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Growing Smarter

In essence, “flipping the classroom” means that students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then use class time to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge, perhaps through problem-solving, discussion, or debates. [1]

Anyone would think that education is always focused on smarter. From the minute a new baby recognizes a face, repeats a first word, says a complete sentence, or comes home from school announcing that he/she can read this book “all by myself,” parents and educators know two things: our kids are the smartest and authentic learning brings great joy. But sadly, too many times, educational institutions become bastions of jargon, routine, red tape, and bureaucracy. It shouldn’t be that way. The people with the research data and influence should apply those things to outcomes that matter. Students who pay for a college education should know lots of things, but they should also be able to understand and do lots of things.

In the case of a ministry school like Piedmont, students should know the Bible, they should know history, and they should know where to find resources whether they are print, web, or human. But they should also be able to do math, write clearly, communicate effectively, lead wisely, and think biblically. Statistics confirm again and again what any experienced educator knows in his/her heart. Some students remember some of what you tell them. Many students remember a lot of what you show them, but most students remember most of what you coach them to do successfully on their own.

At its heart, that is the philosophy of the flipped classroom. It’s why when you want to teach someone to cook, you let them crack the eggs even if it does get a little sloppy. It’s a smarter way to achieve smarter graduates. It maximizes faculty and student time; adds flexibility and choice; encourages thinking, independence and application; and makes it possible to have students from Winston-Salem in a physical classroom participate fully with classmates in Europe or Africa. The global classroom is here, making Matthew 28:19-20 a realistic goal for a faith-filled group of disciples.

So in the spring of 2014, Piedmont International University took the academic adventure to the next level with six pilot classes. In each case, highly qualified faculty prepared web content in the form of video or audio lectures and then led carefully constructed classes that had a laboratory atmosphere where students spoke, wrote, experimented, asked questions, solved problems and practiced doing exactly what they were learning. Some students attended physically on campus and others attended virtually. Here’s a glimpse at what classes included:

  • Acts: Following explanatory lectures, students will work through the passages asking questions, researching answers, and applying hermeneutical principles under the direction of the professor. Experts can be consulted in person or via Collaborate software.
  • Introduction to Computers: Logos: Using professional tutorials to provide content, students will have an opportunity to learn to utilize the powerful Bible study tool to its fullest capacity with a knowledgeable in-class coach there to facilitate application.
  • Methods and Techniques of Teaching: After watching the lecture, students will present, peer-critique, research, and work directly with the professor to improve their own teaching and plan for the next assignment. There will be contests that reward students for the best illustrations, the most powerful deliveries, and the most creative object lessons, all judged by fellow students! Also, some of the area’s best Bible communicators will come in and help coach students as they prepare their lessons.
  • Survey of Fine Arts: In addition to lecture information, virtual web tour options will make it possible to see and hear great works of art and musical masterpieces. Chances to try their hands at painting or playing instruments will give students a new dimension in the course.
  • Senior Seminar: After listening to what two experienced ministry veterans have to share through video, seniors on the Bible and ministry programs will meet together to envision what God wants to do through them. They will get the chance to hear the parts of ministry that they’ve always wanted to know but wondered if anyone would actually tell them about.
  • Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages: After viewing explanatory lectures on second language acquisition, cultural factors, teaching methods, and grammar instruction, students will gather to discuss the content and complete several projects during collaboration time. By the middle of the semester, students will also teach real students whose first language is not English, applying actively all the principles they have learned.

Think about it like this: How much would you actually pay to ask the one question you really need to know the answer to of the one person who knows the answer? Students at Piedmont are going to get that chance every time they go to class. Now that’s smart.

Learn more about Piedmont's latest plans to innovate using new methods and technologies.

1Cynthia J. Brame, “Flipping the Classroom,” (Vanderbilt University: Center for Teaching), Accessed November 22, 2013 @ flipping-the-classroom/.