Unformatted Attachment Preview
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
experiences in a flipped
An Australian perspective
Jasvir Kaur Nachatar Singh, Swati Nagpal, Susan Inglis and
Received 14 November 2018
Revised 26 February 2019
Accepted 11 March 2019
Department of Management, Sport and Tourism,
College of Arts Social Sciences and Commerce,
La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore undergraduate international students’ experiences in a
flipped classroom environment in an Australian university.
Design/methodology/approach – In total, 32 in-depth interviews were conducted with undergraduate
international students at one Australian university by three researchers.
Findings – The learning experiences of international students in a flipped classroom environment include
increased flexibility in learning; enhanced engagement with content and; more confident participation in faceto-face workshops. In addition, the analysis further illustrates that international students intrinsically develop
soft skills (e.g. increased confidence and communication skills), learning skills (e.g. research and critical
thinking) and employability skills (e.g. time management and accountability).
Research limitations/implications – These findings focus only on the positive learning experiences of
undergraduate international students in one Australian university.
Originality/value – The study contributes to the literature by identifying learning experiences of
undergraduate international students in a flipped classroom environment and the connection with their
development of soft skills, learning skills and employability skills.
Keywords Australia, Flipped classroom, Undergraduate international students
Paper type Research paper
Presently, with the wave of technological innovations, Australian educational institutions
are revolutionising teaching and learning delivery to domestic and international students
through the flipped classroom mode (Graham, 2013). International students are defined by
Paige (1990) as individuals who temporarily reside and study in a country other than their
country of citizenship. There were 621,192 international students in Australia in 2017
(Department of Education and Training, 2018a) and international education generated
revenue of $30.3bn to the economy, an increase of 8.1 per cent from earnings recorded at
$ 28.6bn in 2016–2017 (Department of Education and Training, 2018b). Given that
international education is a profitable business to the Australian economy it is imperative
that we understand how learning from a traditional mode to a flipped learning model
impacts international students’ study experiences in the Australian context. The traditional
mode of learning can be thought of as didactic and transmission-based, where students
passively accept course material through lectures, which is then reinforced in tutorial
classes (Schwartz, 2014). Strayer (2012) defines the flipped classroom approach as moving
the instructional (passive) aspects of the subject content delivery outside of class time,
whilst promoting active student engagement with the content in class time. This includes
case studies, problem solving exercises and role plays, empowering students to be active
learners and to move towards an inquiry-based learning environment (Hmelo-Silver, 2004).
International Journal of
Vol. 33 No. 6, 2019
© Emerald Publishing Limited
The underpinning theoretical understanding for inquiry-based learning is active learning.
Active learning is conceptually defined as “involves students in doing things and thinking
about the things they are doing” (Bonwell and Eison, 1991, p. 2). Active learning is then
linked to a range of learning activities, such as “instructional strategies, teaching methods
and any pedagogical approach that is intended to activate or develop the students’ thinking
in the learning process” (Hung, 2015, p. 82).
There is limited evidence of qualitative studies that have specifically explored
undergraduate international students’ learning experiences in a flipped classroom model
(Abeysekera and Dawson, 2015; Smith and Hill, 2019). This paper is based on a research
study located within an Australian university which focuses on understanding
undergraduate international students’ flipped classroom learning experiences (Wanner
and Palmer, 2015). This study further intends to add value to the international students’
learning experiences by deliberating on the skills development of international students in a
flipped classroom environment.
In the literature, international students’ learning experiences in the traditional mode are often
considered to be negative. For example, scholars (Brown, 2008; Rao, 2017) have categorised
international students as passive learners in the classrooms, mainly due to their low English
levels and different learning styles. Brown (2008) revealed that insufficient comprehension of
lectures, group discussions and daily interactions with other students and staff members can
be due to their limited fluency in English. As a result, international students’ participation in
the classroom is lower than domestic students and they are poor at reading and writing skills.
The latest research by Rao (2017) echoes similar findings, where international students are
deemed as non-participatory in discussions, uncooperative members of groups and lacked
critical thinking and writing skills because of their limited English ability.
It is important to note, however, that not all international students experience learning
difficulties due to their low English proficiency. An Australian study by Robertson et al.
(2000) revealed that different learning styles, such as dependence on rote learning as
opposed to analytical and critical learning, also impedes international students’ learning
ability. Trice and Jin (2007) as well as Zhou and Todman (2009) revealed that international
students are generally satisfied with their learning experience because they often have
positive academic interactions with their lecturers and course advisors.
Understanding how the cultural backgrounds of international students impacts learning
in a western environment is also an important consideration. Strang (2010) explored cultural
factors and learning styles in his study of predictors of higher academic outcomes for 2,500
international business students in an Australian university. One such factor was a
collectivist orientation, which may negatively impact on international student’s ability to
work individually, but make group work easier for them. Central Queensland University
(Owens, 2011) developed a transition programme for international students, orienting them
away from the familiar “teacher-centred practice and examination-only assessment”
towards reflective practice, understanding their own learning preferences and developing
independent as well as collaborative learning skills and strategies. This initiative underlies
the active learning approach where students “in these activating types of learning acquire
more general and reflective competencies such as discussion skills, working in a team,
finding information and working independently” (Vaatstra and De Vries, 2007, p. 338).
Information and communication technologies are revolutionising teaching and learning
approaches around the globe. Flipped classroom learning pays testament to the advances in
technology in higher education teaching and learning scholarship (Graham 2013). Blended
learning is a hybrid between the traditional learning model ( formal lectures, tutorials,
disciplinary skills, field specific theoretical knowledge, concept based) and a technology-enabled
model, to develop transferable skills through mainly applied and experiential learning
(Vaatstra and De Vries, 2007). In addition, the changing needs of “digital native” (Prensky, 2001)
students, who are technologically inclined, expect an engaging educational environment where
they are able to learn through exploration, interaction and collaboration in a way that is
applicable, active and fun, as opposed to the traditional way of teaching which is based on
didactic face-to-face lectures ( Jukes et al., 2010). As a result, learning and teaching in higher
education is increasingly geared towards flipped classroom learning (Sergis et al., 2018).
Extant literature on the flipped classroom approach has mainly focussed on its design
(Halverson et al., 2014; O’Flaherty and Phillips, 2015), comparative studies between
traditional and flipped approach modes (DeLozier and Rhodes, 2017), and domestic student
perceptions and satisfaction with the subject (Butt, 2014). For instance, recent research by
McNally et al. (2017) established that participation by students in class activities improved
when the flipped classroom teaching design uses a theoretical perspective to inform the
teaching, combined with a practical application through integrated assessments. According
to Jensen et al. (2015); however, it is still too early to conclude that the flipped model is
positively related to improving learning outcomes or grades. There is evidence to show that
this approach encourages good learning and teaching, primarily among domestic students,
but not necessarily with international students.
Studies comparing flipped classroom approaches to traditional learning in a face-to-face
context (Foldnes, 2016) have had a specific focus on student satisfaction and learner
preferences (Bliuc et al., 2007). For example, Smyth et al. (2012) claimed that domestic
students preferred learning in a flipped mode, as opposed to a traditional classroom
approach, as they learned more through online activities and face-to-face workshops. In
other studies, however, students chose a traditional method of learning over a flipped
approach due to clarity of instruction face-to-face (Chen and Jones, 2007). Nevertheless, the
overall student perceptions of a flipped approach tends to be more positive than negative
(Güzer and Caner, 2014). The reasons for this, however, are still underexplored.
Research on positive perceptions of students and their satisfaction with the flipped
classroom approach has also been highlighted in the literature. For instance, Smyth et al.
(2012) found that a flipped classroom method benefited students in terms of greater
flexibility and autonomy, as they could access the materials anywhere and at any time.
Likewise, Butt (2014) found that students value a variety of different learning opportunities,
integrating traditional face-to-face learning modes and the online component (Snowball,
2014). McNally et al. (2017) found that older and female students preferred online and
face-to-face activities and discussions in a flipped classroom approach. Students were more
involved with the course content and experienced more extensive interactions with other
students (McNally et al., 2017).
Most studies have explored domestic students’ perceptions of a flipped classroom
approach (Strayer, 2012; Butt, 2014; Peterson, 2016), so there is a gap in understanding
undergraduate international students’ learning experiences of the flipped classroom, which
several scholars have identified (Bliuc et al., 2007; Foldnes, 2016; O’Flaherty and Phillips,
2015). McNally et al. (2017) and McPhee and Pickren (2017) studied international students in
a flipped classroom mode, but these studies also included domestic students as their
research participants. The learning needs of international, as well as domestic students,
must be met to create an inclusive learning and teaching environment, appropriate to all
students. Many Australian Universities are focussing on how to create an environment
where all students have the opportunity to have positive learning experiences, whatever
their background (La Trobe Learning and Teaching, 2014). For international students, this
means recognising the potential impact of prior learning experiences and cultural
backgrounds and providing an educational environment that is safe, non-discriminatory,
flexible and promotes engagement in learning. To support the inclusive learning
environment, active learning enables students to acquire and apply knowledge and
experience independently and also in groups where they are able to analyse and reflect on
problems systematically (Vaatstra and De Vries, 2007). As there are limited studies
exploring undergraduate international students’ experiences studying in a flipped
classroom mode, the research question of this paper is:
RQ1. What are the flipped classroom learning experiences among undergraduate
Since this is an exploratory study (Creswell, 2013), a qualitative approach was adopted for the
following reasons. First, little is known on the lived experiences of undergraduate
international students with regards to their experiences of learning through a flipped delivery.
Second, since the nature of qualitative research is naturalistic and interpretive (Creswell, 2013),
the research is conducted in “natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret
phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” (Denzin and Lincoln, 2012, p. 3).
Based on the nature of this exploratory study, a semi-structured interview was chosen as a
single method to elicit experiences, feelings, beliefs, thoughts and perceptions of international
students (Tharenou et al., 2007). This methodology is conducive to investigate the experiences
and perceptions of undergraduate international students in a flipped classroom environment.
We collected data from 32 undergraduate international students (12 males and 20 females)
currently studying at an Australian university with a high percentage of international
students. The University’s International Office emailed all undergraduate international
students inviting them to participate in this study, and invitations were concurrently placed
on university campus notice boards. Students recruited were currently enroled in
undergraduate programmes, had attended at least one flipped subject and were willing to
share their academic experiences. Further, research participants were also selected using the
snowball sampling technique, as proposed by Minichiello et al. (2008), with the initial
research participants asked to identify further research participants. There were 12
international students from the STEM disciplines and the remainder of the students were
from humanities, business, accounting, law, tourism and communication. Table I outlines
the demographic details of the undergraduate international students who participated in
this research. The researchers ensured strict adherence to the ethical elements of research
stipulated by the University’s ethics committee.
We use codes in this paper to protect the identity of the research participants: UIS for
undergraduate international student, followed by the interview number (i.e. UIS 1, UIS 2, etc.).
Semi-structured in-depth interviews of 11–46 min duration were conducted between May
2017 and August 2017. All interviews were conducted in English on university premises
and were audio-taped with a digital voice recorder and subsequently transcribed using a
professional transcription service.
This study sought to interpret the participants’ lived social experiences by analysing their
interview information using Van Manen’s (1990) method of thematic analysis. This method
was used as it represents one of the most robust methods, focusing on “understanding the
meaning of experience (by searching for themes) through greater interpretative engagement
with the data” (Langdridge, 2007).
Length of Candidature
No. of UIS
To understand the lived experiences of research participants, an inductive research
approach was adopted. Analysis commenced with coding the data, collating codes into
possible themes and then generating a thematic map (Braun and Clarke, 2006). Upon
reading the transcripts to understand the depth and breadth of the content, the first author
started the coding process manually, choosing the shortest and then longer transcripts to
assign keywords or phrases that described what the participant meant (Tesch, 1990) on the
right-hand margin. Then, van Manen’s (1990) second approach was employed to analyse the
data, that is, the selective reading or highlighting approach, to see which phrases
represented the phenomenon under investigation. While coding, the author asked van
Manen’s question “What statement(s) or phrases(s) seem particularly essential or revealing
about the phenomenon or experience being described” (1990, p. 93).
The next step was to group similar and redundant codes to reduce the list to a more
manageable number (Braun and Clarke, 2006; Creswell, 2008). The process of thematic
analysis is an iterative process (Braun and Clarke, 2006) as opposed to a linear process.
The first author reviewed the list and returned to the data to see if any new codes emerged
(Creswell, 2008; Tesch, 1990). The first author highlighted the quotes which supported the
codes (Creswell, 2008; Tesch, 1990) with different coloured highlighters and reduced the codes
to themes which answered the research question of this paper. In addition, the other authors
were also involved in analysing, coding and interpreting the data, thereby increasing the
reliability of the data (Tharenou et al., 2007). Since the analysis was conducted manually, the
researchers delibierated on several ocasions and reached an agreement of the most common
codes and themes that were prevalent in the analysis of the findings.
Findings and discussion
There were three key areas of learning experiences in a flipped classroom approach among
undergraduate international students; flexibility in learning; engagement with online
materials and participation in face-to-face workshops.
Flexibility in learning
A flipped classroom is where students are able to pre-engage with online material before
attending the face-to-face workshops/laboratory and then undertake post-workshop/lab
activities, such as assessed or unassessed quizzes and/or assignments (Strayer, 2012).
Undergraduate international students in this research study were motivated to learn online
when they could read documents, listen to podcasts, undertake quizzes and engage in forum
discussions in their own time. A few students highlighted this:
The best is that it is pre-recorded, I can access it any time, I can do it at my own convenience as I
can read the document on my own later at any time I want. (UIS 1)
I could do it in my own time. If I was tired, if I have to work, if I have to attend lectures, you just
don’t get things done in traditional way of learning. But in blended learning environment, you can
just have a rest and do it in your own time. I think that is very helpful. (UIS 20)
Apart from managing time between studies and travel, many international students are also
juggling their time between work and studies. In Australia, international students often
work part time to support themselves financially (Forbes-Mewett ...