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Flipping the Higher Ed Humanities Classroom: Teaching Critical Thinking at Cal Poly Pomona


When we spoke with Richard Newton in the fall of 2011, he was just discovering ways to engage his Claremont Graduate University students using Doceri interactive whiteboard app for the iPad.

We caught up again with Richard this month to discuss his new adventures in flipped learning at Cal Poly Pomona where he is now teaching in the Ethnic and Women’s Studies department.

“The flipped classroom has been popular in K-12 math and science classrooms,” says Newton, “but not as much in higher education. The question is how can the college classroom benefit from flipped learning? How can it be different?”

Newton began teaching Ethnicity, Gender and Religion at Cal Poly Pomona last year. The course attracts students from a wide range of majors from engineering to history to zoology.

“First we have to break down the terms,” he says, “so we can all get on the same page. Then we can move on to critical thinking activities.”

Gender-EqualityFor example, one of Newton’s classroom activities centers on the question ‘Does hip hop music promote or hinder efforts toward gender equality?’ Working in small groups, students are asked to write a thesis statement based on the prompt. Then after viewing a hip hop music video, each group is assigned to argue another group’s thesis, based on what they’ve just seen.

“Last quarter, before flipping my class, we couldn’t get through an activity like this without questions about what makes a good argument,” says Newton. “I kept asking myself how to help students develop analytical skills without sacrificing content instruction, and that led to the new, flipped class structure.”

Newton now records video screencasts using Doceri on his iPad, and makes them available to students via his YouTube channel. Short screencast subjects include the ACE model – which teaches academic writers to think about body paragraphs in terms of assertions, commentary and evidence – as well as a flow chart for writing an effective topic, research question and thesis statement and developing an introductory paragraph.

Additional screencast videos coach students through concepts like attribution theory and the etic/emic, or insider/outsider perspective to observing people.

“This process has made me more of a curator than a lecturer,” says Newton. “I guide my students through different stops along the way. They read at home, watch content-based videos then read the class study guide to help them begin to discern how to think critically about the material.”

Using the flipped class structure, Newton’s course focuses less on memorization and more on critical conversation activities to apply what students have read or experienced.

Find all of Richards screencast videos on his YouTube channel, Sowing the Seed.

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