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The Fundamentals of Flipping

Do your students complain about the time constraints of their training program? Do they attend classes scheduled more for the convenience of instructors than students? Ever seen one fall asleep in class after coming directly from night shift? 

If you’ve not experienced any of these, you’re more fortunate than most. However, if you are detecting these signs and symptoms, it could be time to change your approach. More specifically it may be time to flip your classroom education. 

The flipped-classroom model presents students with introductory material outside the classroom, resulting in fewer class hours the student must attend. Technology assumes much of the educational load, with students introduced to new content by methods such as interactive lectures, reading assignments, discussions, etc. The material is then applied within the classroom with a more in-depth approach. 

For example, if a program meets just three times per week for an hour each time, the time normally spent introducing new material essentially can be given as homework. This will require less face-to-face time but let it be spent in more engaging work. 

This method can create a more interactive learning experience with more positive outcomes. Educational theorists speculate that students’ main concerns regarding courses they take involve times and delivery methods accommodating their busy schedules. It goes without saying that emergency services workers are busy, so why isn’t that taken into consideration? Just reflect on the courses you’ve had to take. Would you have viewed some differently if you could’ve only shown up for the hands-on portion, with less time on your tush?

Preparing for the Flip

Flipping a classroom is not easy on instructors. The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education found implementation of a flipped classroom required 127% more faculty work to prepare for the academic year compared to traditional education.1

There is a trade-off, however, as it is common for the flipped classroom to reduce actual instruction time. Flipping your class material is an investment—it requires a significant amount of work on the front end, but it will ultimately require less work to maintain your product.

Many emergency service educators deliver introductory material via presentation software programs. Once it’s delivered the material is applied through methods such as scenarios, simulations, etc. The introductory material should be the tip of the iceberg. Within the classroom is where the higher level of learning occurs.

Emergency service personnel are inherently hands-on people, and many embrace the motto “train as you fight.” At the least you can probably agree you learn best by doing the work. On the other hand, we routinely see rooms full of our on-duty peers on their phones and tablets between calls. Imagine combining both worlds: hands-on and technology!

There is no defined single way to flip your courses, but the premise is there must be a way for students to access, participate, and engage academically in the introductory material. One easy method is to record your presentations. No matter which software you use, there is a means to record. Some, such as PowerPoint, allow recording within the presentation.

Here are some basic principles to follow when recording:

  • Your presentation should be short and sweet. Remember, we are a profession filled with short attention spans!
  • Slides within your presentation don’t need to contain large amounts of text. More and more research says to only use pictures as memory joggers. Here’s a test: What comes to your mind when reading the word dog? Did the letters d-o-g float in your head, or a picture of a dog? Imagine trying to describe a hematoma without a picture.
  • Prepare a script apart from your slides, though. Think through what you want to say before you say it. Write this out for each slide so your presentation has a smooth flow and to reduce recording times.
  • Your presentation doesn’t need to be Hollywood production. It doesn’t need a bunch of bells, whistles, and flair; just the basics. Students can become distracted by too much showmanship. 
  • Audio quality, however, is very important, so invest in a good microphone. If there is background noise, popping sounds when you say your Ps, static, etc., you will lose your audience. You know what you do to a radio station when you hear static. 
  • Your expensive microphone won’t make you more entertaining. Put some emotion into your speech—motivate and inspire them!
  • It’s easiest to record within your presentation. This lets you have an audio file per slide. For future updates you can edit each slide’s audio, rather than an entire audio clip. Once you’ve completed all your recordings, you can then save your entire presentation as a video! 
  • Preview your work before you assign it!

While preparing your presentation will take longer than you’d spend delivering it, consider that you now have that presentation permanently at your disposal. It’s been my experience that creating your own presentation from scratch is about a 4:1 effort: To prepare a 30-minute presentation will take about two hours of work.

Flipped Delivery

Now that you’ve created a product, it’s time to deliver! Whether the material is hosted within a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard or Canvas or through an open source such as YouTube or Vimeo, students will be able to access the material electronically and at a time convenient for them. They will be participating in your lecture just as they would within the classroom, but asynchronously. 

The question many ask is, “How do you make sure the student watches the lecture?” There are numerous ways. Here are a few:

  • Use a third-party website/LMS such as Edpuzzle or PlayPosit. You can simply track the progress of the video and prevent skipping by embedding questions within your videos as a means of informative assessment. This is my favorite method, as it assesses the student on each topic of discussion. 
  • Create assignments that require students to reflect on what they’ve learned from the presentation. This can be done by means of forums, summary papers, collaborative group assignments, and more.
  • Use informative assessments at beginning of class. Quiz your students on the material due for that class. My personal choice is a learning game like Kahoot (or similar) at the beginning of the session. This allows clarification of any needed topics and can help refine the day’s lesson plan.

If you are tracking the presentation by some means, I strongly recommend having it as a grade.

Piecing It All Together

Offering a flipped course is all about creating a logical flow. You will distribute the online presentation to your students and require it to be viewed before you meet face to face. At the beginning of class, conduct a collaborative quiz that will both assess the students and create discussion. This creates interaction to allow clarification of any unclear items. Once that is complete you can begin covering advanced training through hands-on scenarios and simulation. 

Essentially do all the work that can’t be conveyed online and discover the rest of the iceberg within the classroom. Once the face-to-face session is complete, the students can take a summative exam to assess how well they retained the information and ensure you properly delivered the material. 

An often-overlooked component to any course is feedback. Be sure you get feedback from students on the overall course and evaluate yourself. Look subjectively at how well the student was prepared for the course and formatively evaluate based on test scores. Following that feedback, correct any discrepancies you find in your flipped course and prepare it for the next time!  


1. Rotellar C, Cain J. Research, perspectives, and recommendations on implementing the flipped classroom. Am J Pharm Educ, 2016 Mar 25; 80(2): 34.

Ben Tacy is EMS program coordinator at Pierpont Community & Technical College, Clarksburg, W.V.

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