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How a Textbook Hero Flips His Classroom


Professor Erik Christensen (standing) with his physics students.

At OpenStaxCollege, they call Erik Christensen a textbook hero. In fact, Erik was the first professor to use OpenStax College Physics, a text for which he served as principal reviewer and is publicly available online for free. At South Florida College, where Erik chairs the Natural Science Department, he should be known as a flipped learning hero as well.

Always an innovator, Erik first heard about the successes several schools were having with flipped learning at last year’s Sloan-C International Online Teaching Conference. “When I told my [physics] students last fall about the conference and what I planned to implement the following fall, they begged me not to wait until the following year but to implement it immediately. So that is what I did! I jumped in with both feet and did it for both my algebra-based and calculus-based physics classes!”

The result, according to Erik, is a “transformational experience … the dynamics of my classroom have completely changed. Not only has this helped students be more effective and confident in their problem-solving abilities but also improved their bottom line: their grade.” Erik points to other stats professors can’t help but envy. The average student grades are up ¾ of a letter grade from previous years; class attendance is at 93 percent. He boasts that students are submitting homework at a rate of 92 percent, while the volume seeing him at office hours has increased 250 percent! As a result, Erik has flipped not only his two sections of physics but also an astrobiology class that he co-teaches.

Erik feels renewed in the classroom as the result of flipping, stating, “There is such a sense of excitement in the class that you can actually feel the energy! I am now able to talk with every student two or three times during every class period. It has reinvigorated my love of teaching and although a lot of work to set up, it is so fulfilling to have students come to class having read the material and ready to apply it rather than simply take notes!”

In addition to serving as textbook hero and flipped-learning hero, Erik is a Learningpod hero. He states, “Learningpod is an ideal tool for students who want to assess how well they are understanding the material, either after completing the pre-class work or after class. Since questions can provide feedback on wrong solutions, it is ideally suited for a student working at 2:00 a.m., which is when many of my students seem to do their work! The ability for me to add my own questions makes it a fantastic tool, as I can personalize the questions to my course.”

Here’s a preview of Erik Christensen’s “Flipped Learning: Tips, Tricks, and Tactics” session for SACSCOC 2014:

Start Slowly. You don’t have to flip an entire course all at once. Start with a lesson, topic, chapter, or once a week (e.g., “flipped Friday”), and see where it leads. Before long, you probably will want to flip more lessons.  Still, some topics may be better taught with a traditional lecture.

Be Flexible. Be ready to change things based on how they are received by students.  My students hated pre-class quizzes and did not want to do them.  When I shifted to requiring them to fill in a Cornell note-taking worksheet before coming to class, they loved it. All of them do it!

Integrate Technology. Students love using their mobile devices, so explore ways to integrate them in your class.  Use blogs, discussion boards, drop boxes, online assignments, and videos … where it makes sense but not just for the sake of integrating technology.

Remember that Students Don’t Do Optional. Give points (even just a few) for any pre-class assignment, and completion rates will soar.  I use a simple 3-point scoring system and check more for effort than accuracy.

Have Fun! Be ready for increased student engagement (student-to-instructor and student-to-student and) both in class and out of class.


If you would like to hear Erik Speak on flipped learning, he’ll be on the lecture circuit this fall and winter in Jacksonville (Alabama)Nashville, and Orlando. Also, be sure to check out Learningpod’s OpenStax resources.

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