Neural Pathway to the Flipped Classroom

Photo credit: Coronal MRI Brain Slices Colorized by Tracy Abildskov on Flickr cc
On May 7th 2015 I listened to an amazing talk and it changed the direction of my career plans. It was the annual professional development offering at VIU, a symposium on Successful Student Learning, and there was a presentation in the morning session entitled “Flipping to engage our Learners” that caught my interest. Besides being a very dynamic speaker, Dr. Claudia Krebs, Faculty Lead for Anatomy Education and the Director of the UBC Body Donation Program (those of us who have been CSI fans would have found this aspect of her CV particularly intriguing) teaches gross anatomy and neuro-anatomy in the MD Undergraduate Program at UBC. She says her students suffer from something she terms “neurophobia” when it comes to the course on neuro-anatomy and she wanted to find a way to move away from rote learning to a deep understanding of the subject.

Krebs and her team have put together an extensive repository of high quality videos and other media to help students learn neuroanatomy. She chose to flip the introductory lecture for each lab into an online assignment of videos, suggested readings and assessments, to be carried out prior to the in-class lab which brought a higher yield of deep learning from the application of knowledge and discussion of key concepts during their time together. Due to substantial funding, she was able to hire a professional video production team to produce the high quality instructional videos, and since the funding was from an external source she successfully lobbied the university administration to make them openly accessible on the internet so that medical students around the world could use them for learning.

What I learned in this session was percolating in my mind so that when I heard Mary O’Neil’s call for interest in the OLTD program and saw it included a course on blended learning I knew it was something I had to do. So you see, I had already decide that the flipped-classroom was the blended learning model I wanted to use to try to engage students in the subject of one of my lecture-based courses to see if using in-class time to problems solve and discuss and apply key concepts would lead to deeper understanding of the subject. I think this is why I have had trouble getting my head around Horn and Staker’s path of choosing the model at the end of the planning process. I already had a year and a half to think about how I wanted to remodel the lecture style classroom!

This is not to say that I don’t see a role for the other blended learning models in the classroom. I know that my fellow students in OLTD have found the rotational models to be very effective learning management strategies in K-12 classes. I’m also looking at providing more flexible learning opportunities to students who are interested in regular university technical courses but aren’t able to access them in the conventional face-to-face way.  I think that if a course has already been redesigned for the flipped-classroom and good quality digital media tools have already been developed, then adapting the course for another blended learning model with greater flexibility in terms of pace and path, as well as time and place, like the Flex or Enriched Virtual, would not be a huge next step. 

Horn, M. & Staker, H. (2015). Blended Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Retrieved from