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Professor Justin Low's Flip from Traditional Lecturing

May 8, 2019

When Justin Low, Associate Professor in the Benerd School of Education, noticed that students were not applying what they learned in his Counseling course in their fieldwork, he decided he needed to change the way he was teaching the course ‘Psychotherapeutic Interventions'. Traditional lecturing with power points supplied students with information they could use in the classroom, but they were unable to transfer or apply that learning when they worked with clients in the schools. "When I asked ‘what did you learn in class and how can you apply it?' it was clear they weren't getting it," Low said.

He noted that student feedback about role playing, which he had used in some class sessions, was extremely positive and decided to expand his use of this technique. It was a strategy he had participated in as a graduate student in fact- one student acting as the therapist and one acting as the student who together had to work through a particular episode or issue raised in a counseling session. By empowering "the therapist" to call "time out" at any time to get help from the other students, the exercise involved the whole class; eventually Low also assigned jobs to students observing the role playing, asking that they watch for and identify good examples of summarizing and paraphrasing or good examples of using open-ended questions-skills that were foregrounded in the lesson that day.

Fully integrating role playing into the course required Low to move his instruction, the dissemination of content, out of the classroom. Using the voice-over feature in power point, Low recorded his lectures and posted them on Canvas. Students were expected to review the material before they came to class so they could apply it during their role playing sessions. This opened up the class period for skill application with coaching from him as the instructor.

Flipping his classroom has been both effective and exhilarating for Low. During his discussions with fieldwork students now, he sees clear evidence that they are able to apply what they learned in his counseling class during their own counseling sessions with clients. Some students love the challenge of role playing in the classroom; others find the experience intimidating, waiting as long as they can to "take their turn" in class or scripting their role play scenario with their partners in advance of class to try to eliminate surprises. But Low has found ways to ensure the spontaneity of the experience in the classroom because to be effective counselors, students need to be able to respond effectively in counseling sessions when they can't anticipate what their client will say or how she/he will respond to what they say. And he himself has found the experience exhilarating as an instructor because for him too, he can never anticipate how a role playing session will go. Some students need to be coaxed; some need to be directed back to the class material to align their actions in the role playing scenario with the principles in the class material. As an instructor, he says, "you have to flow with it, but it's a thrill...more exhilarating than coming to class with power points and flipping through them each day." He set out to improve student learning but with the changes he has made to the class he has made learning more fun for the students and teaching has become more fun for him as well.

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