Robert Talbert’s Blog: A Tour

The Fall semester is upon us! While searching for blogs that focused on teaching (and learning), I was happy to find Dr. Robert Talbert’s blog where he shares his ideas on how to keep up with the ever-changing world of higher education. His blog has been around in various forms since 2005 and covers topics at the intersection of teaching, learning, technology, and faculty work. As he describes in his blog,

“I am a Professor in, and the Chair of the Mathematics Department at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan USA. I teach a couple of classes per year, keep active with research, and (mostly) manage a large department of 30+ faculty members and hundreds of math majors in a rapidly-changing world for higher education. This blog is where I put my often half-baked but always whole-hearted ideas out on display about how I am making sense of the wickedly complex issues about teaching, learning, technology, and faculty work (and sometimes broadsides on higher education as a whole).”

In this tour, I will summarize the lessons learned from some of my favorite August posts, especially those regarding the flipped learning environment and how to use this in an online setting. While not the focus of this post, I also found his building a Calculus series very insightful and filled with great ideas to implement. You can read more in Building Calculus: The toolbox.

What does flipped learning have to do with online learning?

Flipped learning is a pedagogical methodology that aims to “flip” and the learning environment by having students learn concepts at home and use the classroom space to practice what they’ve learned. As said simply in this handout, it means students do ” school work at home and homework at school”. It also explains the acronym FLIP that stands for its four pillars Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional Content, and Professional Educator.

The idea of a flipped classroom became more prevalent in my mind as I attempted to teach online in the Spring and found that the time spent to both lecture and practice in a dynamic way felt insufficient. In this post, Talbert argues for the benefits of the flipped method, in particular, that flipped learning

  1. Optimizes face-to-face and synchronous time.
  2. Not only is predicated on student responsibility and self-regulation, it gives practice and training in these areas.
  3. These environments are structured yet flexible, which makes them well suited for our current situation.
  4. Provides a balance between structure and flexibility.

In the current times, I think these are great arguments in favor of using this type of pedagogy as many of us transition into online learning. He concludes with a powerful statement that while we may use different learning models, these are all trying to achieve the same thing; create a flexible yet structured active learning environment for students.

“As more faculty rediscover what flipped learning has to offer in these times, it makes me think that all of these models — flipped, hybrid, online, blended, hyflex, etc. —  are really just different expressions of the same overall pedagogical idea: A pedagogy that optimizes for active learning at the most crucial moments, prioritizes and codifies student self-regulation, and balances structure with flexibility. That’s a powerful combination that all students deserve.”

Flipped learning and self-teaching

What I enjoyed about this post, is that after reading, the previous one I was immediately how do we incorporate self-teaching? Is this a realistic goal for our students? How can we facilitate this process in intentional and meaningful ways? Talbert takes us back to his 2014 series and dives into some of these questions.  He describes a ‘common’ problems with flipped classrooms, one that I’ve encountered myself,

1) students can have a hard time adjusting to non-lecture classes and feel they are teaching themselves (so, what’s the point?), and

2) the fact that this can lead to negative instructor feedback from the students. I’ve also thought that these problems are solved by students getting on board with active learning, however, as Talbert points out,

“The flipped classroom does not automatically provide those sorts of outstanding learning experiences. What it provides is space and time for instructors to design learning activities and then carry them out, by relocating the transfer of information to outside the classroom. But then the instructor has the responsibility of using that space and time effectively. And sometimes that doesn’t work. In particular, if there’s no real value in the class time, then the students are not mistaken when they say they are teaching themselves the subject, and they are not wrong to resent it.”

Students may have good reasons to be skeptical of the use of the class time and, if they share this with you, it is worth looking into what is going on in your class and adjust. He mentions that if we are handing students just a ‘rule book’ to follow as they play the “class” game,  we need to reassess and work with the students to shape their learning experience.

 If the answer is that we’re handing students the rulebook and telling them to learn how to play the game this way, then students have a legitimate beef. In this case, it’s time to give class time a makeover, of sorts, so that students are actively involved with you while working with each other (or by themselves, or some combination) on crucial learning experiences.

Reading this blog gave me tons of ideas to incorporate into my courses. Some of the other post I enjoyed reading include Mastery grading and academic honesty, Research report: What are the biggest barriers to online learning?andModels for the FallAlso, another one of his post was also feature by Evelyn Lamb in this blog back in 2015, which you can check out here.

Have an idea for a topic or a blog you would like for me and Rachel to cover in upcoming posts? Reach out in the comments below or on Twitter (@VRiveraQPhD).

About Vanessa Rivera-Quinones

Mathematics Ph.D. with a passion for telling stories through numbers using mathematical models, data science, science communication, and education. Follow her on Twitter: @VRiveraQPhD.
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