Gillette’s Flipped Classroom: In Search of Critical Thinking and Deep Understanding

President Lynn Gillette’s Current Topics class utilized the techniques of the flipped classroom on Tuesday evening by taking on a series of controversial issues. Gillette used the flipped classroom method, where students prepare material prior to class, and come prepared to answer questions, argue points of view, share their reasoning, and debate with colleagues. Students were required to read articles on a wide range of issues, including:  college sports and the NCAA as a possible cartel, the controversy of exporting U.S. coal to Asia, hyperinflation and the banking system in Zimbabwe, and efforts in Iceland to ban the sex industry.  Gillette told students to be dispassionate and to use analysis not emotional feelings. “I hope that you and I always remain passionate about important issues – I call that being alive.  However, we must strive to truly understand and that requires dispassionate analysis with extremely careful thought.”

Students and class visitors broke into pairs on a series of questions drawn from the readings.  They were asked to first share and debate among themselves and then outline their positions and arguments with the entire class. For example, they argued the question: “Do we have property rights over our own bodies?”  Provocative questions are designed to quickly engage students, and force them to rapidly respond, thinking through tough and complex issues analytically. The key to the flipped classroom is to give the students questions that drive them to use higher level critical thinking skills, sharpen their ability to present persuasively, and understand the multiple perspectives that can be brought to bear on analyzing any complex issue.