Flipped Classroom image

Figure 1: Comparison of the traditional versus flipped classroom

In our roles as faculty developers in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State, we often consult with faculty on their teaching practices. Classroom flip has been one instructional approach that is very appealing to faculty, as it can potentially allow for more active engagement in the classroom, increase time for additional teaching and learning activities, increase both peer-to-peer and instructor-to-student interactions, and create a more welcoming classroom environment. During our work with many instructors in the College of Engineering over the past decade (see for example, Velegol, Zappe, and Mahone, 2015; Zappe, Leicht, Messner, & Litzinger, 2009), we have learned several lessons on the trials and tribulations of the classroom flip instructional approach. We have learned that one of the most critical pieces of the classroom flip is the need for students to be prepared for the in-class activities. In fact, many faculty who stopped using the classroom flip did so because they felt students were not prepared enough to use class time for active learning or problem solving. When students were not prepared for the in-class work, faculty sometimes felt forced to lecture in class in order to have students acquire the necessary knowledge to do the in-class problem solving. Indeed, success of the classroom flip is contingent upon students’ out-of-class preparation to complete the in-class activities.

One of the major recommendations for the flipped classroom is that there is some kind of “gate check” that students are required to complete before class. This gate check can be in the form of an online quiz or writing assignment, which is aligned with the knowledge needed to complete the in-class activities. If a small number of points is associated with the online gate check, students may be more motivated to complete the online preparation work. In the ideal design of the classroom flip, the out-of-class activities are well-aligned with the in-class activities (Han & Klein, 2019). In other words, the work that students do at home should prepare them to be successful for the activities done during class time. The gate check should be constructed to align with both the in-class and out-of-class activities and focus on the most critical aspects of the material that would allow students to be successful during class. Many course management systems can provide automatic scoring for these gate checks and provide instant feedback to students if they incorrectly answer questions (Chen, Liou, & Chen, 2019). The gate checks should not be accessible to students until they have completed other required preparation work (such as watching online videos).

The points allocated to the gate check will increase the likelihood that students will be prepared for class. However, there are other activities that instructors can do. First, instructors should explain to students the reasons behind their instructional decisions. Not all students are aware that active learning generally increases learning (Prince, 2004) or know how to be successful learning independently (Shibukawa & Taguchi, 2019). In fact, many students hold misconceptions about learning and believe that they learn more from lecture than from active learning activities (Deslauriers, et al., 2019). Faculty are encouraged to talk about the research behind active learning and the classroom flip. Unless you talk to students about the reasons for the instructional approach, they can potentially have misconceptions. For example, in our prior work, we found that some students felt that they had to teach themselves or perceived instructors were being lazy. In addition, we encourage faculty to talk about how learning is hard and that the classroom flip approach will allow the instructor to be available to help with the more cognitively demanding part learning the material. One additional suggestion is to make sure that the out-of-class work is not too extensive (Han & Klein, 2019). Some faculty make the mistake of assigning too much out-of-class work, which may frustrate students. Consider how much time students would typically spend out of class on homework in the traditional structure and make the time requirements comparable.

A final suggestion relating to student preparation is to periodically collect feedback from the students, through surveys or information classroom assessment techniques such as minute papers. By collecting periodic feedback, you can gather valuable information about how the class is going, such as how much time students are spending outside of class and whether the out-of-class activities are aligned with the in-class activities. You can also identify potential problems early in the course and make adjustments accordingly.

In conclusion, student preparation is probably the most critical piece of the classroom flip instructional process. Instructors need to emphasize the importance of student preparation through their discussions with students about the reasons for their instructional decisions and by assigning of points for preparation and out-of-class activities.

Chen, Y. T., Liou, S., & Chen, L. F. (2019). The relationships among gender, cognitive styles, learning strategies, and learning performance in the flipped classroom. International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 35(4-5), 395-403.
Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116(39: 19251-19257.
Han, E., & Klein, K. C. (2019). Pre-class learning methods for flipped classrooms. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 83(1).
Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education. 93(3): 223-231.
Shibukawa, S., & Taguchi, M. (2019). Exploring the difficulty on students’ preparation and the effective instruction in the flipped classroom. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 31(2), 311-339.
Velegol, S. B., Zappe, S. E., & Mahone, E. (2015). The Evolution of a Flipped Classroom: Evidence-Based Recommendations. Advances in Engineering Education, 4(3), 1-37.
Zappe, S. E., Leicht, R., Messner, J., & Litzinger, T. (2009). “Flipping” the classroom to explore active learning in a large undergraduate course. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education. Atlanta, GA.


  • Sarah Zappe, Stephanie Cutler and Yu Xia

    Sarah Zappe, Director of Assessment & Instructional Support / Research Professor, Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State Dr. Sarah Zappe is an educational psychologist specializing in engineering education. In addition to being a co-founder of Zappe and Cutler Educational Consulting, LLC, she is also Research Professor and Director of Assessment and Instructional Support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State. Her primary research interest evidence-based instructional approaches such as the flipped classroom, entrepreneurship education, creativity in engineering education, and faculty development. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys paddleboarding, hiking, watercolor painting, and spending time with her son and two golden retrievers. Stephanie Cutler, Assessment & Instructional Support Specialist/Assistant Research Professor, Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State Dr. Stephanie Cutler has degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and a PhD in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. She is an Assessment and Instructional Support Specialist in the Leonhard Center at Penn State as well as a co-founder of Zappe and Cutler Educational Consulting, LLC. Her primary research interests include faculty development, the peer review process, the doctoral experience, and the adoption of evidence-based teaching strategies. She is active in ASEE through the Educational Research and Methods (ERM) division and the Faculty Development Division (FDD). Additionally, Stephanie enjoys reading sci- fi/fantasy books, kayaking, and walking/snuggling her dog. Yu Xia, Research Assistant, Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State Yu Xia is a fourth-year doctoral candidate at Learning, Design, and Technology program in College of Education and research assistant at Leonhard Center in College of Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University. Her current research interests lie in the fields of teaching and learning in technologically enhanced learning environments, and agency and equity in learning.