I am thinking about doing a flip. No, not a back-flip (I can’t do those anymore, and mostly I fell in a particularly ungraceful way when I attempted such flips even when young and spry). What I am considering is using a ‘flipped’ model for teaching legal research this year. But, I am a bit worried that it will flop.
What is a flipped class? It is not new or revolutionary. It is just a change in how students receive information and what they do with it. Instead of having a passive lecture with homework done outside the class, a flipped classroom turns that around. Information is delivered outside the classroom, through readings, online video or audio lectures. Classroom time is used to work through problems with the instructor present and ready to work through what used to be ‘homework.’
This is not a groundbreaking idea. Law schools do this now –students read first, brief cases, review questions, maybe review a study aid, and then (and only then) come to class. In class, a deeper discussion takes place. So this should be easy, right? I want to think so.
Most academic law librarians teach a variety of legal research in a variety of ways. We offer legal research workshops. We teach for credit legal research classes. I am not always happy with the way my legal research instruction goes. If my class evaluations were any indication, this past year has been especially challenging. The students thought the for credit classes we taught were too hard. They thought there was too much busy work. They did not learn what they expected to learn in the classes. It seems like a perfect time to completely ‘flip out’ (I know, I know, but I can’t help making the obvious joke).
Why a flipped classroom? Here are some benefits:
1) Students learn more in a flipped model classroom (and isn’t that the whole point?).
2) It is increasingly important that students are prepared for the realities of practice. Right now law schools don’t give students enough preparation to do that in their education. An active, flipped class would provide opportunities for students to do the kind of research work they will do as attorneys.
So I am ready to move the model to teaching research, using technology as an aid along the way. Why not have short videos or readings with a quiz? I plan to use a checklist so that students know what they should be prepared for before they come to a class or begin a research activity. Then I can spend the time actually researching in the class setting. Students can ask questions while I am there. The students will work in a safe and supportive environment effectively and efficiently answering legal research questions. I can do it, others are doing it. Yay!
Okay, wait a second, there must be a downside. What are the drawbacks?
1) Students don’t seem to like it. Many students like to passively receive information and spit it back out. Evaluations from flipped classes are often lower than for regular lecture classes.
2) It takes a lot of preparation. To do a lecture and do the homework, to respond to questions from students, is work.
3) It may be uncomfortable. It is not as predictable as a lecture class.
4) Students may not do it. Do you find that if you assign reading before class in research that the students do it? If they don’t, a flipped classroom may not work. That is a huge risk to take class after class. No student wants to be prepared all the time.
So, what am I going to do? Well, baby steps – we are sending out notes for our workshops and in class presentations ahead of time to see if it helps in instruction. And I am planning on really flipping out (is the joke old now?) in spring when we teach advanced legal research. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, if you have any experience with this kind of instruction, let us all know how it went. What worked, what didn’t, what would you do differently? Did the flip work for you, or was it a flop?