Applying the Flipped Classroom to Medical Laboratory Science

Our Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program curricular model applies the “reverse-lecture-homework-paradigm” (more commonly known as “flipping the classroom”) to the majority of our didactic courses. For our MLS program, this model works best for those MLS courses that we are able to provide strong hands-on laboratory lessons in our classroom setting. For those courses that are not amenable to this (like clinical chemistry where the laboratory procedures are highly automated), we provide the learning content in a traditional lecture-based format with supplemental laboratory lessons. This combination of approaches to instruction and learning—whereby we provide both traditionally designed courses (live, synchronous, “face-to-face” learning) and online courses (virtual, asynchronous, distance learning)—ends up supporting all of our students’ varied learning styles.

As an example, in our course in bacteriology, we can teach hands-on laboratory lessons using manual procedures for identifying bacteria that can be readily instituted in our program classroom/teaching laboratory. Because we can easily reproduce these techniques for our students, we use the flipped-classroom approach in this course and provide all of the lecture material as online learning lessons that our students complete as homework before the next day’s laboratory session. By having our students complete the lecture material as homework, we can dedicate more classroom time to learning laboratory techniques that are more closely anchored in what our students are going to do for a living.

From the standpoint of education theory and Bloom’s cognitive domain of learning, lesson content that requires basic recall of information (knowledge and comprehension) is presented as homework in the online lesson. In the hands-on laboratories, more of the higher level cognitive domains of interpretation and problem solving are applied, and the lab techniques are performed in the presence of the instructor, allowing for greater instructor-student interaction, questions, and joint problem solving.

The instructor role radically changes in this model, and he/she is no longer put in the position of “expert at the lecture podium,” allowing for greater opportunity to partner with the students in the classroom as a facilitator or guide in their learning. The literature commonly refers to the redefining of the instructor’s role in educating the student as moving away from being the “sage on stage” to that of facilitator or “guide on the side.” Our instructors have more time to help the students hone their laboratory techniques and apply the learning material in context and also answer questions.

Our instructors have found the experience rewarding, and they have been very successful using this format. They are able to partner with our students more collaboratively, and they can assume more of a mentorship role. It should be noted that there is a substantial amount of front-end time required to build the courses. Each lesson plan includes learning objectives, an online lesson, a hands-on lab, and a self-assessment. Our courses also include online discussion boards, homework assignments, and study guides for exam preparation (both written tests and laboratory practicals). Once an online course is built, however, we have found that it is easier to update and maintain versus a lecture-based course that may need redevelopment when instructors change.

The students’ role in the classroom also changes. When they are presented with the lecture material as online homework, they gain a newfound control over the material that doesn’t exist in a face-to-face traditional lecture format. They have control over when they study the learning content and the length of time they study. They can go in and out of the online lecture content as often as they want. The lesson material can include links to additional resources that they can delve further into if they desire. This format places each student in the “driver’s seat,” and the student moves from being a passive learner to active.

As for our students, they consistently come to class prepared for each hands-on activity, ask questions, and perform well on their written and practical examinations. Our students tend to form study groups outside of the classroom, and they review and process the online content with their peers, which results in a classroom environment that is collegial, team-oriented, and mutually supportive.

Reference

Bloom, Benjamin S., (Ed.), Taxonomy of Education Objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive Domain, N.Y., David McKay Company, Inc. 1956.

 

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-Susan M. Lehman, MA, MT(ASCP)SM graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983 with a BS in medical technology. She is program director for the Medical Laboratory Science Program and course director for Clinical Microbiology I and II; her areas of interest include distance education and education methodology.

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