Flipping the Way Students (and Professors) Do College

It hit me one day as I sat in my 8 a.m. financial accounting class. The professor was clicking through his PowerPoint rapidly (a PowerPoint he had not written), pausing for seconds on each problem, answer, problem, answer, saying, “Yes, well you can all do these at home…”, when a student raised his hand. “No, sorry,” said my professor, holding up his hand to his student. “I don’t have time for questions. I need to get through these slides.” I sat in my seat at the end of the row on the far left, utterly and completely dumbfounded. I could not believe that the professor was denying a student what I saw as the professor’s primary function. It was then that I realized how little I was learning, and how much time I was losing, by attending class.

In four out of the five classes that I am taking this semester, the professor leans on a PowerPoint to teach throughout the class. In three out of my five classes, the professor reads straight from the PowerPoint. Often the professor speaks much quicker than students can write, meaning dozens of half-finished sentences scrawled in barely legible handwriting by students each class. As the semester wears on, fewer and fewer students will bother taking notes, knowing that the PowerPoint will be posted online within hours. No longer is note-taking a motivation to pay attention. Notes have already been taken for the student on the detailed and comprehensive PowerPoint presentations that will be available to them nearly immediately after class, and in plenty of time to serve as a study resource for exams.

I believe that a teacher or professor should be the primary source of information in a classroom, stimulating interest and discussion beyond the textbook and assigned readings. If this primary source for students is shifting to comprehensive online resources available to a student at their leisure, what is the role of the professor? I can get much of what I’m experiencing in class in the library or my room in a much more time-efficient manner.

I have a passion for learning. I admire teachers, and appreciate their compassion for students and their interest in their fields. However, my recent experience as a college undergraduate has left me with the unsettling feeling that attending my classes is not the effective use of my time that I would hope it would be. Being read to, besides being redundant, is demeaning and frustrating. I need a professor not as a middle-man for information, but as a motivating and encouraging figurehead of the classroom.

In one of my psychology courses we recently read Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. This book promotes a flipped classroom model, in which the work traditionally done in the classroom is done at home, and the work normally done at home is now done in the classroom. Based on what I’ve experienced in many of my classes while at university, this approach seems both enticing and plausible. Using this model, students would be able to do what they can do at home (listening to a video lecture, or reading a comprehensive PowerPoint), and class time would now be reserved for research-based work, problem sets, labs, essays, and other tasks that could be supplemented by the presence of a knowledgeable professor.

I am not an educator nor am I studying education, and I am sure there is a lot I do not know about classroom dynamics. What I do know, however, is that I am not the only undergraduate who feels frustrated by the current educational set-up. I would love to attend a university where every day is stimulating, engaging, and challenging, and though this is not the case right now, I believe it is entirely possible.