NCSSM instructor imports online teaching methods into residential classroom


Aug 28, 2012 - “You do what it takes to make it work.” That down-to-earth philosophy is what prompted AP Chemistry instructor Guido Gabbrielli to import his online teaching approach into his NCSSM classroom, and the results have proven encouraging.


“It’s pragmatism,” said Gabbrielli, whose narrated digital video lectures, which he designed for his online students, are now routine in his residential classrooms, where he uses them daily.


When Gabbrielli began using those lectures in his online courses several years ago, more than half of his students garnered the highest possible score on the AP exam.


“I began to ask myself, 'If the online students are doing so well with this — and without the benefit of having access to me on a daily basis — why wouldn’t the method be equally effective for my residential students?'” said Gabbrielli.


So in the fall of 2011, after a year of experimenting with the method in his residential classrooms, Gabbrielli began employing his online lectures full-time in his residential AP Chemistry courses. The method is straightforward — in short, no more classroom lectures. Instead, students view lecture videos on their own time. When class is held, the time is devoted to student questions, practice problems and in-depth discussions.


Guido Gabbrielli, NCSSM AP Chemistry instructor, is taking his successful online teaching practices into the residential classroom.


“With AP Chemistry, there’s so much information. In a classroom lecture format, it’s like a factory line — spitting the information out — there’s no time to discuss. I wanted to make it more about critical thinking, to make it interactive,” said Gabbrielli.


Phasing the online lecture into his residential classrooms has allowed Gabbrielli to automate the less creative task of teaching and free up more time for student-centered learning. When class time is interactive, students get more practice in a supportive environment, where the instructor and the other students are on hand to reverse misconceptions and clarify concepts.


It wasn’t until Gabbrielli watched a TED Talk by Kahn Academy's founder Salman Kahn in the summer of 2011 that he realized what he was doing had a name. It’s called a “flipped” method. “Early on, I didn’t call it anything,” Gabbrielli laughed, “but after seeing Kahn, I realized that that’s what I was doing — lecture outside of class, cognitive learning inside class.”


It’s a good example of how distance education has transformed learning. Were it not for the distinctive demands placed on Gabbrielli and other NCSSM teachers by online education, this method probably would not have developed as early as it has at the School. And as more and more schools develop online courses, it’s reasonable to expect continued experimentation with importing online pedagogical approaches into the classroom. 


The flipped method “places more responsibility on the students,” said Gabbrielli. “It requires students to be more active, more involved.” It also gives students more opportunity to interact with one another and learn from one another. “It’s great when you see some students teaching others. My job as teacher is to empower people to be successful. Their success is my success.”


Teaching has become more interactive and inquiry-based, and according to Gabbrielli, these developments are reflections of advancements in student-centered learning. “I have found that teaching by this flipped method is significantly different. It’s actually more difficult. You have to prepare more classroom activities. You really have to manage the classroom energy. And you have to quiz them a lot to find the gaps in their understanding.”


Gabbrielli is still in the process of mastering this method for his residential students: “I need another year for that. There is no best-practices manual for this process. I try to keep the classroom activity varied. I quiz them often. In the end, I believe it will make students more mature learners. It’s a push toward preparing them for college.”


It’s a significant advantage for students, Gabbrielli feels. Not only is it more interesting for students than a standard lecture, it’s more empowering to students. The change has reinvigorated his teaching, giving him the opportunity to create an active, collaborative, student-centered classroom where students are more responsible for their learning.


“As a teacher, it’s gratifying to be in a room with students who are eagerly and proactively assuming the responsibility for their own learning. I truly believe that the flipped classroom not only increases students’ content knowledge, but more importantly, it prepares them very well for the college experience.”