I'm in the middle of teaching first-semester Calculus where, for the first time, I'm trying to implement a flipped classroom. (Background: Small university in U.S.; Calc 1 for STEM majors, 50 minute classes, 4 times a week, have taught the course in traditional lecture format many times.) In the flipped context, I've struggled to understand the role/importance of homework.

Initially this semester, the format was: Due by class time, students were assigned video lectures on a topic/section. During class I would quickly summarize the main points and then they would work in groups, focusing on 2-3 problems in that topic meant to specifically prepare them for the quizzes. After class, they were assigned 8-12 (WebAssign) homework problems meant to give them more practice and/or round out their understanding of the concept. Even though attendance was good and students seemed to be logging in to watch the videos, the problem was that very few students were completing (even 25% of) the homework. My concern was that doing a homework set and having to watch videos for the next class was too much for them.

So more recently I've shifted to, after summarizing main points, opening up the homework set in class and working selected problems. Even though WebAssign has some randomization to it's problems, they seem able to adapt fine so that now most of them get at least those problems in the homework done (but for many that is all they get done). My concern now is that they are not getting enough non-teacher-led practice with the concepts and, as such, struggle to be able to work efficiently on the quizzes/exams.

My main question to those who successfully teach a flipped classroom: How do you balance the load of content delivery, in-class work, and homework to adequately prepare students to succeed on the assessments? Or more broadly, what should I do differently next semester?

As I mentioned above, I've taught first-semester Calculus multiple times in the past and so I know that not everyone is going to do all the homework. But admittedly this is the first time with this course since COVID, so perhaps there are larger issues at play with the student population. That's why I'm very curious to hear from those who taught flipped classrooms before and after COVID. To know if what I'm experiencing is the result of a newbie mistake in course design or of a larger issue that all flipped classrooms are struggling with recently.


1 Answer 1


A flipped classroom course does typically have less homework than a lecture one to account for the time spent out of class doing things like watching videos, but it's pretty common to still have some, possibly a significant amount, of homework. I've been teaching flipped and partially flipped calculus classes since before the pandemic, and they've had substantially more homework than what it sounds like you're describing, so I'm skeptical the amount of homework is the issue.

Most schools have formal or informal norms about how much out of class work a typical class has (and at a minimum, unless you're the only calculus instructor, you can find out roughly work other calculus classes expect). 2-3 hours out of class per hour of class time is very common. I think of in class time as being the premium thing, so, especially in a flipped class, I'm trying to fill that in the most useful ways I can, and then assign an amount of out-of-class work that can reasonably be done in the remaining time, and there isn't space for anything that doesn't fit there. (Calculus classes are notoriously overpacked, so there often is some stuff that doesn't fit.)

My experience is that flipped classes are more sensitive than lectures to small design choices - it's frustratingly easy to break something (especially around homework) with a minor design decision, and relatedly the fixes are sometimes surprisingly small.

If students aren't doing the homework (and the amount of work is reasonable), I'd focus on asking what's supposed to motivate them to do it, and why those incentives aren't work.

  • Is it counted in their grade? Does it count for a big enough part? Grades are usually enough to motivate most students to do work, so the easy answer is often "make it count for more".
  • Do students understand why they're supposed to do it? My guess, based on the little you've said, is that this is where the breakdown is: that students are focused on the quizzes and exams, and don't see how the homework is relevant to that. You might think "these are problems involving the same material that's on the quiz" would be enough, but my experience is that it's usually not: students sometimes need the connection to the quiz/exams spelled out very explicitly. You might consider having some of the quiz/exam problems be straight repeats (maybe with numbers changed, but even maybe not) of homework problems. If you don't want to do that, you might want to consider other ways to illustrate to students how doing the homework helps them prepare.
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm. Re: bullet #1, on the other hand, it's been recently said, "you can no longer give take-home exams/homework" in the context of solving tools & large language models. If anything, my ratchet would be in the downward direction because of that. The opposite incites dishonesty overmuch. $\endgroup$ Mar 18, 2023 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielR.Collins: We're talking about WebAssign problems, so they were probably easy to cheat on long before LLMs. But I definitely intended those two bullets to go together; ratcheting up the grade impact without also motivating the work does incentivize students to just plug the problems into a machine. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2023 at 13:34

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