One of the things I like about Grand Rapids Theological Seminary’s move to a HyFlex (Tri-Modal) course structure is the new emphasis on “flipping” the classroom. It has often been the case in the traditional structure that students prepared in advance, usually through assigned reading, for classroom discussion. But, the classroom was predominantly devoted to disseminating information. And frankly, we all know that the quality of reading and the processing of that information is too often mediocre. In a “flipped classroom,” more content from the professor is dispensed through audio-video media in advance of the class. So in addition to reading, students process a half-hour or more of course content in order to “prime the pump,” as it were, for a classroom activity.

The flipped classroom frees more time in the classroom itself for discussion and interaction through learning activities. It brings more of a workshop design to the classroom.

This may require students to summarize the material in advance or perhaps create questions that they submit before class time to the professor. It might involve having students frame up as best they are able an issue they don’t understand. This optimizes class time, since the professor can focus on those aspects of the content with which students struggled. For students who are strictly online and do not have the benefit of live class engagement, they have the opportunity at least to see their questions discussed in a live classroom setting as they watch a replay of the recorded class time.

Of course, all of these places a little more responsibility on the student for learning. But, hey, isn’t that what graduate education is about … developing skills to become life-long, independent learners with refined critical thinking capacity? In this regard, I’ve always respected the European system of higher education that has had excellent outcomes for over 1,000 years. In the European system, there is much less time devoted to lectures and much more time spent by the individual student engaging issues in order to prepare for small group discussion or supervision from professors.

One of my heroes, and one of the great minds in Christian higher education of the last century, is Dr. Howard Hendricks. I’ll never forget one of his quotes from a course he taught on pedagogy: “Good teaching is getting excited about what your students are doing!” GRTS’s shift to HyFlex is forcing me to follow his lead better; designing activities that get you, the student, doing more in the classroom.