Online Activities To Amp Your Flipped Classroom

In a flipped classroom students engage with lectures or other materials outside of class to prepare for an active learning experience in the classroom. With online teaching, preparing and delivering online activities and assessment becomes a challenge.

How will my students prepare for the online activities?

Typically students will do either some form of reading assignment or watch a video or a screencast online to prepare for the in-class portion of the flipped class.

Online Readings: Depending on the learning objective(s) of the flipped class, students may need to read an article, book chapter or website to prepare for the online activities. To help students identify the most important concepts or information, and to motivate them to engage deeply with the reading, try to include at least one of the following:

  • guiding questions
  • reflective questions
  • annotations
  • highlights of the key points or parts of the text or a diagram.

Screencasts: Screencasts are recordings that capture audio narration along with computer screen images. Screencasts are typically used to introduce new complex concepts, to review foundational concepts, or to show visually complex online activities (such as lab demonstrations or technical processes) or distant locations (such as field environments). Research has demonstrated that students’ attention declines in the first 10 to 15 minutes of a lecture, and it is therefore recommended that any screencast materials be chunked to produce shorter segments (~10-12 minutes long). Guided questions, reflective questions or short quizzes between the short segments can help students engage more effectively with these materials.

How can I be sure that the students completed the out-of-class work?

More importantly, how do we make sure that the students have learned what they were supposed to learn online? Designing a plan to assess if students have completed the assigned online work and to gauge if they have understood the concepts helps both the students and the instructor prepare for the in-class portion of the flipped classroom. A low-stakes, formative assessment that is associated with the out-of-class work helps students know if they have understood the concepts and provides a way to give them feedback on their understanding. When designing formative assessment consider the following:

  • Will the assessment be worth grades or not?
  • How long will the assessment take the students?
  • If graded, how long will the assessment grading take the instructor or teaching assistants?
  • How frequently should the students be assessed before class?

Once the assessment is completed, it is important for the instructor to take the time to go through the responses before class and to review the responses to find similar themes. In class the instructor can then reiterate the concepts where students had misunderstandings or confusion before starting the online activities. Remember to consider: where the assessment fits into the “big picture” of the course, how it maps to the overall learning outcomes and other major assessments, and is the assessment reasonable with respect to the students’ workload. 

young girl doing online activites

Activity and assessment strategies

Online Quizzes –  There are many different implementation possibilities for using online quizzes depending on the instructor’s objectives.

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  • Low-stakes online quizzes or self-assessments that are not graded can be used to gauge the students’ learning of the material and ensure their understanding of the threshold concepts covered online. They also form an efficient vehicle for giving the students fast and constructive feedback.
  • Consider using an online version of ConcepTests that focus on a single concept, are of intermediate difficulty, and cannot be solved using equations but focus on real understanding of a process or theory.
  • Online quizzes can use a combination of multiple choice, multiple select, and short answer questions. Ask questions that go beyond just testing for coverage of the material or simple recall (i.e. have at least a couple that are difficult to answer without thinking about the material in an analytical way). 
  • Consider asking the students to include a rationale or provide the reasoning for their responses.
  • A final question that asks for their “most difficult or confusing points” about the material can help uncover learning bottlenecks that can then be addressed in class.
  • Grade the students on their effort, rather than the degree of correctness of the answers.

Online Discussions – Similar to quizzes, there are many different ways of incorporating online discussion boards to assess students’ learning. Instructors can give quick and constructive feedback on their contributions, wait to debrief, or continue the discussion in class.

For example, consider asking the students to:

  • participate in an instructor/TA led online discussion that relates to the activity that they completed;
  • start, facilitate and run a discussion concerning what they learned and/or how to apply it;
  • use group discussion boards to develop, articulate, and formulate their ideas and logic before presenting/defending them in class;
  • formulate a question about the online topic or reading for further discussion in class.

Allow the students adequate time to post their ideas and comments. The instructor can also consider using a “post-first” discussion, so the students can post their ideas without being biased by other students’ postings; the class discussion posts only appear after the student’s first post has been made.

student doing online activities

Definitions and Terminology – Asking questions that focus on the meaning of new words or terminology and that help students to consider the words in more depth can lead to deeper understanding. These questions can either be given to students within an online quiz, or as a question posed to an online discussion board which students can then respond to individually.

Concept Maps –  Concept maps provide a visual representation of connections between concepts that students have learned. These concepts are connected by directional, labeled links to show the relationships between them. Concept maps are excellent tools that can provide instructors with a formative assessment of students’ learning and misunderstandings after the online activities. For example, the instructor can post an incomplete concept map where students are asked to fill in the blanks to build a complete map that is then submitted to an online drop box where they get feedback on their individual work either online before class or at the beginning of the class.

One paragraph summary or précis writing –  Ask the students to write and submit a paragraph, a one-page summary, or a précis after an online reading. Students can practise their ability to effectively summarize a longer text, and this also allows the instructor to gauge students’ learning, giving them an opportunity to focus on their misunderstandings during class.   

Critical Reading – Ask the students to respond to an assigned reading (research paper, article, book chapter). For example, ask them to reflect on the paper, analyze the information, or criticize and evaluate the ideas. An online dropbox, discussion forum, or less formally, a blog can be used to gather their writings and give feedback on their submissions. This can be preparation for discussion with peers in class.

Peer Review/Assessment –  By reviewing their peers’ work, students consolidate, reinforce and deepen both their own and their peers’ understanding of the material they learned. This can help students to build critical analysis skills, become comfortable with receiving criticism and justifying their position in further in-class discussions. This activity can be done using an online discussion board or a group dropbox in which students all have access to each other’s submissions. The instructor will be able to evaluate the students’ critiques and their understanding of their peers’ work.

Getting ready for the “Just in Time Teaching (JiTT)” – When students ask questions or provide online feedback to the instructor after the online learning activity, the instructor can respond by designing Peer Instruction or JiTT online activities for the in-class portion of the flipped classroom. These online activities help in clarifying students’ misunderstandings before they are incorrectly reinforced or learnt. 

Future Teacher Talk: Designing and creating online learning activities and resources

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Cameron Wei
Researcher educator specializing in mental health, educational innovations, computer-supported collaborative learning, and technology integration.


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