November 21, 2017

Flipped Classroom Tech Teaching | Field Reports

Allyson Coan

Allyson Coan

A few weeks ago, the Skokie Public Library (SPL) finished its four-week “Cracking the HTML Code: Build Your Own Website” program using a MOOC/flipped classroom mashup. Now in its fourth iteration, this class has had successes, failures, and everything in between. Needless to say, we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

Why a mashup?

MOOCs are massive open online courses that people can access through sites such as Coursera and HarvardX. Unfortunately, when students take these courses on their own, completion rates hover between two percent and ten percent. In flipped classrooms, students use online resources such as videos or tutorials to learn at home and then do exercises, troubleshooting, and collaborative work during class time.

We decided on a MOOC/flipped classroom mashup to introduce our patrons to resources and explain how to use them and provide motivation and accountability to improve completion rates. More broadly, we looked at this classroom style as a way to foster community, foster learning, and improve our patrons’ career and job prospects.

SPL subscribes to Treehouse, an online tech training site that offers multipart courses in web design, coding, app development, and other topics. We set up the MOOC component of the course using Treehouse as the teacher and myself as the facilitator, which makes leading the class a lot less daunting. Our initial class meeting is used to explain the setup of the course and get people signed up and started with Treehouse. We also talk about different resources that students can use in conjunction with Treehouse, such as www.w3schools.com, and demonstrate ways to use Google to locate answers.

In subsequent class meetings, we trouble­shoot and work through Treehouse modules that students have explored during the week. Students volunteer to show their coding to the class, and we all address any problems together. In the last class of the session, we present a show and tell in which the patrons show us their finished website, and we hand out certificates of completion.

We’ve had tremendous completion rates. From our fall 2015 class, 33 percent attended the final meeting and made it through the entire four-part course; 55 percent attended at least three classes and completed the course; and 16 percent not only completed the course but continue to use Treehouse to further their learning. We’re also happy with the way this structure works to build community. A group of patrons from last fall’s class have continued meeting weekly so they could facilitate additional Treehouse courses together. We’ve recently started using slack.com to keep engaging one another after the course ends, and we’re looking forward to seeing how that works out.

What works

It’s often hard for adults to carve out time for themselves. The weekly class meetings offer our participants the time, place, and resources they need, making it that much easier to commit to ­learning.

Be as clear as possible about what the class is and what it’s not. We always have a patron or two who find the class to be over their heads. So prior to the first day, I call patrons who have signed up to make sure they feel comfortable using computers, share a brief explanation of the format, and guarantee that they are still on board. In the syllabus provided to the patrons, I clearly state what they can expect from me and what I expect from them, specifically that I’m a facilitator and not a teacher and that I expect patrons to ask and answer ­questions.

At the beginning of each class, I ask what went well during the week and what didn’t. This helps get the conversation and troubleshooting going. I remind patrons that no question is a bad question; that if they are wondering about something, there is a good chance someone else in the class also has the same question; and that their knowledge is deepened by helping their fellow ­students.

I encourage students to show their code over the projector, and we all try to fix the bugs together. I also encourage students who “go rogue” and get creative with HTML and CSS to show their code over the projector so we can talk about their choices and how they affected the look of the website.

Building a sense of camaraderie and accountability helps participants to know they aren’t in this alone and they have a safe place to ask questions and get support. Telling participants we expect them in class every week also makes it a bit more difficult to bail halfway through. If not for themselves, they should show up because the rest of the class is depending on them.

Allyson Coan is Adult Services Librarian for the Skokie Public Library, IL. Please send Field Reports ideas to menis@mediasourceinc.com

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