March 2017
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Helaine W. Marshall & Carolina Rodriguez-Buitrago

Helaine W. Marshall
Long Island University-Hudson
Purchase, New York, USA

Carolina Rodriguez-Buitrago
Institución Universitaria
Colombo Americana - ÚNICA
Bogotá, Cundinamarca, Colombia

A relatively recent innovation in education, flipped learning has captured the imagination of classroom teachers across the disciplines. Our field is no exception, as evidenced by the rapid rise in conference presentations and published papers on using this approach in TESOL (e.g., Bauer-Ramazani, Graney, Marshall, & Sabieh, 2016; Kostka & Brinks Lockwood, 2015). In ESOL classrooms where the instructor is implementing flipped learning, students dedicate in-class time to language use, application of material introduced in the course, and meaningful interaction with fellow students as the instructor observes, provides feedback, and conducts informal assessments. The presentation of the lesson concept, the introduction of authentic language samples, and explanations of course procedures are provided outside of class, typically, but not exclusively, as videos prepared by the instructor, who has created or curated them. The name “flipped” learning refers to this nontraditional switching of what transpires in and out of class (Flipped Learning Network, 2014).

Teacher educators must not only keep updated on the latest developments in instructional technology, but should also model such developments by utilizing them wherever appropriate in their own instructional contexts. This has led us to flip our teacher education courses, be they linguistics, methods, or assessment focused. Having done so with positive results (e.g., Marshall, 2012), we then sought to translate the flipped learning approach to our online courses.


Online TESOL teacher education is now quite common; however, there are few such programs that embrace flipped learning as an integral part of online learning. Egbert, Herman, and Lee (2015), using a design-based research methodology, implemented flipped learning in a graduate-level TESOL methods course, and their findings indicated that, despite the challenges, online flipped instruction can lead to “a more resource-rich, student-centered approach to teacher education classrooms” (2015, p. 19). They described a model for online flipped teacher education that leverages technology and takes into account the need for a focus on procedural knowledge and instructional strategies rather than declarative knowledge as in many discipline-specific flipped courses.

Their promising study suggests the possible benefits for preparing language teachers using flipped learning. However, because the model chosen was nearly all asynchronous, it did not fully realize the potential of this approach for an online learning environment. We have developed a synchronous model of flipped learning to create real-time in-class activities and problem-solving that mirrors what we were able to accomplish when meeting our face-to-face classes.

The course reported on here was an intensive, 5-week pedagogical grammar course with 24 students, primarily certified teachers returning for a TESOL credential. Regarding their prior online learning background, 83% had taken online courses before while somewhat fewer, 66%, had taken synchronous online courses. None had yet experienced the flipped version of the synchronous online delivery. Student background and feedback data were collected via anonymous questionnaires.

Instructional Model

Although we started by flipping face-to-face courses, after some time it seemed obvious that the online environment could also be flipped. The pedagogical grammar course reported on here was the last course in the program that had yet to be delivered in either a flipped or online format. It was taught in an online synchronous flipped fashion for the first time in 2016 and represented the wedding of two previously discrete modes of course delivery: flipped learning and synchronous online learning. The resulting model became the Synchronous Online Flipped Learning Approach, or SOFLA.

Video lectures, a mainstay of flipped learning, were created using Zaption (now PlayPosit), which enabled the insertion of questions placed strategically throughout the lecture. Students were required to respond before the video would restart. Responses were visible to the instructor and downloadable for assessment purposes. Individual accountability was maintained in this manner and, in addition, the instructor could see which aspects of the material were challenging for the class. These learner analytics informed subsequent instruction.

In addition to implementing the traditional flipped learning model with out-of-class content delivery, we included a peer instruction in-flipcomponent, in which students taught each other through video lessons they themselves created, real-time question-and-answer sessions, and quizzes, all taking place in the virtual classroom synchronously. Through this course component, the students could practice teaching a grammar point as well as learn to place the content piece into a prerecorded video lesson. They could also see the immediate results of how well they taught their assigned area of grammar through the quiz they administered to their fellow students.

Blackboard was the materials hub for easy accessibility and 24/7 communication. In addition to serving as a repository for announcements, resources, recorded material, and assignments, Blackboard included discussion boards and wikis. Here, students could interact asynchronously between class meetings and post questions for peer response or for clarification from the instructor.

Adobe Connect was our virtual classroom, where synchronous communication took place weekly. Adobe’s affordances allowed full synchronicity facilitating the flip. Every session flowed as follows: First, students joined the session and “signed in” on a whiteboard by contributing their ideas about the instructional video they had watched in preparation for the session. Second, students collaborated on exercises that applied the concepts from the video lecture, guided by the instructor. Third, students moved into the virtual breakout rooms, where they worked in small groups, either to do a task assigned by the instructor or to conduct the peer instruction in-flip lessons referred to earlier. Finally, the students returned to the “main room” for sharing each other’s group work and writing an individual take-away on a whiteboard for reflections. All sessions were recorded for further review or absentees, and materials created in Adobe were posted to Blackboard.


Data from the pre-, mid-, and postcourse questionnaires provided us with insight into each element of the implementation as well as student perceptions of their experience in this new instructional delivery mode. The course component that students enjoyed most was the real-time class in Adobe Connect. One student noted, “I have taken online courses before but not with as much interaction as this one.” Another compared our class to her other course that semester, stating, “I am currently taking an online course through another institution that doesn’t have a specific meeting time and I am not enjoying it as much.” Asked about the Adobe e-platform, 95% of students responded that they agreed or strongly agreed to the instructor’s use of Adobe Connect enhancing their learning.

The use of technology was a highlight of the approach. Most students were new to the tools that were used. One student said, “The webcam and audio are amazing and the breakouts are engaging. It is truly technology at its best for learning.” When asked what contributed most to their learning, many students cited the breakout room activities in Adobe and, especially, the peer instruction component. In fact, because they viewed the instructor's interactive video lessons and then also had to make one of their own, they saw the potential of flipping for their own teaching. One student said, “I really enjoyed learning how to use Screencast-o-Matic. I plan to use this technology with my own students.” When asked how they felt about learning through video lessons, before the course about 50% said they liked it somewhat, but by the end, nearly 100% reported liking to learn through video. In terms of the flipped learning approach, 75% of the students preferred this to traditional online classes and would recommend it to other students.

Student feedback also cited the challenges of this course delivery format and the difficulties encountered. Most students noted their constant struggle to gain control over the many new uses of technology while simultaneously mastering the course content. They also mentioned the glitches that nearly always occur with online courses, and even more so when there is a robust synchronous component as in this model.

Future Directions and Implications

As teacher educators, we must provide our students with the knowledge and skills needed to implement and evaluate innovative approaches. There is a need to look at the affordances and the challenges of online flipped learning with a view to gaining insight into what makes it more or less effective in various teaching contexts. We might, for example, follow up with students who have experienced flipped learning in their teacher education programs and/or have been trained in how to implement it in their own language classrooms. Another promising direction is to look at teacher education programs that train teachers for English as a foreign language settings specifically, as they may be more likely to select a synchronous online model, such as SOFLA, for flipping their instruction in non-English-speaking learning environments.

The class reported on here sets the stage for such research and demonstrates some of the unique possibilities of robust synchronous online flipped learning in TESOL teacher education.


Bauer-Ramazani, C., Graney, J. M., Marshall, H. W., & Sabieh, C. (2016). Flipped learning in TESOL: Definitions, approaches, and implementation. TESOL Journal, 7(2), 429–437.

Egbert, J., Herman, D., & Lee, H. (2015). Flipped instruction in English language teacher education: A design-based study in a complex, open-ended learning environment. TESL-EJ, 19(2), n2.

Flipped Learning Network. (2014). The four pillars of F-L-I-P. Retrieved from

Kostka, I., & Brinks Lockwood, R. (2015). What’s on the Internet for flipping English language instruction? TESL-EJ, 19(2), n2.

Marshall, H. W. (2012, October). Three reasons to flip your blended classroom. Paper presented at 18th Annual SLOAN-C International Conference on Online Learning, Buena Vista, FL.

Helaine W. Marshall is professor of education at Long Island University-Hudson, where she teaches courses in TESOL, linguistics, and multicultural education. Her research interests include culturally responsive teaching, instructional technology, and nontraditional approaches to grammar teaching. She has published in the TESOL Journal and Urban Review, among others. She serves on the boards of the NYS TESOL Journal and the Flipped Learning Network.

Carolina Rodriguez-Buitrago is professor of education at Institución Universitaria Colombo Americana - ÚNICA and also teaches at Universidad de La Sabana in Colombia. Her research interests include blended learning, instructional technology, and course design. She is associate editor for GiST - Education and Learning Research Journal.

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