The Flipped Classroom and University Education: Part 2

Today was the first full “flipped classroom” class for my course, AF101x. So what happened? Before I give you the final verdict, let me describe how the class was structured and how it went.

The week before today’s class, students had to read three short pieces, one on Hobbes and the state of nature, one on Libertarianism, and one on individualist anarchism.  They then completed an online quiz by 4am on Tuesday which asked them to find examples from their personal experiences or from the news that illustrated at least one assumption about human behaviour from each of the three readings.  The final question on the quiz asked students to specify what they found most difficult about the readings this week.

Almost all of the students were able to find an example to illustrate one or more of Hobbes’ assumptions about the state of nature.  Slightly fewer students found appropriate examples for libertarians, and even fewer found appropriate examples for individualist anarchist thought.  The feedback question also reflected these results.

Today, in class, I give a mini-lecture that covered the following topics:

a) what were the main questions/issues that all of the readings were concerned about?;
b) why/how are these questions, issues, and perspectives relevant to contemporary politics and policy?

In my mini-lecture, I covered Hobbes very briefly, given the quiz results, and spent more time on Libertarianism and individualist anarchist thought, paying particular attention to the core concepts within these ideologies that the students seemed to have trouble with on the quiz.

Following the lecture, we played this game, which simulates a state of nature using cards and rock/paper/scissors. Predictably, all of the students, except two, actively challenged other players until only three players remained. We then discussed the implications of this activity for the three readings.

We then played the game a second time.  Students, with the exception of three, chose not to challenge any other student, and several students attempted to form a semi-libertarian civil society with a minimal sovereign. Again, we engaged in a brief discussion about what happened and its relevance to this week’s topic.

We played the game a third time, although this time I announced students had to have at least two cards to survive. A final game involved four students having no cards, four students having two cards, and the rest of the students having one card each at the beginning of the game.  Interestingly, all sorts of alliances, bargaining, and sharing, occurred. Again, at the end of the game, students discussed how these various games related to the readings.

After a short break, I divided the students into groups of two or three and gave them two scenarios to consider.  The first was to imagine a situation where people started going blind, much as Jose Saramago’s book, Blindness, describes, while the second scenario was a zombie outbreak.   In groups, students discussed what kinds of state of nature would emerge, and what kinds of authority would be necessary in these situations.  This discussion then was opened up to the larger group.

I ended the class with a traditional seminar discussion about the utility of these concepts for making sense of politics.

So what were the results? Again, amazing!  All of the students participated in the activities and almost all of the students (with the exception of one) actively engaged in the various discussions.  The discussions were rich and again demonstrated that the students understood, for the most part, what the readings were trying to argue, and they could apply those ideas and assess them using a variety of means (i.e. assessing internal consistency; using hypothetical examples; using real examples from the news; etc.).  Again, an excellent class with demonstrable learning!

Next week, we watch the movie “Lord of the Flies”.  We will discuss the implications of the movie for the previous course readings, and students will have a week to write a 2-3 page paper discussing the utility of the “state of nature” concept for explaining politics (in addition to the readings for the new course concept and completing the online quiz).  For their papers, they will have to use the readings, in-class materials, the “Lord of the Flies” movie, and examples of real-world or personal politics to defend their argument.  I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.  Will students be able to transfer the ideas they’ve acquired over the last several weeks onto paper? We shall see!