen to yourself,” she laughed. Initially, she was trying to make her screencast perfect, which made the editing process more tedious than it needed to be. However, she is learning that, like a live lecture, a screencast is never going to be perfect.

Committing to the flip

Ultimately, Gallucci wants to have a 100% flipped classroom, but it takes time to get there. Due to the amount of preparation required, i.e. creating the necessary screencasts that align with the textbook, Gallucci projects that it will take her about another year to fully flip.

Gallucci advises other faculty members not to try and flip all at once because it can be overwhelming. She stresses the importance of using available resources to learn the technology skills needed to make successful screencasts. “Trying to figure that all out on your own is just time consuming. Don’t try to learn it on your own.” For Gallucci, one-on-one help with the staff at Teaching and Learning Technologies was very helpful with this.

Biology image from Flickr user Logan | Creative Commons BY-NC

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