Teaching & Learning


Initiatives and resources supporting the objectives of UCL's Education Strategy 2016-21


Interactive flipped learning to teach small groups online

Dr Nephtali Marina-Gonzalez, Academic lead of Integrated Medical Sciences and secondee at the Arena Centre shares his experience with remote small group learning.


13 July 2020

Evidence has shown that flipped learning encourages medical sciences students to participate in a more engaging and interactive way.

This case study shows how the use of Blackboard Collaborate was used to deliver an effective flipped approach to small groups.

It considers:

  • how the approach can be used to identify struggling students
  • promote motivation
  • support learning at a distance. 

What is flipped learning?

Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which the conventional notion of classroom-based learning is inverted: students are introduced to the learning material before class with classroom time then being used to deepen understanding through discussion with peers and problem-solving activities facilitated by teachers (Advance HE, 2020). 

Highly personalised tutorials

The use of flipped learning on small group teaching allows tutors to concentrate on delivering highly personalised tutorials.

However, this approach is relatively resource-heavy and can be challenging at a time of rising student populations, teacher shortfalls and budgetary constraints.

The impact of social distancing measures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in an increased demand for effective formats of interactive learning that could be delivered solely or predominantly online.

An interactive flipped learning approach

The first year of the Integrated Medical Sciences programme is delivered exclusively using a flipped learning approach.

To address the rapid increase in the number of students in this programme, I introduced in my module a flipped learning method for large class sizes called Peer Instruction. 

I have adapted the method over the years and incorporated a variety of fun quizzes and I also introduced the use of online simulators that enable real-time simulation of cardiac electrophysiology and hemodynamics principles.

However, when I started using the simulators in large face-to-face classes, I noticed that participation was low and students were getting easily distracted with their neighbours. This motivated me to host the interactive simulation sessions in a more private and relaxed atmosphere in Blackboard Collaborate.

To my surprise, the quizzes were just as engaging in the webinar as they were in the face-to-face session and participation levels with the online simulators were significantly improved.

In addition, I noticed that shy students felt more confident to interact with the class and to express their doubts using the chat function in Blackboard Collaborate. 

Positive student feedback

“The [Peer Instruction] quizzes made learning process a lot easier”

“I enjoyed the quizzes before and after lectures. Quick way to judge what we need to know and our personal understanding at the end of the session”

“I particularly enjoyed the interactive approach to learning”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have had the opportunity of testing different functions in Blackboard Collaborate that will allow me to deliver my interactive flipped learning approach in an online environment.

Steps for delivering interactive online small group teaching

Individual preparation activities

Provide students with materials to help them prepare for the webinars. I provide a reading list and a selection of custom made interactive online lectures.

More recently, I have incorporated Youtube videos (there are many high-quality professionally produced videos in free, science-based channels such as Osmosis and Khan Academy, which students find extremely useful!).

Synchronous webinar

The session is delivered using Blackboard Collaborate.

The Education Planning pages provide guidance and case studies on effective practice for delivering online seminars and group study.

Peer instruction sessions

A 30-40 minute session is divided into 3-4 rounds of Peer Instruction. Each round of Peer Instruction (10 mins each) consists of the following steps:

1. Mini-lecture

The round starts with a very brief recapitulation of the topic (3-5 mins. max)

2. Individual quiz

Using Mentimeter, ask students to consider a carefully designed “concept” test, related to known areas of common confusion or misunderstanding.

The questions should be written at the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid (evaluating, creating). Give students 2 minutes to submit their answers individually.

3. Breakout group assignments

Use the Breakout groups function in Blackboard Collaborate to allow students to discuss their answers in small groups.

You can assign groups randomly each session or create group assignments at the beginning of the term that will promote both learning and group development.

This short video by Blackboard Inc explains how to create breakout groups. 

4. Interactive simulators

Provide students with interactive resources that will help them recreate and analyse the physiological changes presented in the Concept Test in a virtual clinical setting.

I use a wide variety of open-education, freely available online simulators such as Circadapt, Hyperheart tool, Electrocardiogram simulator, and Blaufuss. 

5. Problem-solving tasks in small group

Using the simulators, students will have to compare, debate and explain to each other their own methodologies for arriving at their answers and will try to reach consensus.

This is when communication and teamwork skills come into play as they will have to agree on only one answer for the question.

The facilitator should drop-in regularly to each break-out room to listen to the discussions and support students’ engagement with the task.

6. Repeat the quiz

I bring all students back to the main room and allow students to answer the same question again.

You’ll be surprised to see the number of correct answers is significantly increased after the round of Peer Instruction!

7. Clarification Session 

Instead of showing the correct answers to the final quiz, I lead the discussion and clarify any points of confusion. 

New to online teaching?

UCL  Arena Centre and Digital Education colleagues are providing remote support on moving to online delivery and alternative forms of assessment.

See their page on getting started with online seminars and group study or visit the Blackboard Collaborate Resource Centre.

To book a virtual drop-in, email the Teaching Continuity mailbox with your preferred time-slot for a Teams call between 10am- 4pm, Monday-Friday.

Digital Education are also hosting staff development sessions specifically on Moodle, Lecturecast, and Blackboard Collaborate – no booking required.

Plans to develop further

I will use this new method in 2020/21 irrespective of whether or not social distancing measures are still in place. 

As part of my secondment at the Arena Centre, I am committed to providing support and training to colleagues interested in implementing this approach for either face-to-face or online delivery.