Engaging Students a Business Studies Course Through the Flipped Classroom Technique

Introduction

In the contemporary world, education is of paramount importance for almost any individual due to the fact that it permits one to more successfully adapt to the rapidly changing world, to have an access to better employment opportunities and promotions, and to be able to choose the career that one indeed wants to pursue. Because of this importance, it is pivotal to utilise innovative educational techniques which allow for a more efficacious teaching process, as well as for developing the knowledge and skills of the learners in a highly effectual manner. One of such techniques is called a “flipped classroom,” in which the instruction is delivered to the learners prior to the class, whereas in the class, the students do tasks that resemble the traditional homework. However, this technique, despite being widely used in such a field as mathematics, has practically not been utilised in such courses as business studies. This is why the current paper provides an analysis of an attempt of such an implementation of the method of the flipped classroom in a course on business. Such research and analysis methods as action research, phenomenology, and hermeneutics are employed in the current paper with this purpose. After a detailed description of the methodology that will be used for the analysis of the attempt of the flipped classroom technique implementation, this paper provides the results of this analysis. The implications of the results are also discussed in the paper.

Methodology

This section descries the methods which will be employed in the current study. First, the instructional method of the flipped classroom will be explained. After that, separate discussions for each of the different research methods which will be used in this study will follow. Finally, it will be explained how these methods will be synthesised for the use in the current study.

Flipped Classroom

The term “flipped classroom” refers to an instructional strategy which, to a certain extent, reverses the traditional teaching technique. In the latter, the instructor gives new materials to students in class (usually in the form a lecture), and then gives them home work and readings to practice the materials. On the contrary, in flipped classroom instruction, the teacher provides learners with learning materials (including readings, audio and video materials) containing information that is new to students prior to the class (Tucker 2012). Having worked with these materials, students then come to the classroom and do tasks which more resemble the traditional homework – such as solving problems, doing case studies, and so on (Herreid & Schiller 2013). This permits for students doing the tasks which involve only the passive learning of information and can be performed without the direct participation of the instructor at home, simultaneously allowing for those tasks which require the knowledge of the new materials and the skill to use them to be done in the classroom under the guidance of the educator (Herreid & Schiller 2013). This means that students gain the chance to practice the new knowledge in the class, and the instructor is able to provide better feedback on their performance, and to more effectually point out their mistakes and weaknesses, which permits the students to learn and gain the needed skills more quickly (Herreid & Schiller 2013). It also enhances student engagement, for the learner cannot simply sit and listen to the lecture; instead, they are required to actively participate in the class.

Action Research

Action research is a method of inquiry which is carried out by individuals who are taking the action in question (i.e., by practitioners), for the sake of improving the effectiveness and efficacy of the actions of that type so as to achieve better outcomes (McNiff & Whitehead 2011). Action research is a method that is widely utilised in the sphere of education by instructors and teachers, for it permits them to better develop the methods that they will use in their future professional practice. It should also be pointed out that action research can be carried out not only by single individuals, but also by several colleagues, as well as by an entire faculty of an educational facility (Stringer 2014).

The crux of the method of action research is that the practitioner, upon identifying a problem, needs to take action which could permit for potentially improving the outcomes of situation in question, and then gather the necessary data or perform a number of observations so as to engage in critical analysis and reflection upon that data (Dewey 1993; Grady 1998). In addition, it should be pointed out that action research, in many cases, involves not only critical reflection, but also the process of viewing the information in question with regard to others (McNiff 2013). It is clear that for action research to be effective, one needs to thoroughly analyse not only the components of the action that has been taken as part of the research, as well as the direct consequences of that action, but also the outcomes of the analysed action for the other participants or “subjects” of the research.

On the whole, it should be stressed that action research might carried out in three basic steps (McNiff & Whitehead 2011). The first step is planning the action; it involves identifying the problem and developing the action that might improve the outcomes of the process that is to be improved. The second step involves taking the action; while doing so, one needs to observe the outcomes of carrying out that action, to gather the resulting data. Finally, the third phase involves analysing the gathered data using various techniques, and evaluating the effectiveness of the action that was tested in comparison to the “standard” type of action (McNiff & Whitehead 2011).

It should also be pointed out that action research is other a cyclic process; upon completing a research, one may wish to continue improving the situation which was reached, therefore engaging in subsequent action research (Stringer 2014).

Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is a method that is employed for the purpose of analysing and interpreting texts of a wide range of types (the word “text” in this case is used in a very broad meaning; it may refer not only to a written piece, but also to a work of art such as a painting or sculpture, or even to any meaningful materials that can be interpreted) (Bauman 2010; Rennie 2012). Generally speaking, it is possible to summarise that hermeneutics involves the process of building several interpretations of a given text to understand the wide range of meanings which it may be transferring, rather than simply creating a single understanding of a text, which usually occurs in most cases of “naive” reading, perceiving or understanding that is not backed up by any method (Bauman 2010). (It is interesting to point out that in cases of “naive” reading, many readers would probably not thoroughly consider the meaning of the text; some even might seem convinced that their understanding is what the author “really” wanted to say, whereas there are practically no means for verifying this (unlikely) assumption.) The method of hermeneutics presupposes that the text is not compositional, i.e., that it is not simply a sum of meanings of its sentences (parts), which, in turn, are the sum of meanings of their words; instead, the text as a whole may have a large number of interpretations depending on many factors, such as the context, the assumptions of the reader, the reader’s previous experience, and so on (Bauman 2010). Hermeneutics involves discovering these meanings by recurrently re-reading the text, asking various questions about it, and re-evaluating the pre-established meanings (Rennie 2012). In doing so, it is important that the new interpretations do not contradict the text itself. On the whole, the method of hermeneutics permits for creating numerous interpretations of a given text (or any meaningful material), thus allowing for better uncovering its possible meanings and gaining an in-depth understanding of it.

Phenomenology

Phenomenology is a method which permits for studying the structures of one’s consciousness and their lived experience in an in-depth manner from the first-person viewpoint by utilising a variety of procedures and steps (Lindseth & Norberg 2004). It involves an unbiased recalling of the experience in question, and their analysis to gain a better understanding of which structures of consciousness this experience is built upon (Lindseth & Norberg 2004). It should be pointed out that in general, this approach is more philosophical in nature; however, it should be stressed that phenomenology has also been adapted to a variety of other disciplines, such as psychology and sociology, and widely used in these in order to gain additional insights into the experiences of others (Leshem & Trafford 2006; Sadala & Adorno 2002). Being such a method, phenomenology is often used together with hermeneutics, for the latter is a method that permits for building interpretations of a wide variety of texts, and any attempts to understand another human being unavoidably involves creating an interpretation (or several interpretations) of the information pertaining to that person (for instance, in many cases, the person’s words will be interpreted; the one who interprets will create their own understanding of these words, and such an understanding will usually differ from what the person originally meant, at least to a certain extent) (Sadala & Adorno 2002). Therefore, using phenomenology and hermeneutics in combination often allows for gaining rather productive results, for phenomenological method ensures that the person who engages in analysis consciously articulates their possible biases towards the analysed material, and holds back these biases while the analysis is performed; after that, an unbiased point of view serves as grounds for building new interpretations of the text (in the broad meaning of this word), for which purpose hermeneutics is well-suited.

Final Method to Be Used in This Study

For the current study, an investigation of the use of the method of flipped classroom in a business course will be carried out by using the method of action research; the data gained via this method will be analysed using phenomenology and hermeneutics. The Appendix provides the data that will be analysed in this study.

As it can be seen from the Appendix, an attempt was made aimed at implementing the method of flipped classroom while providing instruction during a business course. However, the first attempt was not particularly successful, and it was decided to carry out action research so as to enhance the way in which the principles of the flipped classroom are used (the first step of action research). The action was designed and implemented, producing better results; the experience that was gained in this process is summarised in Appendix (the second step of action research). This experience will now be analysed as per the third step of action research; for such an analysis, the methods of phenomenology and hermeneutics will be employed.

The steps in which phenomenological and hermeneutical analyses will be carried out are as follows (Lindseth & Norberg 2004; Sadala & Adorno 2002):

  1. A phenomenological description of the text will be created, which means that this description will reflect the conscious experiences of the author. On the whole, this description has already been provided in Appendix, in paragraphs 2 through 4.
  2. A phenomenological reduction will be carried out, that is, a critical reflection upon the contents of the phenomenological description. First, the various biases of the author which pertain to the situation in question will be clearly articulated and put “between brackets”, which is also called phenomenological ἐποχή (Sadala & Adorno 2002); that is, the author will be aware of these biases, but they will be suspended so as not to be able to have an impact on the author’s opinions or judgements about the situation in question. Second, various themes / units of significance will be identified in the given situation.
  3. The gained materials will provide a sufficient basis for using the hermeneutical method of building interpretations of the situation in question. The most visible elements of the description will be analysed, and a search will be carried out so as to find the hidden meanings of the text. This gathered materials will then be employed in order to produce an interpretation of the phenomenon in question in its wholeness, an interpretation which would describe this phenomenon from multiple points of view (Sadala & Adorno 2002).
  4. After that, the results of the analysis will be discussed.

Analysis

Phenomenological Description

Providing a phenomenological description of the situation in question is the first step of a phenomenological analysis of that situation (Sadala & Adorno 2002). First, it is important to start from the point when I had to give the business course in question and decided to do it utilising the technique of the flipped classroom. I knew that the traditional instruction is associated with a number of problems, such as the potentially low student motivation levels during the lectures (and even the lack of motivation to visit some classes), the low level of engagement of students in the process of learning, the low percentage of the homework that gets done by the students, and the severe lack of time which the students have for the purpose of doing practical exercises and case studies during the class (Herreid & Schiller 2013). On the other hand, I read that the technique of the flipped classroom might be capable of permitting for solving a considerable part of these problems by making the home assignments the source of new information that necessary for the class (instead of a lecture) (Herreid & Schiller 2013). Therefore, I decided to use the flipped classroom method so as to achieve better learning outcomes with my students.

For this purpose, I prepared my first class that was to be taught using the flipped classroom technique myself completely, and not in the traditional way (Tucker 2012). Instead of sending the usual homework for the students, I provided some readings for them, and also found some videos on the Internet that were relate to the topic. However, finding appropriate videos was rather problematic due to the fact that many of the videos which contained the information that was necessary for the class could be culturally inappropriate for the learners from the Gulf area (of whom the current class is comprised entirely). It was also difficult to find the videos without a strong accent that the learners might have difficulty understanding, because some of them did not have a very good knowledge of English. Honestly speaking, I was not totally satisfied with the videos, but I knew it was needed to provide students with materials in different forms (Herreid & Schiller 2013), so I still selected some videos and sent them to the students as a part of the homework.

On the whole, though, I had serious concerns pertaining to the new format of the course. I did not have any significant experience of teaching with the use of this format before, and I only knew about using the technique of the flipped classroom in such disciplines as mathematics, but not in business classes. In addition, I was not sure whether the students would like this format, or would they respond negatively to it; I was actually worried that students might come to the class even less prepared than before. Finally, I was afraid that some of the learners were in the class only because they wanted to get an academic certificate and not really to study; this was conditioned by the fact that some of them already had rather good work and were more than capable of providing for themselves; therefore, it appeared that their motivation to gain education was purely instrumental (Fulmer & Frijters 2009), e.g., they simply needed an academic degree to be able to faster move in their career.

When I taught the class the preparations to which have just been described, it went better than I feared, but worse that I hoped: the students prepared better than usually, but only slightly better. In addition, the learners who had to combine studying with work did worse than average when it came to the readings; not all of them watched the videos, either. On the whole, I was forced to explain some of the materials which were to be studied at home right in the classroom, which cost me some additional time.

Thus, I made the decision to carry out an action research so as to better be able to motivate my learners to study. I decided to improve the quality of the materials that I would send to the students, to make it better tailored to this particular class (Herreid & Schiller 2013). Therefore, for the readings, I selected some texts which were related to the topic and made a compilation of fragments that were directly discussing the required problems. In addition, I wrote some text myself so as to provide the learners with an additional explanation of the topic and permit them to clarify some nuances which might remain unclear from the readings, as well as to give them some questions to think about. As for the video, I decided not to seek them this time, seeing how difficult it had been the previous time; instead, I simply recorded my own audio files in which additional explanations were provided; I also caught myself thinking that this would work as some type of replacement for the traditional lectures; this is also pointed out by Tucker (2012). I told the students that we would be doing practical tasks in the classroom, so they should prepare well; and that to ensure that they have the time to do so, I limited the amount of materials that they had to work with.

The results of doing this pleasantly surprised me. Most of the students came well-prepared for the class, and they took an active part in the discussions. Nevertheless, some of the learners still pointed out that they were not completely comfortable with the solution using the recorded audios, which may be due to their being accustomed to traditional types of teaching, such as lectures (Herreid & Schiller 2013).

On the whole, I can observe that the use of technology assisted me very much, and, in fact, was the factor which allowed for the very possibility of the implementation of the flipped classroom technique (Herreid & Schiller 2013). However, I still had some trouble recording the audio. For instance, I faced additional problems due to the fact that I was forced to intentionally use simpler language while recording the audio files, so that even the learners with low knowledge of the English language would be able to listen to them effectively.

Phenomenological Reduction: The Biases

After the situation in question has been described from my point of view, it is now needed to take into account the potential bias that could affect my interpretation of the events which took place during the implementation of the flipped classroom technique while teaching the business course in question (Sadala & Adorno 2002). When reading the phenomenological description of the situation, it is possible to see a certain number of biased judgements which might have had an impact on my interpretation of this situation.

  • First, it is apparent that I believed that many learners did not have much motivation to study well. As has been previously stressed, some of them had a good job and were capable of providing for themselves, and more than that; so I assumed that their motivation might be different (Fulmer & Frijters 2009; Pintrich 2004), and that what some of them really needed was an academic certificate rather than knowledge.
  • Second, when I prepared for my first class using the flipped classroom technique, I was not sure that the class would go smoothly. I was worried that the method was more suitable for such sciences as, e.g., mathematics, in which it had been successfully applied previously. It were probably my worries that caused me to use the videos from the Internet the first time, instead of recording my own explanations (Fairfield 2012).
  • Third, I thought that it would possible to employ studying materials which were not purposefully designed for the needs of the lesson in question, but provided only some general information. Of course, general information is also important, and it should be present in the course materials to some extent; but even in this case, the information the students are given for the class should be able to help the learners answer all the needed questions and problems important for that problem (Herreid & Schiller 2013).
  • Finally, it was apparently my (wrong) assumption that the students would have time to do all the readings and watch all the videos that I had sent to them when giving the materials to prepare for the first class (Beck 1995). Some of the videos that I sent to the students were probably somewhat too long, for example. Also, in general, the volume of the materials for the homework that I provided the students with was rather considerable.

Themes That Were Important in the Description

On the whole, it is possible to see that the phenomenological description of the events contains several themes. The first theme pertains to the problems with students that I had prior to using the method of the flipped classroom. These included the low motivation and class engagement, which may be characteristic of some students (Pintrich 2004); not doing the homework; and bad English. The second theme is related to my preparations for the class, and it includes such issues as selecting appropriate readings for the students, looking for videos and / or creating recordings for the course, which is crucial for the flipped classroom technique (Herreid & Schiller 2013). The third theme is related to the results of the use of the flipped classroom method; at first, the results were worse than hoped, but later, they were rather good.

In addition, it is also possible to see another, more hidden theme which pertains to the daily lives and experiences of the students. While I did not mention this specifically, I did make some assumptions about how the learners spent their time outside the classroom.

Building a New Interpretation of the Situation Using Themes and “Bracketing” the Biases

Now, after the phenomenological description of the situation has been provided, the biases were articulated, and the themes in the description have been found, it is possible to create a new, alternative interpretation of the situation while “bracketing” the biases (i.e., being aware of them and not letting them have an impact on the judgements), as suggested according to the methods of phenomenology and hermeneutics (Lindseth & Norberg 2004; Sadala & Adorno 2002).

With respect to the first theme which was identified in the phenomenological description of the situation, it should be stressed that some of the biases related to my initial understanding of the circumstances apply to this theme. In particular, my biased opinions that many of the students have no real motivation to study might have diverted my attention from the fact that these people are not necessarily in the circumstances which leave them enough time to study appropriately, and may even suffer from burnout due to numerous types of pressure they are faced with (Beck 1995). In particular, it appeared to be my assumption that these people would find enough time to study if they really tried hard. On the other hand, what escaped my attention is that many of these people might really wish to study, but in certain circumstances preparing well for a class might not be their priority (Beck 1995): for instance, if they do not like the class or consider it not useful; or if they are simply overloaded with various tasks and do not have the time to do all the needed readings or watch all the necessary videos. In addition, a large volume of homework might actually discourage them from doing it – either because they realise that they will not be able to do everything from the beginning to the end, or because they are simply confused or overwhelmed by the large volume of the materials (Beck 1995).

As for the second theme, namely, my preparations for the first and second class, it may be possible to discuss these while taking into account the second and third biases; namely, that I was rather worried that this initiative on my part would not be very successful, and, interestingly, that I kept thinking at the same time that it is possible to simply give the students some readings that were probably too general and did not consider the situation which would later be discussed in the classroom as their main focus, which was a wrong opinion (Herreid & Schiller 2013). My worries might have affected my performance during the class in an adverse manner, which would only further exacerbate the quality of the lesson.

When discussing the third theme, it should be pointed out that the results of the not very successful first lesson was probably related to my initial biases pertaining to the selection of the materials for the lesson, as well as to the implicit assumption that the students would be able to do all the needed readings and watch all the necessary videos, which failed to take into account the potential problems that students may face (Beck 1995). On the whole, however, this mistake was corrected when I prepared for the second class that was based on the method of the flipped classroom. First, I invested more time and effort into the readings so as to carefully select the fragments which would be most relevant for the topic of the class; and, second, I also dedicated more effort and resources to create the audio recordings which the students would have to listen. As a result, I was able to create a carefully tailored lesson that most students enjoyed and participated in, which should be expected from students in such circumstances (Herreid & Schiller 2013); the compactness of the materials to be read, as well as the problems which I discussed during the videos, proved to be instrumental in gaining the interest and attention and promoting dialogue (Fairfield 2012) even with those students whom I previously considered to be not motivated to study and only desiring to achieve an academic certificate of education.

Discussion

On the whole, it might be possible to state that conducting the action research which utilised the combination of the phenomenological and hermeneutical analysis of the attempts of implementation of the technique of the flipped classroom in the course on business studies (Lindseth & Norberg 2004; McNiff & Whitehead 2011; Sadala & Adorno 2002) permitted for discovering some alternative interpretations of this situation, which may be instrumental in finding the reasons behind the relative failure of the first class and the relative success of the second class that were given using this technique. In particular, the new interpretations suggest that the students who work and earn money may still be interested in gaining new knowledge, and their motivation may not be simply purely instrumental (Fulmer & Frijters 2009), e.g. only comprising the desire to obtain an official certificate that they have earned a degree. This permits for concluding that an attempt should be made to better engage them in the lesson so that they would have motivation to find the time so as to prepare and participate in the classes even if they have strictly limited temporal resources (Dall’Alba 2009). This, and the interpretation based on the third theme may in combination suggest that when learners are supplied with materials which are carefully tailored to the particular class that they will be taking, are not too voluminous so as not to discourage them from even attempting to read / view / listen to everything that was assigned, and are provided in a flexible manner that would allow the students to study the materials at any convenient time prior to the class, these learners might be highly motivated to study all the materials and come to the class well-prepared, which is to be expected (Dall’Alba 2009; Herreid & Schiller 2013). Finally, the interpretation based on the second theme suggests that it is of paramount importance for an instructor to be more confident when preparing for the class, and that, at the same time, such a preparation has to be very thorough and detailed (Herreid & Schiller 2013; Tucker 2012). These findings may be highly useful in the future preparations for the classes in different courses in which it is planned to employ the method of the flipped classroom. In addition, the action research that led to a successful lesson permitted for confirming the assumption that the flipped classroom technique may be successfully used in a course on business studies.

Conclusion

To sum up, it should be stressed that an analysis of the implementation of the technique of the flipped classroom during a course on business studies was carried out using such methods as action research; phenomenology and hermeneutics were utilised to analyse the materials obtained in this process. It is noteworthy that most of findings made throughout this study are supported in the literature. Among other findings, it was discovered that the utilisation of the method of the flipped classroom requires that the instructor carefully tailors the materials that are provided for the students to the needs of a particular class. It is also a highly effective strategy to specifically select the readings for the given purpose, and to record additional audio explanations of the materials so that the students would be able to listen to these whenever it is convenient for them. In addition, doing so allows for keeping the students’ interest and helping them stay engaged in the course.

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Appendix

Nowadays, it is considered effective to use student-centred approaches to teaching so as to engage them in active learning. The time of the classes is strictly limited, whereas there is plenty of that which students should earn. The time limits are further exacerbated by the language barrier; students not very proficient in English have a difficulty understanding the instructor. In addition, students have different backgrounds; some of them work. On the whole, engaging students in a lesson is paramount, and is also what I, as an instructor, have been trying to achieve throughout my course on business with a group of students. So it was my decision to attempt implementing learning processes based on the flipped classroom technique. I knew the technique works in Mathematics, but I was not sure about business courses, which I teach.

The process of implementation of the flipped classroom techniques began when I simply found some readings and videos for a particular class, which the students were supposed to read. In addition, I asked the learners to read a case study pertaining to the topic, on which we were supposed to work in the classroom. However, it was hard to find appropriate videos; most videos which contained the needed information were culturally problematic, and I decided that could not use them when all my students were from the Gulf area. On the whole, although the student participation in the class did increase slightly, not all the learners were prepared for the class. In particular, the students who were employed mostly did not read the required materials. Therefore, this step was not particularly successful.

For another class, I made the decision to personally compile the readings, including only those which were necessary, and I personally recorded the videos explaining the needed materials. This time, I achieved much more successful results; the learners were much better prepared for the class, and they took an active part in it. Nevertheless, some of them still did not feel comfortable with the solution of me recording an audio for them, stating that they prefer the traditional way of materials explanation.

It should be noted that I was greatly assisted by technology. The most challenging part was the preparation of the audio recordings, but I concluded that flipped classroom had numerous advantages, and all the materials probably need to be prepared by me if the technique is to work successfully.

The following questions were taken from the book by McNiff and Whitehead (2011). Answering them will permit for providing additional insights into the situation.

What is my concern?

I have several concerns in this situation. The first of these main concerns is that I was not able to make the first lesson in which the technique of the flipped classroom was employed a success; instead, the students who came there were not prepared to the class much better than usually. The second concern is that while the next lesson was successful, I need to find out what permitted it to become such so as to be able to utilise these methods in order to ensure that the following lessons of this course are also successful.

Why am I concerned?

I am concerned due to the fact that I did not attempt using the method of the flipped classroom in the past, so I have little experience in doing so; in addition, I know that, while the flipped classroom techniques were successfully utilised in mathematics, it is not known how well they would fit business studies.

What can I do about it?

To address the given problem, it is possible to carry out a thorough analysis of the classes in which the flipped classroom technique was used in order to find out the elements that hindered or stimulated the success. These elements may then be utilised in further practice of teaching so as to better help the learners attain the knowledge and skills in the process of studying.

What will I do about it?

In order to deal with my concerns, I will conduct an analysis of the experience of these classes. In fact, I have already started my research on this topic; the second class was part of the action research aimed at improving the quality of my classes (McNiff 2013). What is left is to conduct further analysis of these experiences; for such a purpose, phenomenological and hermeneutical methods should be appropriate (Lindseth & Norberg 2004; Sadala & Adorno 2002).

What kinds of data can I gather to show the situation as it unfolds?

To show the situation as it unfolds using the phenomenological and hermeneutical methods, it is needed to provide a phenomenological description of the two lessons and then to carry out an analysis of this description in order to gain additional insights which may help uncover the elements that positively or negatively affected the successfulness of my classes.

How will I modify my concerns, ideas and practice in light of my evaluation?

In the light of my research, I will be concerned about properly implementing the elements of the flipped classroom technique that allowed for its success during the second class and avoiding the parts which resulted in a relative failure of the first attempt. My practice will change so as to only use the most effectual elements of the flipped classroom technique while teaching students. My ideas will be modified by the understanding of my motivations, biases and other opinions which may have an effect on the quality of my classes.