Flipping a Pre-sessional Course – Manchester Showcase Preview

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Cobden 3: Our showcase room in Manchester

Can you flip a summer pre-sessional? And how? These were the questions posed at the University of Sheffield over two years ago, in the quest for a solution to the (not unpleasant) issue of having more students than classrooms. 

Guest blogger Claire Basarich, alongside the Director of Technology David Read, will be presenting at the LTSIG showcase in Manchester this April 2020, where they will break down their experience of planning, creating and implementing a pilot flipped learning model for an EAP pre-sessional course. Here, this blog post will briefly touch on three aspects of this process, with a few practical pointers for institutions considering flipping their programmes. We hope you’ll attend the talk on Monday 20 April to hear about this in greater detail with examples. 

1: Flipping Fundamentals

As possibly many of you here did, I wrote my Delta Module 3 assignment with a focus on online learning, and an important aspect that I took away from my extensive reading on this topic was that any approach to flipped learning should be grounded in a clear purpose as your foundation: why are we doing this? 

We can explain further in April, but the starting point was both a practical one (due to an unexpected boost in student numbers, we simply needed to maximise use of classroom space) and also due to a BALEAP report recommending our students spend lesson time in the classroom, as they were not sufficiently developing their autonomous learning skills. 

The second year of running this programme coincided with the roll-out of UoS’s new Information and Digital Literacy Framework so there was a specific and compelling institution-led reason to pursue this. It made sense for our students’ future academic success as autonomous and digitally savvy learners, and we could integrate some of these key concepts of the IDL into the course. 

Practical Pointer: Before embarking on a flip, decision makers should read widely to have a deeper awareness on existing research and the pros/cons of flipping, and to consider the motivations for doing so: what will this approach bring to your programme? Will this and how will this help your students achieve their goals and learning outcomes? Is it truly necessary? Then, you can get down to the nuts and bolts.

David Read presenting on Interactive ELT materials, IATEFL, Glasgow 2017

2: It takes a flipping village

Again, we will elaborate on this at the showcase, but one thing that struck me about the process of flipping a summer pre-sessional EAP programme was the immense amount of forward planning and coordinating involved, across several teams. It was far greater than I had anticipated, even knowing at the start that this would be a big job. Before the process began in earnest, a team of 3-5 language tutors/TEL team members (including myself) received months of training with an instructional design software called Articulate Storyline. We also made use of plenty of Google Documents for cross-team collaboration, Camtasia for creating videos, and SnagIt for screen captures.

To give you an idea of the scale/complexity, the material creation process involved: 

1. At the top level, totally rethinking the content of the course in order to rework the face-to-face teacher sessions to 2 x 90 minute sessions per day (a late and early shift);

2. Deciding which topics would be the flipped/online content; 

3. The Tech management team creating basic templates in Articulate Storyline to form the basis of the online content to be produced;

(Above) The first slide of one piece of Articulate content

4. Materials developers from the Senior Management team storyboarding that content on Google documents;

(Above) Storyboard / Google Document

5. Tech team members checking the storyboard content and commenting on it; 

6. The Directors reworking some of the content; 

7 Tech team rewriting it in a way that could be turned into online interactive content; 

8. Tech team creating the content; 

9. Another team of staff members and the Directors of study checking that content; 

10. A final proofreading/check by another TEL team member; 

11.  A final check by the Tech Director to sign off; 

12. Usability testing.

Phew! As you can imagine, this process took many months. At our showcase talk we can show you some examples of the different stages of producing a piece of content.

Screen grab of an end of module quiz in Articulate Storyline (1/3)

Screen grab of an end of module quiz in Articulate Storyline (2/3)

Screen grab of an end of module quiz in Articulate Storyline (3/3)

Practical pointer: It may seem obvious, but at the planning stage, be sure to give yourself ample additional time (more than you think!) to allow for content creation and multiple checks to ensure quality, and forward plan staffing and staff training so that you have enough man/woman-power ready and available to get the work done by the deadline. 

3: Did it flip or flop?

An incredibly valuable aspect of this process was seeing how it all worked in reality. The true test was actually trialling the content with students and teachers and, thanks to plenty of detailed feedback from students and teachers, we were able to make further improvements and important changes for the second year. In our talk in April, we will share a bit about how feedback was collected and some examples of the improvements made. We will also say what we anticipate for the coming summer. So far, we have flipped our 6-week and 10-week course, and the current project is to transform our 4-week course in a similar way. To be continued …

Practical pointer: Flipping content for the first time with large groups of students (in our case, thousands) is a high stakes endeavor, so if possible be sure to leave time for usability testing and also after the course is over: be sure you have designed a way to get detailed feedback from both teachers and students soon after the course ends so their memory of it is fresh. In our case not everyone involved in making the content was able to use it themselves with students, so it is essential to get these first-hand perspectives. 

Finally, I hope these points have been interesting reading and we hope to see you all in Manchester in April! The full showcase line-up can be seen in the image below:

Showcase in Manchester!
Claire Basarich

Bio: Claire Basarich is an English Language Tutor and TEL team member at the University of Sheffield. She is also a tutor on the Learning Technologies in EAP course for teachers, runs live webinars for students, and has helped develop a range of online materials, including for the Summer EAP Pre-Sessional. 

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