Researcher: Silvia Bartolic
Year level: Third
Number of students: 50-60
Students find research methods courses boring or terrifying, or both. This, coupled with limited in-class time for practicing the application of concepts, hinders student enjoyment of the class as well as student learning.
Using a flipped classroom approach the instructor will provide online content that will supplement lectures, allowing students to revisit important information in their own time, allowing for more in-class time for problem-based learning activities.
Using pre- and post-tests the instructors will assess student understanding of key concepts in class. The instructor will also analyze change in student affect over the course of the semester, comparing results from two different sections of the course – one taught in the regular manner (lectures with some class activities) and the other in the flipped classroom approach.
Data collection in progress.
Can you give some background on the research?
Silvia Bartolic: For students in Sociology, two research methods courses and one statistics course are required as part of the major. Students don’t want to take these. They find the courses boring or terrifying, or both. One of the challenges of teaching research methods is breaking through the pre-conceived notion that the course will be boring and to show them that it actually can be really fun. The other challenge is to get rid of the fear and anxiety that surrounds methods and statistics because it’s all very doable.
The teaching challenge occurs when there is a lack of classroom time to practice applying what has been taught. For example, when I ask if anyone has any questions about the content or if they are able to come up with their own examples, everyone nods at me certain they can do it. But when it comes to assessing their knowledge, for example on the midterm, they mess up. It’s kind of like teaching theory. When you talk about a theory and you ask, “Does everybody understand? Does anybody have questions?” Everybody says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then I say, “So now let’s apply that theory to this social issue. Let’s try it together” and everyone goes blank.
Content isn’t difficult to follow when I teach it but when students have to try to use it and manipulate it, then that’s when you see the challenge. So I want to take away some of the time that I spend in class just going over content and actually spend that time practicing applying it to research scenarios. I think that will also help alleviate the anxiety around this type of course.
What was the research question?
SB: This particular class is on survey research methods and it’s a 300-level course. Between 50 and 60 students take my section every year. I want to know if using a flipped classroomapproach would be useful in helping these students learn better. Can I alleviate their fears? Can I get them more interested in the course? I’m also interested in the actual cognitive outcomes – for example, do they retain the information better? Will putting it online make it more interesting? Will they be more prepared to do their own research projects?
How was the experiment set up?
SB: This year I am teaching the course in the typical way I would teach. The first month and a half consists of class activities interspersed in the lectures. In the second half of the course we move into the computer labs – where we have to code,clean and analyze data.
What I would like to do over the summer is flip the classroom. I want to work with Arts ISIT to create short videos- 2-3 minutes on select topics where students have trouble. That way they can have this information and look at it as many times as they need to. Right now they get this information in class, but if they didn’t understand it i or they missed class they will have to figure it out on their own. I can’t reteach it due to time limitations. With the videos they can watch them as many times as they want.
By moving some of the content online I’ll have more time then to spend in class doing problems and applications. For example, I just taught levels of measurement and I gave them a set of problems to work on in small groups. We had a great discussion amoungst the class. I then asked them for feedback, “Do you need more practice?” “Absolutely,” they said. They want more. That one class session wasn’t enough. I want to make time for this type of activity the whole way through the course, especially when we get to choosing the right analysis for analyzing their data. I also want to share the videos with the department so if they want to use some of them in other courses they can.
What is your hypothesis?
SB: I am predicting that with the extra practice, the extra time for problem solving activities in class and the ability to review concepts online, that students will do better on the final projects and in the course as a whole. In addition, I am hoping that with the extra practice and the more one-on-one time for their own projects that they will feel less anxious and more positive about research methods.
How will you evaluate your findings?
SB: With knowledge acquisition I will do a comparison. I am taking pre-tests in both configurations of the course because the classes might be at different starting points. I have 40 questions on my pre-test and I use about half of them on the post-test. I will also have the midterm and the final exam to compareIn addition, I will have their research projects. I can examine the complexity of their ideas and level of accuracy in choose appropriate statistical tests for their data as well their abilty to interpret their study findings.
To measure affect or level of anxiety toward the course, I will administer an anxiety questionnaire to deterimine how they feel about research methods and statistics. Once again I will administer the test pre and post in both configurations of the course to determine how their sentiment towards the class has changed.
How will this study impact teaching and learning?
SB: I expect flipping the classroom by creating videos will be labor intensive this summer. I want to be very thoughtful about what pieces to put online and how to present the videos so that it’s interesting. The point of doing it is to try to make the course more inviting, so that’s going to be my challenge. But moving forward it’s going to be a lot more fun to teach this class because I believe the students will be more engaged. There’s nothing better, for me, than to see students who are engaged.
I also want to write a ‘how to’ guide of how we did this process so if anybody else, like my colleagues in the department, are interested in trying to flip their classroom or interested in doing something with video then they will have an idea of what works and what doesn’t work based on my experiences. I am hoping to make it useful beyond just my classroom.
How will this study impact future research?
SB: There is research to support the idea that students are anxious about statistics and research methods courses, especially Arts students. There is also evidence that active learning and problem-based learning does improve learning outcomes. I’m hoping to add to this body of knowledge by assessing whether flipping the classroom can improveattitudes towards research methods and statistics. Maybe we can change how people feel about these types of courses. Wouldn’t that be great?