Collaborating in a Technology-Rich Classroom Is Flipping Fun

By: Robin Benson Thompson and Rebecca Butler

Technology and innovation have changed the way we move within the world. We communicate, shop, and network differently than our parents did years ago. Technology has also changed the way we learn from one another. “Flipping the classroom” is a now very common buzz phrase in education. The process transforms the role of the teacher from disseminator of knowledge to facilitator of learning. Often, learners will interact with instructional materials outside the classroom and build upon that foundation inside the classroom, through methods designed to engage them in an in-depth exploration of the subject matter. This learner-centered model can be approached several ways, but pairing it with a technology-rich classroom presents unique possibilities for engaging the learner.

The School of Health Related Professions at the University of Mississippi Medical Center has a 1,500 square foot active learning classroom comprising state-of-the-art technologies and group learning spaces. This room allows faculty to immerse emerging health care professionals in thought-provoking discussions and engage in interactive activities that encourage critical thinking. The Collaboratory, as it has been dubbed, allows for easy facilitation of small-group work and traditional class lecture. The space boasts a total of 12 interconnected student- and faculty-controlled computer displays. Nine group workstations, each possessing a computer display, can accommodate six students. The “hub” in the center of the room provides traditional desk-style seating for ten students. A mobile lecture podium, individual and group whiteboard carts, a projector, and screen round out the list of amenities.

From the Collaboratory’s conception in 2013, faculty were eager about the potential it bolstered. However, the technologies appeared to be a bit intimidating. After intense training, faculty were ready to fly high. And tech-savvy students were amazed at their ability to connect their phones, tablets, and computers to the displays and use high-speed internet to share information with peers in small groups or the entire class, with the just push of a button. Designing flipped classroom lectures for the Collaboratory made learning fun for both faculty and students.

The space has been used to teach a variety of subjects including research, anatomy and physiology, and body structure. One flipped class group activity required students to review an assigned case study. The students conducted research on their individual devices and “pushed” relevant material to the workstation computer display. The real-time exploration of information led to very intense discussions. After agreeing on a plan of care, each group discussed their case, findings, and recommendations with the class through a PowerPoint they created. The faculty followed up with a class debriefing on the case.

It’s impossible to provide quality care without teamwork. Thus, it’s important for faculty to start building collaboration skills while future health care providers are still students. Pairing collaborative technologies with a team-based approach in a technology-rich environment complements the flipped classroom model, makes learning fun, increases comprehension, and supports critical thinking. With tech tools that encourage gamification, video exploration, and adaptivity, the possibilities for learning are endless.

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