Engaging students in pre-class activities for ‘flipped learning’

Flipped learning is part of an active learning strategy. The phrase has become popular in recent times though the methods reflect a longstanding view of student-centred teaching and learning. One of the key dimensions of a ‘flipped’ strategy is the work students do before class in readiness for deeper investigation of topics in class. Engaging students in pre-class activities can be a challenge for teachers or students who are unfamiliar with active learning strategies.

Ensuring effective pre-class engagement

Every student needs to be up-to-speed with foundational knowledge for an active and immersive class to be successful. There are good reasons why some students are not up-to-speed with critical content. They may not have understood the pre-class work. They may not have engaged with the work. In both cases, the good teacher must accept the challenge of engaging the student effectively and checking that the essential learning has happened.


The above diagram describes the essential pattern of a flipped approach.

Pre-class activities

Flipped design is often associated with the use of pre-class video. Video can be a very rich and engaging resource, but it is not the only way by any means of engaging students in pre-class learning. Further, long explanatory videos tend not to be engaging to the viewer. Short videos and screencasts are easily produced these days and can be designed as informative hooks for learning.Think about how best to engage your students before class. It may involve digital media, but focus on what the student needs to learn and less on what media to use.

Be realistic about what your students can learn factually or conceptually on their own, especially at Level 4. Think in terms of building engagement and factual knowledge, key processes or concepts. Focus on creating a foundation for deeper exploration of the topic in class. In pre-class activities, your aim is to bring the whole class up to speed with key foundational knowledge which they will go on to develop in class. You can use any media or methods to achieve this.


The use of diagnostic testing, especially if it is run as a small multiple choice test online before class, allows the lecturer to monitor engagement in the pre-class work. Checking what students have learnt from pre-class activities also informs whether the lecturer needs to clarify any misconceptions.

If it is not possible to do an online pre-test, then flipped classes should begin with a brief diagnostic activity. ‘Clickers’ or app-based tools like Socrative or Nearpod can be used to do this.

Brief explanations can be given to clear up misconceptions, or group-based activities can be designed to develop, apply, interrogate and check knowledge. The lecturer has a facilitation role in the active classroom and will work alongside student groups, listening and making interventions in group discussion or activities as necessary.

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