Jazzercise is a dance-based fitness class founded in 1969 in California, popularized in 2016 in North Grafton by Dr. Joyce Knoll. As a Pathobiology instructor, dance aerobics don’t necessarily fall under her teaching mandate; however, Dr. Knoll is always looking for new ways to keep her students active and engaged. That is what led her to invite the entire class to her evening Jazzercise class last fall. And, what inspired her to try a new approach to teaching called the ‘flipped classroom’.
During the fall semester, Dr. Knoll teaches first year students Cell & Tissue Types, a course that consists of two hours of lecture time, and two hours of lab per week. In previous years, Dr. Knoll had taught this course in a traditional manner, lecturing to a room full of students who observed silently. She had no way of knowing how much the students were understanding until they took their exams, and at that point they were on to new material.
Dr. Knoll wanted a way to engage the students and gain insight into their level of understanding. So, she utilized an interactive student response tool called Learning Catalytics that allowed her to poll the audience with material-based questions. The answers were anonymous, but they gave her a way to gauge general understanding. The tool was helpful for Dr. Knoll, but she wanted to go further.
Tufts University offers a number of resources for teachers who wish to improve and expand their teaching abilities. In addition to formalized programs through the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, and campus-based groups such as the educator’s book club, there are also opportunities to interact with instructors from other schools in the university. It was through a colleague at Tufts University School of Medicine that Dr. Knoll first learned how the ‘flipped classroom’ approach might be adapted to her course.
In a ‘flipped classroom’, students review lectures and materials before coming to class, and are expected to participate and process that information while they’re in class. It’s an approach that requires additional preparation from both the teacher and the student, and, has the potential to increase not only knowledge retention but more importantly, comprehension.
So, in the summer of 2016, Dr. Knoll got to work. She recorded all of her lectures in short, digestible segments, a key to getting the students to listen to the entire thing. She also created mini-quizzes that she would use at the start of class to ensure that students had reviewed the lectures prior to coming to class. Class-time itself would then be used for interactive review of the material. It was a lot of work, but to Dr. Knoll, the potential pay-off was worth it.
During the fall of 2016, Dr. Knoll implemented a ‘flipped classroom’ in her Cell & Tissue Type class. Throughout the semester, 100 members of the V20 class listened to Dr. Knoll’s lecture, on their own time. For many, they found it time efficient to listen to the lectures on 2x speed, to which Dr. Knoll said “I might sound like a chipmunk, but it speeds things up!”. They then attended class, took the quizzes, and interacted via Learning Catalytics.
Was it successful? For Dr. Knoll, that remains to be seen. The real test of this approach will come next year, when she has the same group of students for the next level of pathobiology. For her, it’s not a question of how well they did on one exam, it’s about the long-term knowledge retention and comprehension that’s most important.
There was a mixed reaction to the new method from the students. While some were unsure of the additional work, others seemed to appreciate the ultimate objective. Joseph Belgrad, V20, wrote:
By covering the material before labs, I felt I had a better grip on the material and understood it better coming out of the lab than if I had taken the lab, then studied the material. By covering the material first then attending lab, I learned the material faster than if I had taken the traditional approach.
While it may take time to understand the effects of the flipped classroom approach, one thing is immediately clear: the passion that Dr. Knoll has for her student’s education is boundless. From the classroom, to the lab, to the mirrored walls of the Jazzercise studio, Dr. Knoll is a force of energy and enthusiasm, appreciated by students and faculty alike.