Learning and Community in the Time of COVID-19: A Multiple Case Study from a Flipped Class

Concurrent Session 7
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Brief Abstract

This mixed methods multiple case study analyzes students' perceptions of their in-person flipped class experience that transitioned abruptly to an online-only experience during the spring semester of 2020, due to COVID-19. Each of the four cases presented will highlight students' sense of course satisfaction, course engagement, and cognitive learning. 


Christina Iluzada, Ph.D., is a clinical assistant professor at Baylor University and has been teaching business communication courses since 2013. Her research interests include pedagogy, ethics, and rhetoric, and her pedagogical research has been published in Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, Business Professional and Communication Quarterly, and Christian Business Academy Review.
Dr. Tony L. Talbert is a Professor of Social/Cultural Studies Education and Qualitative Research in the School of Education at Baylor University. Dr. Talbert refers to his field of research and teaching as Education As Democracy which integrates social/cultural, diversity, and democracy education into a focused discipline of qualitative and ethnographic inquiry examining school and community stakeholder empowerment through activist engagement in political, economic, and social issues. Dr. Talbert’s thirty-three (33) years as an educator has included teaching, research and service in public schools, universities, governmental and corporate institutions. Dr. Talbert began his career in education as a public school history and government teacher where he applied his previous training as a stage actor by engaging his students in the exploration of the human story by integrating the students’ own lived experiences with the historic drama and comedy that encompassed the lives of the characters and events being studied. As a high school history/government teacher Dr. Talbert earned a Master of Arts degree in American Studies at Baylor University. While a public school teacher he became a popular invited speaker at several national conferences where he showcased such creative teaching seminars as He Ain’t Crazy Mama He’s My History Teacher and Thinking Thoughts That Need to Be “Thunk”. After seven years as a high school teacher, Dr. Talbert was asked to serve as an Education Specialist with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) where he facilitated professional development opportunities for educators statewide and nationally. After two years with the TEA Dr. Talbert was recruited to serve as the Executive Director of the Sam Houston State University Center for Professional Development where he was provided the opportunity to collaborate with public school and university educators and students in the exploration and application of cutting-edge digital technology integration into curriculum and pedagogy. During this time Dr. Talbert earned his Doctor of Education Degree in Cultural/Social Studies and Qualitative Research at The University of Houston. Upon earning his Ed.D. Dr. Talbert combined his passion for creative teaching with his highly developed skills as a qualitative researcher and began his career in academia with a commitment to fully integrating the scholarship of discovery with the scholarship of teaching. During his twenty-five (25) year career as a university educator, Dr. Talbert has held or holds the position of Professor, Associate Dean, Department Chair, Graduate Program Director, and Assistant Department Chair at such institutions as Sam Houston State University, Mississippi State University, The University of Houston, and since 2002 Baylor University. During his career Dr. Talbert has published over forty-five peer-reviewed books, chapters, and articles, presented more than eighty-five peer-reviewed and invited research presentations, collaboratively obtained in excess of $2.8 million in funded research, served as the chair and methodologist for over one-hundred masters and doctoral theses and dissertations, served as associate editor and editorial review board member for several academic and professional publications, and has been elected to leadership roles for several professional organizations. In 2013 Dr. Talbert decided that it had been far too long since he had been fully immersed in the real world of teaching. Therefore, he submitted an application to Baylor University for a research sabbatical and returned after more than a twenty year absence to the high school classroom where he taught World history to one-hundred and sixty-six tenth grade students. His experiences have been captured in both academic journal and popular press articles and will be the subject of a book in the future. Most recently Dr. Talbert was named as the recipient of the 2014 McGraw-Hill Distinguished Scholar Award for his contributions to qualitative research in the field of education. Dr. Talbert is pleased to discuss and offer consulting services in qualitative research design and analysis; social/cultural studies education (e.g., democratic education, multicultural-diversity education, peace education), and, public education policy and practice. Dr. Talbert can be reached via email at Tony_Talbert@baylor.edu and/or http://soefaculty.baylor.edu/tony-talbert/.

Extended Abstract

In our information age, students no longer need an expert to lecture to them because they can find all the expert’s information online. Many professors believe that they should, as Bowen (2012) has argued, use their in-person class time for activities, discussion, and deep learning. In this flipped classroom model, students prepare for class by reading a text or article or watching a lecture before class and then participating in meaningful discussion and/or activities in class.

For this study, we initially obtained IRB approval and set out to research strategies for motivating students to read assigned texts before class in order to make the flipped classroom work well. The spring of 2020 was to be our control group, and we administered three questionnaires throughout the semester to Business Communications students participating in a flipped classroom model. We hoped to track students’ cognitive learning, course engagement, and course satisfaction over the semester. However, in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, classes unexpectedly and suddenly switched to an online format, which changed the course of our study. We decided to still distribute our final two questionnaires, as well as conduct focus group interviews, to assess students’ perceptions of cognitive learning, course engagement, and course satisfaction and their changes as students switched from an in-person flipped class experience to a purely online experience that the students did not elect.

How did students perceive their own learning, satisfaction, and engagement in their Business Communications course in-person versus online? In this conference paper, we will present a mixed methods case study (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2018) that features nine purposively selected cases that represent individual student situations and perceptions that vividly portray the commonalities for students during this semester of pandemic crisis and conclude with implications for in-person and online learning. All of the students participated in one professor’s Business Communications class in the spring of 2020, a junior-level required course for business majors. Since this class was in a flipped model, students had the content online but missed the in-class activities and discussions when the course switched to an online-only format. After this switch, they still completed their assignments, received audio and written feedback on assignments from their professor, and emailed and/or called their professor when they had questions. Due to the class’s switching from in-person to online suddenly and without students’ consent, the professor did not add any additional synchronous meeting requirements or discussion boards, though the students did have a small group project that they were completing remotely with three to four other students.

            In our proposed interactive presentation, four of the nine cases will be described with supporting numeric and narrative data that offer insights that will inform future curricular and pedagogical decisions for both online and on-the-ground education. Each of the four cases presented will highlight each of the participants’ perceptions on how the phenomenon of moving from a flipped classroom experience (i.e., in-person and online) to a totally immersive online classroom experience impacted their sense of course satisfaction, course engagement, and overall effect on their cognitive learning. Drawn from nine cases, the following four participants’ stories will be featured in the presentation as a maximum variation sample reflecting the experiences of many of the students at the host university who participated in the study.

  • Case One: Andrea, a female undergraduate student, moved from her university in central Texas to her family’s home in Chicago when the university moved all courses online. Upon arriving at her home, Andrea suddenly found herself with the responsibility of not only school and work that she had when she was on campus but also hefty family responsibilities including a disruption in her academic routines due to day-to-day domestic demands in the home and unanticipated family challenges of providing assisted care for aging grandparents.
  • Case Two: Charice is a female undergraduate international student from Nigeria who was unable to return to her home during the pandemic because of limitations on international travel. Though she admitted being distracted by family concerns in that her parents were out of work and her grandparents were staying with them, she was in her off-campus apartment completing her online courses.
  • Case Three: Brandon is a male undergraduate student Minnesota, who was required to stay in his off-campus apartment throughout the pandemic because he, himself, contracted COVID-19 through his workplace. Of all represented cases, Brandon provides keen insights to the impact of COVID 19 on his personal and professional life and the effects of moving from an in-person to an exclusive on-line environment of learning and teaching.
  • Case Four: Vic is a male undergraduate student whose experiences appear to be a typical representative of most of the students who participated in the study. When Vic’s classes moved to an exclusive online format, he, like many of his other university student colleagues, traveled home to spend time with his family and apparently was able to continue to focus his attention on his studies with no significant disruptions.

Through cross case analysis of both numeric and narrative data, four categories emerged as significant data points that align with the study’s theoretical framework:

  1. Routine/structure/distractions
  2. Enjoyment of relationships/community/social
  3. Benefits of learning with others, and;  
  4. Value of synchronous meetings.

Articulated within each of these four categories are significant findings that reveal students’ perceptions as shaped by their experiences with a transition from an in-person flipped classroom to an exclusive on-line learning and teaching environment. For example, students widely agreed that meeting in-person helped them to manage their time more effectively because they had set routines and fewer distractions. Students perceived that an established class schedule itself was conducive to learning because of the ways it forced them to fill up their days and to space out their workload throughout the week. When participating in classes online, students reported that they often “crammed” too much material into one set time instead of pacing themselves, even though they fully recognize that spacing out the material would help them to learn it better. Additionally, students believed that the in-person classroom environment helps them to focus. Whereas at home, they are distracted by personal lives, other people, entertainment, and procrastination, in class they focus on their professor, their learning, and the content of the course. In addition to believing that in-person meetings helped them to focus, students largely enjoyed in-person meetings more than online learning. Students reported enjoying interacting and building friendships with their peers, as well as with their professor, in class. There is (seemingly) no substitute for this part of class that students enjoy so much. Many of these students admitted that discussion boards would feel like drudgery rather than an enjoyable aspect of class. Most students felt that if discussion boards were required, they would not be enjoyable, though they may be helpful for accountability and learning. In essence, students overwhelmingly reported multiple benefits of learning in-person with others, such as time management, accountability, community building, and overall retention and application of the curriculum being taught.

Highlighted throughout this study and featured in this interactive presentation, will be the benefits of a flipped classroom as well as the challenges in online learning. We hope to involve the audience in discussion about these benefits and challenges. Confirmed by both numeric and narrative data, this study offers keen insights into academic and professional development that speaks to the need for online instructors to be creative and thoughtful in their efforts to go beyond posting static content for their courses be they traditional, flipped, or exclusively on-line. Moreover, the study serves as a guide for current and future educators and education policy makers as we continue the innovate and deliberate about the scope and sequence of education in the 21st century.