The flipped classroom in ESL teacher education: An example from CALL

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Published: 
2020

Source: Education and Information Technologies, volume 25,issue 4, pages 2605–2633

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The goals of the present study were to investigate the implementation of a flipped teaching model for pre-service ESL/EFL teachers in a Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) course and describe students’ perceptions of the approach.
The following research questions guided the investigation:
1. What are the perceived benefits of the flipped classroom, from the perspective of pre-service ESL/EFL teachers?
2. What elements of the flipped classroom are seen as challenges that may discourage pre-service ESL/EFL teachers from adopting this approach?
3. What reflections and reactions do pre-service ESL/EFL teachers have as a result of being learners in a flipped classroom?

Method
The study was conducted in a CALL course at a regional public university in the United States in spring 2017.
The course is offered as an elective for undergraduate and graduate students in linguistics, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and foreign languages.
This course lasted 15 weeks, with one session per week of two and half hours.
Two sessions were designated for student presentations, one class for evaluation-related content, and twelve for technical software instruction.
The instructor was one of the researchers and had taught the course twice.
The researchers decided to flip two of the class sessions by using instructional videos and in-class activities designed to reinforce the content that students learned from the instructional videos, instead of doing in-class demonstrations.

Participants
All 15 students enrolled in the CALL course consented to participate.
Ten were graduate students and five were undergraduates.
All students were majoring in either linguistics or TESOL.

Procedure
Two class sessions were flipped: one was a content-oriented session and the other was a technical session.
The instructor recorded nine videos, each approximately six minutes long, for the design and evaluation week and three videos, each approximately 12 min long, for the class websites week.
These materials were placed in the university’s LMS so that students could access and/or download them from any internet-connected device.
For the in-class activities for the design and evaluation session, students were divided into four different language skill-based groups according to their teaching interests.
Each group worked together to evaluate an online resource for language teaching, then design and present a short lesson plan using that resource to address a specific teaching scenario.
For the in-class activities for the classroom website session, students were again divided into four groups and evaluated websites based on a “Website Evaluation Sheet”.
Following this, they created and presented a poster describing their evaluation, and then used their evaluations as a starting point for building their own individual classroom website.
After the second flipped classroom session, all students in the class were invited to complete an online survey posted on the LMS, which elicited background information and student opinions of the flipped classroom experience.
Individual interviews were also conducted with volunteers within three weeks after the second flipped session.

Instruments
The online survey was designed to elicit the pre-service ESL/EFL teachers’ perceptions of the flipped classroom approach and the elements that would encourage or discourage them from adopting such an approach in their future classrooms.
It included 18 questions that were adapted from Johnson (2013 , p. 90) and modified by the researchers to fit the context of this study.
In addition, the first author conducted voluntary semi-structured interviews with five students and the Teaching Assistant to gain further in-depth insights on the topics addressed in the survey.

Findings and discussion
Overall, the ESL/EFL teachers were quite positive in their perceptions of the flipped classroom and its benefits. Most participants agreed that the flipped classroom was more engaging than traditional approaches to instruction; some even said that it was much more creative and fun.
This was in part due to the increased level of student engagement via the opportunities to practice during in-class activities what students had learned from the instructional videos. Participants also indicated that they were somewhat more motivated to learn technology in the flipped approach, and that they tended to watch the assigned instructional videos regularly.
On the other hand, participants tended to disagree with statements saying that they would not recommend the flipped classroom to a friend, that it gave them less class time to practice, and that it had not improved their learning in technology.
The interview data also revealed three major benefits of the flipped classroom: learner autonomy, learning by doing with support, and preventing cognitive overload.
A number of participants commented that the flipped classroom encouraged them to be more responsible for their own learning, such as doing their own research to fill any gaps in their knowledge; they did not need to rely solely on the instructors to provide information in the flipped classroom.
This finding echoes other flipped classroom studies (Fautch 2015; Mok 2014; Vaughan 2014) showing that students are more willing to take ownership of their learning in a flipped classroom.
Participants also said they felt the classroom became a learning community in which they were able to reinforce what they had learned from the out-of-class instructional videos, with on-site support both from the instructor and their peers.
In addition to the in-class interaction, participants also appreciated having a discussion board to share their opinions and post questions or problems they had encountered before or after class.
Three major affordances of the instructional videos were found, which should also be mentioned as benefits identified by the pre-service teachers: information is “chunked” into suitable “bites”; learners can pause, rewind, and re-watch the instructional videos; and learners can decide on the amount of information they want to take in over a specific period of time. Participants saw the instructional videos as particularly advantageous in the context of a long evening class because they were not under pressure to digest all the information at once; instead, they were able to control the amount of information they wanted to take in.
Most participants agreed that they liked being able to learn at their own pace and found it easier to pace themselves when learning technical content in the flipped approach.
These findings are again consistent with previous research: learning at students’ own pace is well-documented as one of the biggest advantages of the flipped classroom (Horn 2013; G. Lee and Wallace 2018; Roehl et al. 2013; Schultz et al. 2014).
In contrast, four major elements of the flipped classroom were identified as challenges that may discourage ESL/EFL teachers from adopting it in their future classrooms: learners’ technology access and technical ability, technical support for instructors, ambiguous student responsibility, and an inability to provide immediate clarification.
Regarding learners’ technology access and technical ability, participants expressed concern that Internet access and general technological accessibility could vary across countries and learners could get frustrated or anxious when they could not get access to the materials online.
This could lead to increased teacher workloads, for not only needing to redesign courses in a flipped format but also needing to look for solutions to these accessibility and technical problems.
Along a similar line, some of the participants expressed a lack of confidence in their own ability to handle the technology.
A third challenge that emerged was the issue of ambiguous student responsibility.
In other words, participants recognized that the effectiveness of in-class activities relies on learners taking responsibility for their own learning; they were concerned that if their future students did not watch the instructional videos before coming to class, students might not be able to participate in class.
The final major challenge that emerged from this study was an inability to provide immediate clarification to students who had questions while watching the instructional videos. Although the participants acknowledged the possibility of contacting instructors via email, they thought that the likelihood of students writing emails asking questions or for clarification is not very high because they have to go through more steps than simply raising their hand in class.
Roehl et al. (2013, p. 47) suggest that “when the focus of the flipped classroom is on giving students the freedom to interact with the content according to their own learning style, the flip seems to be more successful”.
This perspective is consistent with participants’ attitude in this study: they expressed a general interest in adopting the flipped approach in their future classrooms, but many suggested that a “mixed” approach to flipping a classroom would be a good starting place for teachers who are new to it.
This would mean flipping a few course sessions, possibly based on content, rather than flipping the course for an entire semester.
Finally, three additional reflections and reactions of pre-service ESL/EFL teachers were identified in the interviews: a heightened awareness of peers, differences in attitudes toward and perceptions of content-oriented vs. technically-oriented instructional videos, and student workload.
The interviews indicated that the motivation for participants to watch the instructional videos before coming to class was not only because they knew they were responsible for their own learning, but also that they had a responsibility to their peers.
Participants did not want to let their peers down and wanted to ‘pull their weight’ in group work.
Overall the participants in this study demonstrated an impressive level of awareness of the dynamics of the classroom, the needs of others, and their own desire not to create problems for their peers.
This heightened awareness of peers could be used to underscore for learners the importance of preparing before class.
Instructors should clearly communicate to students how the learning materials assigned for outside of class connect to the in-class activities and how their individual contributions are critical.
Collaborative in-class activities are suggested in order to utilize “the heightened awareness of peers” to encourage learners to prepare before coming to class.

Conclusion
The current study demonstrates a wide range of both benefits and challenges for implementing a flipped classroom, many of which are consistent with those of previous research.
The particular value of this work is in the way it has extended research on the flipped classroom to under-emphasized content domains (teacher training, language learning) and also examining the unique perspective of students as future teachers (pre-service ESL/EFL instructors) – such contexts and perspectives have rarely been considered in research on the flipped classroom.
The results of this study particularly raise concerns regarding increased workload and potential technical challenges, for both instructors and for students; these highlight the need for the field to establish guidelines for best practices in flipped classrooms and especially to develop high-quality approaches to flipping without a dependence on instructional videos.
Future work in these areas will build on existing trends in research and development for the flipped classroom, and will also have valuable, practical applications for all those interested in blended learning.

References
Fautch, J. M. (2015). The flipped classroom for teaching organic chemistry in small classes: Is it effective? Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 16(1), 179–186. 
Horn, M. (2013). The transformational potential of flipped classrooms. Education Next, 13(3), 78–79.
Johnson, G. B. (2013). Student perceptions of the flipped classroom. (Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia).
Lee, G., & Wallace, A. (2018). Flipped learning in the English as a foreign language classroom: Outcomes and perceptions. TESOL Quarterly, 52(1), 62–84.
Mok, H. N. (2014). Teaching tip: The flipped classroom. Journal of Information Systems Education, 25(1), 7– 11.
Roehl, A., Reddy, S. L., & Shannon, G. J. (2013). The flipped classroom: An opportunity to engage millennial students through active learning strategies. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 105(2), 44–49.
Schultz, D., Duffield, S., Rasmussen, S. C., & Wageman, J. (2014). Effects of the flipped classroom model on student performance for advanced placement high school chemistry students. Journal of Chemical Education, 91(9), 1334–1339.
Vaughan, M. (2014). Flipping the learning: An investigation into the use of the flipped classroom model in an introductory teaching course. Education Research and Perspectives, 41(1), 25–41. 

Updated: Dec. 13, 2020
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