Together with cognitive-psychology professor Harold Bekkering from the Radboud University in the Netherlands, Rector Muhammed Şahin from the MEF University is scheduled to speak at the OEB MidSummit in a session entitled “Revealing the Magic behind the Method”. Together they will shed light on the topic of what and how we can learn from neuroscience and an institution-wide plan of action to successfully adopt a new learning method. We decided to reach out to Muhammed Şahin to get some background information on their vision of the method and insights into creating a “fully flipped” institution. MEF University in Istanbul has the distinction of being the very first university to take this plunge and adopt the flipped classroom model institution wide. Founded in 2014, it is the fruit of decades of research by its parent organisation, the İbrahim Arıkan Education and Scientific Research Foundation.
By Alasdair MacKinnon
“Flipped education” has been around for some time in both theory and practice, but while some institutions experiment with the model, few have gone so far as to adopt it on a large scale. A relatively simple idea at heart – do lectures at home, use classes for practice – it entails multifarious real-world complications, not least the cost involved in turning the classroom (if only figuratively) upside down. Everything – from textbooks, lesson plans, and teacher training down to classroom furniture – has to be redesigned.
How does your background in engineering inform your work in changing the way education happens through technology?
As an individual, I must admit that although I am in my fifties, I feel like I am part of Generation Z. I like technology; I always have. I follow the latest technological developments. I always buy the first version of iPhones as soon as they come out for my personal use, as well as for my work. I am definitely an early adopter and innovator when it comes to wanting to use technology and develop it.
In my role as an engineer, I have observed technology changing exponentially over the past ten years. Technology has the potential for great good – it can make our lives easier and more comfortable – but it also has the potential for great destruction and harm. How the current generation is educated, how they view technology, and how they will design and use technology in the future are critical to the well-being of our society and planet. We therefore have a great responsibility to educate this generation to use technology for the greater good.
Engineers are analytical thinkers. As an engineer, you look at the final destination first and work backwards from that. This is certainly the approach I have taken to educational design at MEF. I started by looking at the vision for our students and worked backwards from that to find the best way to get our students to that point.
Our vision at MEF is to educate innovative and entrepreneurial global leaders to shape the future. Our mission is to graduate forward-thinking students who posses the ability to compete at the national and international level and to associate their national identities with global values; who continuously improve themselves, master technology, act respectfully towards the environment, and respect societal and ethical values; who posses the ability to combine and apply their creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership qualities with their research competences so as to break new ground in the national and international arenas. With this end in mind, the university’s founder, Dr. Arikan, and I undertook an extensive investigation into modern pedagogical educational approaches. Based upon our findings, flipped learning emerged as the best approach to help our students reach these aims.
MEF University had the advantage of being built from the ground up using the flipped-learning concept. Would it be more difficult for traditional educational institutions to adopt the model, and why?
MEF University is in a unique position in that it was established and opened as a fully “flipped” university. This meant that all decisions made, right from the start, were related to the flipped-learning approach. Deciding to build the university in the heart of Istanbul’s business district in order to create connections with local industry; designing the library with digital access, group meeting rooms, and an adjoining café with plenty of electric points and strong wi-fi access; designing student-centred classrooms where all the walls are painted with whiteboard paint – all of these happened because of the decision to flip the institution. In addition, a lot of time and money was spent in putting in the infrastructure for flipped learning, putting in place a learning-management system, and designing and installing a recording studio and editing suite.
How we brought our staff on board was just as important: only a special kind of person is willing to work at a start-up university. In the early stages of development, there is considerable uncertainty, a lack of institutional history, and many unknowns. Individuals who wish to join a start up need to have high levels of flexibility, the ability to work with a vision but not direct instruction, be willing to work with new ideas and technologies, be comfortable with uncertainty, have excellent team-working and communication skills, and, most of all, have a desire to create a legacy. It was with this profile in mind that I started interviewing potential staff.
MEF University also attracted a certain profile of student. Any student who decides to attend a new university that has no proven success, that is offering a new kind of education, and that is doing something radically different, is taking a risk. However, our students clearly decided to take a calculated risk and come on board with us, as we were offering the type of education they were looking for. By September 2014, we had filled all available student places.
By taking this approach, MEF was in a unique situation. The physical, geographical and technical infrastructure were all in place in time for the university’s opening. In addition, all incoming faculty and students were dedicated to the idea of flipped learning and enthusiastic about making it a success, which ultimately led to less resistance and fewer issues related to change management. From our experiences, we highly recommend that other higher-education institutions make this move, but recommend that a strategic change-management plan be put in place first.
For most academic staff members, adopting a new, innovative learning and teaching approach for the first time involves a change – and a challenge – to their deep-rooted and established practice. Flipped learning has only emerged relatively recently, and this means it is new to many instructors. Some of them may embrace this change. Others may go through a range of emotions similar to the Kubler-Ross stages of grief as they let go of their previous approach to teaching. These feelings may range from denial that the new approach may be beneficial, to anger with the new approach – finding fault with it and blaming those trying to bring it in. Instructors may start bargaining, as they try to put off the change. Next may come demotivation, whereby individuals realise that their bargaining is not working. This is when instructors feel loss, as they realise they have to leave old things behind and move on to the new. Finally comes acceptance of the change. Instructors realise that fighting against it is not going to make it go away, and they start to consider their options. There is then often a creative phase, as instructors start to explore and find new possibilities.
Students, too, may go through these emotions. For this reason, it is essential that any educational institution that decides to make the move towards flipped learning provide the support needed to assist each stakeholder in making the change towards a flipped-learning environment and, ultimately, to establish and sustain an inspiring environment in which growth and development can take place. At MEF, this support is provided by a shared institutional vision, through pedagogical support through the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and by the Educational Technologies Team.
Why is flipped learning better suited to training graduates for today’s job market?
Generation Y and Z are growing up in a world constantly connected through wireless technologies, and this has affected how they socialise and consume information in their everyday lives. They will be expected to be competent users of technology when they enter the workforce. They expect their university education to reflect these realities and needs. Flipped learning can match these realities and meet these needs through the careful planning of courses to maximise the benefits of technology in the learning process. In flipped learning, direct instruction is made available to students in flexible spaces, such as through a learning- management system with which students are able to access videos, presentations, e-texts, discussion boards, and interactive activities before class. Students can access materials from any place at any time as often as they wish through the devices they already use. This use of technology assists in taking direct instruction out of the classroom, thereby maximising time available for creative, interactive, high-level thinking, and instructor-supported learning in the classroom.
Flipped learning is particularly relevant in today’s socio-economic and socio-technical market places. Companies no longer provide the same levels of in-house training; they expect employees to arrive with the skills they need or be willing to learn and teach themselves the abilities needed for the job. Flipped learning addresses these marketplace expectations by encouraging students to become more autonomous, better critical thinkers and to search for answers themselves; in other words, to become lifelong learners. This will assist them in staying relevant in the ever-changing job market. In addition, the skills and knowledge needed for the jobs of tomorrow can no longer be predicted. It is no longer a simple task to gear education systems to training students for specific jobs or careers of the future. The flipped-learning approach encourages students to constantly review and address their knowledge, skills, and competencies, and to identify ways in which they can develop. This prepares them to be flexible, which will aid them in educating themselves to be relevant in today’s employment market.
Finally, flipped learning will help economies and industries to address the global talent gap that has emerged at the top of the market because educational institutions have not been graduating alumni with the skills and competencies that today’s industries need. This means now, more than ever, there is a great need for creatively thinking, innovative entrepreneurs; without them, the global economy will stall. Flipped learning, through its focus on exploration, research, critical thinking, and real-life projects, facilitates rich learning opportunities and knowledge construction by students, which ultimately leads to the development of innovative and entrepreneurial learners and graduates.
OEB MidSummit takes place in Reykjavik on 8 – 9 June of this year. Find out more here.