Flipping the library instruction classroom

The flipped classroom is a new spin on an old instructional model in which students are required to review materials prior to class, freeing class time for active learning or more in-depth explanation from the instructor. This new, technology-imbued incarnation has been popularized by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, a pair of high school chemistry teachers and authors of Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (2012). Sams and Bergmann, noticing that many of their students were missing classes due to extracurricular activities, responded by recording their lectures and posting them to YouTube. Students could watch the video lectures on their own time and then ask questions about anything they didn’t understand. According to Sams and Bergmann, what began as a time-saving device evolved into a a style of pedagogy that “ensures students receive a personalized education tailored to their individual needs” (p. 6).

In addition to allowing instructors to attend to students’ individual needs and questions, the flipped classroom also promoted a more active learning environment and more engaged students by avoiding the academic cliché of “the sage on the stage,” the professor pontificating while students sit passively and listen or take notes. As explained in a 2012 Educause information sheet, in the flipped classroom, “Instructors might lead in-class discussions or turn the classroom into a studio where students create, collaborate, and put into practice what they learned from the lectures they view outside class. As on-site experts, instructors suggest various approaches,clarify content, and monitor progress” (p. 1).

The flipped classroom approach has quickly gained proponents among instructional librarians, who often have one hour or less with students in which to cover topics as diverse as using library resources, developing and focusing a research topic, evaluating information, and using information ethically. A flipped classroom test project undertaken by instructional librarians at Towson University in 2013 yielded positive feedback from students, faculty, and librarians (Arnold-Garza, 2014). The Towson librarians also felt the experiment was valuable in reminding them of the value of intentional pedagogy and in necessitating closer collaboration with the faculty involved. They hoped the work might lead to “more sophisticated relationships that produce better IL [information literacy] outcomes for students” (p. 13).

In spite of the excitement surrounding this concept, there are potential challenges involved in flipping the library instruction classroom. Faculty may be resistant to the idea, not wanting to adjust the students’ homework burden to accommodate library-related assignments. According to Educause (2012), “Students, for their part, have been known to complain about the loss of face-to-face lectures, particularly if they feel the assigned video lectures are available to anyone online” (p. 2). Fulkerson (2014) points out that preparing for such sessions “can be time consuming” and that there is “A learning curve for effectively using new software” (p. 19). Moreover, the cost of software used to create screencast videos, quizzes, and other assessment tools can be too steep for some library budgets. There are less expensive and free alternatives to Camtasia and Adobe Captivate, but their lack of premium functions may make the job more time consuming. While there are excellent resources produced by other librarians on YouTube, MERLOT, ANTS, and PRIMO as well as database tutorials produced by vendors, they may not be customizable enough for ADA compliance or simply to meet an individual institution’s needs (Fulkerson, p. 18).

Moving away from “the way we’ve always done it” can be difficult for students, faculty, and instructional librarians. Still, the flipped classroom technique offers a chance to embrace new technologies while introducing key concepts and skills and freeing precious face-to-face time for active, individualized instruction.


Arnold-Garza, Sara. (2014, January). The flipped classroom: Assessing an innovative teaching model for effective and engaging library instruction. College & Research Libraries News 75(1), 10-13. Retrieved from http://crln.acrl.org/content/75/1/10.full

Bergmann, Jonathan, & Sams, Aaron. (2012). Flip your classroom: reach every student in every class every day. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

EDUCAUSE. (2012, February 7). 7 things you should know about flipped classrooms. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/7-things-you-should-know-about-flipped-classrooms

Fulkerson, Diane. (2014, September). The flipped classroom and media for library instruction: changing library instruction. Against the Grain 26(4), 17-21.


8 thoughts on “Flipping the library instruction classroom

  1. I like the idea of this method of teaching, it seems very empowering (similar to the teaching moment at the reference desk, when you learn to research on your own thanks to a helpful librarian) although I understand it could be time consuming. I have had some undergraduate classes similar to this but without videos to watch as lectures. I think that if these videos were posted publicly, as they sometimes are, it could be a great experience for others wanting to learn about certain topics but unable to attend classes.


    • I agree, Adrianne. If I have a chance to create materials to use for this purpose (and I hope to do so this summer), I would also post them on the library’s research guides so that students whose instructors don’t bring them to the library could still benefit. I’m not sure how useful some of them would be beyond that, though, since they’d probably be tailored specifically to our resources.


  2. Thank you for sharing this. We are in discussions about creating a flipped classroom with our Biology classes that are library-instruction heavy. This provides some input I can pass on to my staff.


  3. I like the sound of this flipped classroom. I remember for one class in my undergrad we had videos to watch and only met four times in the semester. It was convenient and I could get through the class at my own pace. Luckily I enjoyed the subject and learned much. I realize that it can be difficult to change from the traditional lectures, but spreading lectures online can open up many possibilities for learning outside the classroom.


    • I think this technique is particularly interesting for instructors in math and science fields, where students have traditionally had lectures in class and then had to struggle through exercises on their own time. It really shifts the active learning to the classroom in that case.

      I just had a set of sessions with an English class where I spent some time introducing a concept and then students had the rest of class to practice together and ask questions. It worked really well, but it depends on having an instructor who’s willing to allow students to spend more than one hour of class time in the library (so that I don’t have to cram everything into one session).


  4. I think that the flipped classroom is a great idea in theory. Throughout my undergraduate career, I definitely got much more out of classroom discussion than I did through in person lectures. It may be difficult for students to adjust to that type of instruction, but I feel that students will ultimately benefit from the change. I agree with Adrianne’s comment that it can be empowering to students but that it could also be time consuming. If a person truly reads and understands the lecture material before a lecture is presented, then the instructor is really just re-capping what the person has already learned. The flipped classroom will force students to become more responsible for grasping the material and contacting the instructor when there are questions.


    • Thanks for your comment, Davidson. For one-shot library instruction in particular, it’s great not to spend the entire time telling the students how to use library resources so that you can let them start using the resources and problem-solve as they go. I’m finding that it’s really valuable to be with them when they find out that their search terms aren’t working or they get frustrated that there isn’t one magical article on their exact topic. Helping first-year students overcome those obstacles and figure out that research is a process and that they can do it should really help them through the rest of their education (and maybe even beyond that).


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