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Flipping Learning at EPHEC

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Fri Dec 06 2013

Flipping Learning at EPHEC
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Based in Belgium, EPHEC is focused on the training adults and young adults in economic and technical fields, including economic accounting, trade, law, e-business, marketing and technical graduates automatic, electromechanical and computer technology. 

New mission 

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Two years ago, EPHEC decided to launch the project EPHEC 2.015, with the mission of integrating social media and new technology in its education work. The goal was to raise the level of its offerings in order to maintain a competitive edge in education and continue to deliver excellent services to its students.

“If we didn’t do anything, we would have been completely left behind in comparison with other institutions” says EPHEC director Véronique Gillet. “Knowing that there would be less money in the future and willing to keep our USP, we knew had to act early if we wanted to ensure high-quality, but still maintain small numbers in classes.”

The possibilities to use new technology in the classroom (and outside) have improved dramatically over the last few years and the EPHEC saw a particular potential in the use of social media for learning.

During its “journée au vert” in 2012, I was invited to talk to all EPHEC instructors about the possibility of integrating social media in their courses. “This was not the first action we took—some motivated teachers had already undertaken specific actions. but we wanted to inspire the others to think about new ways to teach and how existing technology could help them,” says Gillet.  

According to Gillet, bringing someone in to inspire and educate the staff was a challenge, and as with any change, there was resistance from some people. “We knew not everyone would be motivated, but wanted to create a first platform for discussion based on a common understanding of what we were talking about. During the day, the questions that came up were all relevant and we took the time to position ourselves and answer whatever objections arose,” adds the director. 

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Gillet knew that it was important to be aware of how change happens: “By getting the early-adopters involved in the day, showing their first experiments and reporting on issues and success stories, we were able to bring practical examples that other unsure people could consider in a positive way. We decided not to worry too much about the really resistant people and try instead just to motivate some others to take action. That started the ball rolling and gave us more critical mass over the coming months.”

New learning

Some 18 months later, the EPHEC is satisfied with the way things are going. More important, it is starting to see real change in the approach to educating its students.

Gillet explains: “We wanted to work with the idea of the flipped-classroom. Instead of the usual way of teachers delivering knowledge and expertise in-class and setting homework out of the class, we try to turn it around: Knowledge, expertise and assignments are given prior to class, which means that the in-class time can more quickly move to coaching, discussion, best-practices and fine-tuning. And the teachers’ support can also happen at distance.”

To do this, EPHEC use a variety of social-media based tools for learning:

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  • Students are given video and short learning courses to discover before class.

  • Assignments are worked on in groups using a shared platform where teachers can see progress versus activities.

  • Resources and references are centralized using a variety of tools, from Claroline and SharePoint to Camtasia and Storyline.

  • Students can meet up and discuss topics via Facebook groups.

  • Teachers get in contact with students via Lync to have short Q+A sessions on an individual basis.

“We really saw that many of the tools required to innovate already existed,” says Gillet.

And despite initial worry about the challenges, many of the risks identified have not actually come up. According to Gillet, “We worried about IT security and also about the willingness of teachers to share their knowledge and expertise on public platforms, which feels like losing some control. Having created better processes for IT security and access to tools, the first risk just hasn’t caused any problems (even without growing our IT staff).

“Regarding “sharing,” we have really seen that there are two speeds in our teachers: Some were ready to go immediately, and others were still standing back, not willing to see the reality. We found it important to continuously encourage and educate people and we’ve seen that many of the people who were scared are starting to get on-board. We actually now have a lot more positive people (and experiences) than we imagined.”

Moving forward

Gillet reminds other leaders how important it is to invest and keep the fire burning in order to get consistent and sustainable change and innovation.

“We started the process early in 2012, and we have already done a lot, but it can’t stop now. Yes, we have invested heavily: We have installed WiFi everywhere, we have given all our teachers laptops, and we worked very hard to educate people on the techno-pedagogy and different tools,” she says.

And EPHEC plans to keep moving forward. Gillet concludes, “At the moment, we are testing Microsoft SharePoint LMS. More and more teachers are trying it out and we continue to work with them, having discussions to get feedback and give support. In February 2014, we will decide if we keep that tool or not. And whatever we do in the future, we will continue to educate our people with FAQs, video, and other open-learning days.”

Véronique Gillet is a 45 years old mother of three. Following her studies at the Louvain School of Management she worked for one year there as a post-graduate assistant. She then joined EPHEC, Belgium’s Business University College, as a teacher of management and accountancy, where she has worked now for over 20 years. She is currently head of the EPHEC campus of Louvain-La-Neuve.

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