4 Facts Pharmacy Students Should Know About Flipped Classrooms


Picture a class that involves more hands-on, problem-solving activities and fewer lectures from the professor. That's the gist of a flipped classroom.

Picture a class that involves more hands-on, problem-solving activities and fewer lectures from the professor. That’s the gist of a flipped classroom.

The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching defines a flipped format as one where students get their first exposure to the lessons before getting to class, and then in-class activities focus on higher-level cognitive tasks.

Writing previously for Pharmacy Careers, Brandon Hill, a 2016 PharmD candidate, argued that a flipped classroom improves students’ communication and critical-thinking skills.

“Immediate feedback from peers, as well as professors, allows students to improve not only their clinical knowledge, but also their communication skills, professionalism, and self-awareness,” Hill wrote. “It also enables students to reason through a problem by providing them with critical thinking skills, so that when presented with new problems they can assemble the facts of a case and develop novel solutions.”

The flipped classroom ideally provides incentives for students to prepare for a lesson before the class, builds a learning community, and gives students a chance to get immediate feedback on their individual or group work.

Recently, Cristina Rotellar, PharmD, and Jeff Cain, EdD, MS, published an article in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education that included perspectives and recommendations for implementing a flipped classroom.

“The ever-evolving landscape of health care requires a curriculum that enables students to think through problem situations and enter the workforce confident in their ability to provide high-quality patient-centered care,” they argued.

Here are 4 facts pharmacy students should know about flipped classrooms:

1. Pharmacy students may feel anxious or resistant to flipped classrooms, but students in other fields have typically responded favorably after experiencing it.

Some pharmacy students may hesitate to embrace flipped classrooms because they believe more responsibility will shift to them in the form of more active participation and pre-class activities. In addition, they may expect coursework to be more rigorous, and they may not feel comfortable with overhauling the traditional lecture setting.

“These are legitimate fears rooted in years of familiarity with learning in traditional classroom environments, and therefore may take considerable time to overcome,” the study authors wrote.

“While early evidence suggests that this teaching method can be successful in promoting learning and other traits desired of students, it is not substantial enough to readily sway all students to this approach.”

Do flipped classrooms mean students end up teaching themselves?

The study authors recognized that this often carries a negative connotation, as students may use the phrase “teaching ourselves” when they’re unhappy with the amount of guidance given by the professor. However, they argued that flipped classrooms could actually require more teaching, interaction, and communication from the professor.

“[Flipped classroom] teaching may look and sound differently than what some have experienced, but the guidance and support required by instructors is crucial, and in reality, is probably closer to how faculty members prefer to teach and be taught,” the study authors wrote.

They also noted that business, engineering, medicine, and nursing students in flipped classrooms have warmed up to the new type of instruction after experiencing it.

“Although research in pharmacy education is sparse, results from the few existing studies are consistent with those from other disciplines,” the study authors wrote.

2. Almost 90% of students in 1 study preferred the flipped classroom format.

The study looked at 22 students’ preferences after taking a pharmaceutics class on 2 satellite campuses. Before taking the course, 34.6% of the students said they would prefer a flipped classroom, but after the course, 89.5% preferred the flipped format.

However, another study suggested that students might prefer a course that combines flipped and traditional formats. In a survey of 286 pharmacy students, 30% preferred flipped, 48% preferred a combo, and 19% preferred a traditional lecture format.

Yet another study involving 162 students in a pharmaceutics course saw attendance increase for the flipped classroom format. In addition, 80% of the students said a flipped classroom improved their efficacy for the final exam, and 62% said they wanted more teachers to use the flipped format.

3. Not all professors are fans of flipped classrooms.

Some pharmacy professors may have concerns about implementing flipped classrooms.

Transitioning from lecture to flipped classrooms would greatly alter how professors teach. It would require a huge time investment to consider what sort of in-class activities to provide and what out-of-class activities would be appropriate. Large class sizes could also be a problem for the flipped classroom.

Another concern that some professors may have is whether students will still get an understanding of “fundamental pharmacy facts” if they’re asked to give up class time spent on knowledge-based content and instead focus on problem solving.

4. Pharmacy students’ preferences for flipped classrooms may depend on what topic is taught.

One study measured students’ feelings toward pre-class lecture materials, followed by case-based studies in the classroom for teaching cardiac arrhythmias.

Around 63% said this way of teaching was better than traditional methods for learning therapeutics. However, only 35% said a flipped format would be better for learning about basic sciences, and only 13% were in favor of a flipped format for learning pharmacology.

“One potential explanation for the negative perceptions was student concerns regarding the excessive length of the pharmacology recordings,” the study authors wrote.

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