Praise to the “Watch Party” – an update of the flipped learning model

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Most universities offer some form of flipped learning in which students are asked to watch a video, do research, or read something before attend a personal lecture. It can be a great way to gain time in the session to dig deeper, but this approach isn’t for everyone.

In the first year in particular, we find that many students struggle with the expected level of self-directed learning and time management required to do it effectively. Flexibility is important, but being free to choose when to volunteer can quickly become overwhelming for students in the early stages of their studies, especially if they can still cope with the pace of university life.

This is not because newer students are less passionate about their subject than their more experienced peers, or because they don’t work enough – they just haven’t had the opportunity to develop the critical, independent study skills they need.

With this in mind, the University of Glasgow’s School of Psychology and Neuroscience introduced the “Watch Party”, a reinterpretation of the flipped learning model. It helps less experienced students develop valuable self-contained learning skills and provides an opportunity for students at all levels to come together as a community.

But what is a watch party? Well, students attend a lecture with a timetable as usual, but instead of delivering the session live, we stream videos that have been pre-recorded and shared on our Echo360 video learning platform. During the session, the lecturer now has the freedom to communicate with the students in real time via a digital chat channel, to answer questions from the students, but also to include quizzes and other interactive elements.

There are three key factors that we believe make watch parties a useful alternative to traditional live or asynchronous online alternatives:

1. Structure

A fixed time for the lectures gives the students routine and structure in their daily routine and helps them to keep track of their work.

It is important that we also record all Watch Party sessions and then make them available to the students so that if they cannot give the lecture, they can make up for what they have missed or visit part of a session again for repetition purposes.

Watch parties offer the flexibility of fully asynchronous learning along with the structure and routine of live classes, and our pre-honoring students have reacted really positively to that.

2. Commitment

In addition to providing structure, watch party lectures can be an effective way to encourage students to engage with the topics covered in the video recordings.

Our watch parties include quizzes and Q&A activities that give students a break from the video and provide opportunities for meaningful interactions between students and faculty via a digital chat channel.

Students post questions or comments in the chat box and receive an immediate answer, either from their lecturer or colleague. It’s also easy to share links to additional resources.

This type of engagement is not specific to freshmen. The chat box makes it easier for students of all levels to actively deal with the material presented and helps ensure that learning should always be a dialogue – even if it takes place as part of a didactic lecture.

3rd conversation

One of the most positive results from Watch Party presentations was the difference a digital chat channel makes on the conversation level.

Students seem less confident about sharing their opinions and experiences on what we are discussing and can bring in their unique perspectives on important issues such as neurodivergent or LGBTQ. Students are more willing to ask and answer questions when they can do so through a chat box, which is what gives so much value to learning.

As a lecturer, it was great to get an insight into how students find a class that we normally wouldn’t get. And there was no other way we could effectively reproduce this. It’s like a large classroom lecture, but in a format that a much larger proportion of the class will attend.

The best of both

We originally designed Watch Party Lectures to keep students learning from a distance during the pandemic by combining asynchronous and synchronous teaching approaches. However, they are so well received by both students and employees that we are now considering how we can continue to use the chat box when we return to face-to-face events.

We believe this approach underscores why it is important that live lectures – including those of a didactic nature – be recorded as soon as we return to the classroom.

A simple video recording offers flexibility to those who need it most – but our experience at watch parties has shown that attending the live session still has power and purpose, especially during the formative stages of learning skills development.

Emily Nordmann and Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel are Senior Lecturers at the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow. For those interested in learning more, they also created Watch Party Lectures: Synchronous Delivery of Asynchronous Material, a recently published research paper examining the merits of the watch party model.


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