July 2015
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FLIPPING THE CLASSROOM AND ITS APPLICATION TO ESL/EFL CONTEXTS
Evelyn Doman, Marie Webb, & Kerry Pusey


Evelyn Doman
University of Macau
Macau, China


Marie Webb
MiraCosta College
San Diego, USA


Kerry Pusey
Universidad del Norte
Barranquilla, Colombia

Background

The flipped classroom has developed into a hot topic among various educational circles. The model, which can be described in basic terms as a teaching methodology in which homework (i.e., completing problems or writing papers) is done in class and class work (i.e., lectures or other teacher-fronted instruction) is done at home. Having originally started in the U.S. K–12 system as a way of promoting student-centered learning by moving away from teacher-fronted instruction, flipped teaching has now spread rapidly into tertiary education around the world, and has even taken root in courses that are not traditionally thought of as lecture-based, such as second language classrooms.

As inquisitive teachers, the three of us were keen to see if the flipped approach was applicable to our context at that time—within an English language centre of a university in Macau, China. Because very little research existed about the flipped approach when we began our investigation, we believe that we have made, albeit small, contributions to this area of inquiry.

Our presentation at the 2015 TESOL International Convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada was part of our larger 2-year experiment on the applicability of the flipped approach to teaching and learning across cultural contexts in Macau, the United States, and Colombia. As a means of promoting student engagement and meaningful interaction, linking classroom activities with out-of-class assignments, addressing higher-order thinking skills, and producing autonomous language learners, the flipped method seemed ideal to us.

By initially only flipping modules of a commonly taught course with identical learning outcomes at our university in Macau, we found that the flipped approach was an effective means for enhancing learner engagement. Students confirmed that they enjoyed the videos and screencasts of minilessons, as well as the explanations of assignment details and rubrics that were given for homework, as this allowed for more in-class time to engage with the materials and receive individualized instruction (Webb, Doman, & Pusey, 2014). By using technologies such as Moodle, Screencast-o-Matic, and Voicethread to interact with students outside of class, the boundaries of the classroom became more flexible, thus allowing content to be viewed anywhere at any time. Teachers also enjoyed the new relationships that they formed with the online personas of students, many of whom were reluctant to speak in front of others while in class, but thrived in the online platform when the anxiety of being watched was removed (Doman & Webb, 2015).

By the second year of our study, more aspects of the class were flipped, and the three of us were now teaching in three separate contexts. We collected additional data from both experimental (flipped) and control (nonflipped) classrooms, and we moved away from investigating learner satisfaction with the model (see also Doman & Webb, 2014) toward looking into student perceptions of the flipped approach in aiding digital literacy and language acquisition. For example, in one online tutorial, participants watched a screencast about how to annotate academic texts. We used a speak-aloud method to scaffold the annotation, demonstrating how a text should be annotated either electronically in a Microsoft Word document or with paper and pencil (see also Pusey, 2014). As a follow-up activity to the screencast, learners had to annotate their syllabus in class. In the following session, students exchanged their annotations and provided feedback according to a guideline sheet created by the teacher.

For our data collection, the instruments varied over the course of our 2-year flipped experiment. In the beginning of our study, we collected information from surveys, interviews, and teaching journals. During the second year, we added teacher field notes and observations (see Doman & Webb, 2015), focus group sessions, and reflective essays (in addition to surveys). Now at the end of the second year of our study, we are also investigating how the flipped classroom helps improve student learning outcomes (SLOs) and whether flipped classes show greater gains in learning over control classes. In particular, we are looking at improvements in the learning of grammar through flipped instruction.

During our presentation at TESOL 2015, participants were shown the benefits and drawbacks of flipping, the difficulties that can be encountered when embarking on the flipped journey, tools that can be used to flip minilessons, and resources to supplement the flipped approach. Additionally, those in attendance had the opportunity to see video snippets of our flipped classrooms and software that we use to flip. Our research questions and data, which are briefly summarized below, were also detailed during the presentation.

For our presentation, the following four research questions (RQs) related to the use of technology for language learning were addressed:

RQ1: Do students in flipped classes experience a change in attitude toward the use of technology for language learning over time?

RQ2: Do students in a flipped class differ from those in traditional classes in their attitudes toward the use of technology for language learning?

RQ3: Does the cultural context of instruction have an effect on students’ attitudes toward the use of technology for language learning?

RQ4: What do students in flipped classes think about the use of technology for language learning? Do they share common attitudes and perceptions? If so, what are they?

Participants and Data Collection

A total of 128 students participated in the study. Students from the USA were enrolled in an intermediate listening and speaking course at a community college and represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Students from Macau were in an intermediate EAP integrated skills course at a 4-year public university; the group consisted of 70% Macau locals and 30% Mainland Chinese. The Colombian students were in an intermediate EAP integrated skills course at a 4-year private university and were all nationals of Colombia. Course lengths ranged from 17 weeks in the USA with 48 hours of instruction, to 14 weeks in Macau with 40.5 hours of instruction, to 3 weeks in Colombia with 64 hours of instruction (this was an intensive winter course). All of the flipped courses included formal assessments directly connected to the flipped materials.

Surveys, focus groups, and reflective essays were used to collect data in order to answer the RQs stated above. Four constructs were measured in the 5-point Likert Scale survey: instrumentality, comfort, digital literacy, and anxiety. The survey instrument received a reliable Cronbach’s Alpha level. Other statistical tests were run in SPSS, such as the Wilcoxin Signed Ranks Test, the Mann-Whitney U statistical procedure, and the Kruskal-Wallis test. Data was triangulated from surveys, focus groups, and reflective essays in order to gain a fuller picture of students’ attitudes and perceptions toward the flipped approach.

Discussion

For RQ1, we found that, overall, students in flipped classes in each cultural context did develop more favorable attitudes toward using technology for language learning over time. However, statistically, only students in the USA group showed significantly different attitudes across all four constructs from pre- to posttest time.

For RQ2, student attitudes in the flipped classroom differed from control (i.e., nonflipped) classes. Ratings of instrumentality, digital literacy, and anxiety became more favorable at the level of statistical significance.

RQ3 revealed that cultural context of instruction may not have had a strong effect on student attitudes toward using technology for language learning. Although learner attitudes in Macau, the USA, and Colombia were different at pretest time, they became more uniform by posttest time, with only anxiety ratings between the USA and Colombia students remaining significantly different. Thus, flipping was viable in all contexts regardless of cultural environment.

Finally, RQ4 was answered by analyzing the focus group and reflection data. Corroborating these with responses to the surveys indicated that students in flipped classrooms felt technology aided in mastery of English skills, was important for future careers and classes, helped them stay organized and practice materials, was more engaging than teacher-fronted classes, and provided more opportunities to practice English.

Though our study shows support for the flipped model’s success across ESL/EFL contexts, there was no formal assessment of student achievement in the study, which is one major limitation. In addition, curricular content was not controlled, which may have influenced the results to some extent. However, new studies are currently being undertaken to assess student improvement in grammar skills with controlled content to address this gap.

Our journey into flipping has led us to approach teaching differently. By integrating Screencast-o-Matic, Voicethread, and other video and multimedia platforms, we feel that we are addressing the needs of our 21st-century learners better. Our study has demonstrated that the flipped approach can be useful to university-level ESL/EFL students all over the world, no matter what their cultural context is.

References

Doman, E., & Webb, M. (2015). Benefits of flipping an EFL classroom in Macao. In E. Doman (Ed.), Reframing English Education in Asia (pp. 157–176). Salt Lake City, UT: American Academic Press.

Doman, E., & Webb, M. (2014). The flipped and non-flipped EFL classroom: Initial reactions from Chinese universitystudents. Thai TESOL Journal, 27(1), 13–43.

Pusey, K. (2014, July 14). Using screencasting to assess annotation. On CALL [On-line]. Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolcallis/issues/2014-07-08/5.html

Webb, M., Doman, E., & Pusey, K. (2014). Flipping a Chinese university EFL course: What teachers and students think of the model. Journal of Asia TEFL, 11(4), 53–87.


Evelyn Doman is the director of the English Language Centre at the University of Macau. Her research interests include learner autonomy, Processability Theory, peer tutoring, TELL, and teacher beliefs.

Marie Webb is an associate faculty member of ACE/ESL at MiraCosta College, ESL instructor at San Diego State University’s American Language Institute, and an adjunct ESL instructor at San Diego City College. Her research interests include student and teacher beliefs, learner autonomy, and learning strategies.

Kerry Pusey has taught in the United States, Asia, and South America. His research interests include instructed second language acquisition, language assessment, and experimental teaching methodologies. He is currently an instructor at the Instituto de Idiomas, Universidad del Norte, Colombia.

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