To Interact or Not To Interact: What’s the Flipping Difference?!?

Interaction in face-to-face classrooms can differ immensely from online courses, especially as you move along the continuum from e-enhanced to e-focused to e-intensive.  The four different types of interaction are:

Student – Student,

Student – Instructor,

Student – Content,

Student – Technology.

The intructional media and pedagogical techniques used by instructors in traditional vs. online courses determines the types of interactions that are present in each environment (Thurmond & Wambach, 2004).  I believe the level and meaningfulness of all interactions is also dependent upon the strategies and tools used by the instructor.

The traditional classroom offers a very one-sided experience: students sit, listen, and take notes while the instructor (content expert) delivers the information. Besides a few interjections or questions, student-instructor (S-I) and student-student (S-S) interaction is very limited. I would also suggest that student-content (S-C) interaction is limited as it consists solely of taking in what they can from the lecture and attempting to jot notes and remember information. Then students are expected to go home and complete readings and assignments, completely isolated. There is also limited or no opportunity for interaction with technology (S-T).

The Flipped Classroom, on the other hand, is a very student-centered approach to instruction. For those who haven’t investigated the Flipped Classroom yet: students take the time at home to learn the course content via readings and videos and class time is used for collaboration, clarification, and activities. It brings engagement to a whole other level.  Students have various levels of interaction at all stages of the course. Instruction begins at home when students are engaging with the content (S-C) and technology (S-T) by viewing content videos. When they come to class, they are interacting with other students (S-S), the instructor (S-I), and the content (S-C) as they participate in activities, complete assignments with guidance, ask questions, review material, do presentations, debates, the list of possibilities goes on.  The Flipped Classroom provides instructors with the opportunity to create a dynamic and engaging learning environment for students that increases interaction in all four areas.

The Teaching Online Program through UofC provided a great resource summarizing the four types of interactions in online courses (S-S, S-I, S-C, S-T) as well as some tools and strategies instructors can use to create each type of interaction in their online learning environment. It can be found here:  I wanted to share this resource with anyone interested in an e-enhanced learning environment like the Flipped Classroom, or increasing student engagement in their e-focused classroom.


Magadan, J. (2010). 4 Types of Interaction. For PC CTLT. Retrieved from:

Thurmond, V., Wambach, K. (2004). Understanding interactions in distance education: a review of the literature. International Journal or Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, 1(1). Retrieved from:

5 thoughts on “To Interact or Not To Interact: What’s the Flipping Difference?!?

  1. Hello Stephanie,

    Your observation of “I believe the level and meaningfulness of all interactions is also dependent upon the strategies and tools used by the instructor.” is one that I agree whole heartedly with. We can do all of the research about how to help students move meaningfully through the learning process, but ultimately, it is the instructor that helps to bring a course alive.

    I am also investigating the flipped classroom idea, I think it holds promise in some respects, but it also assumes that students have the time and resources outside of class time to complete the pre-learning activities, even if they are multi-media in nature. As a former junior high teacher in a traditional environment, I tried to contain everything I needed the students to do within my class time. In the e-Learning environment I have been trying to use methods of the flipped classroom in my weekly synchronous online instruction, but again, not all students do the pre-class learning ativites which then slows the class down and the learning objectives for the class go unfulfilled. I don’t think there are simple answers to any problems in education, but I do believe that at the heart of a dynamic class, whether it is in the traditional environment or the e-Learning environment, that it is the skill and dedication of the instructor that is the most impactful.

    • Hi Andrea,

      You bring up some good points. It can be difficult for some students to complete activities outside of class, mainly if they don’t have the same access to technology as others. However, I feel that most students are expected to spend some time doing homework. We traditionally see homework as assignments or projects. In the flipped classroom, it’s reviewing content.

      I work in higher education so I think the flipped classroom is a particularly powerful way of teaching students. It allows in class time to be used for collaboration and discussion to really allow students to engage with the content and have a deeper understanding of what is being taught.

      But, no matter what the learning environment, it is the instructor that makes the choices re: content, structure, assessments, etc. and has the biggest impact on how students will learn.


  2. Hi Stephanie (& Andrea),

    Some really interesting research is presented here that has a lot of relevance to the flipped classroom: Basically, students learn best if they do hands on activities before reading/study. The research is good (by education research standards) and shows a marked increase in achievement. So some people are now talking a out flipping the flipped classroom. Honestly? I think it’s just good to activate prior knowledge and allow students to construct initial schema for the information they will be learning.

    I still like the idea of pushing the time of reading/lecture out of my classroom – but I agree that the flipped classroom assumes an out of classroom commitment that may not be possible for students. I also often question if watching video lecture is the best way to have students spend time online.


    • Hi Lisa,

      Watching a video online is not the only way to have students take in content before class. Students can read, do activities, simulations, view presentations. Videos are likely the most common and readily available method, but there are other options to provide variety.

      I like your comment about activating prior knowledge. I think that’s the biggest benefit of the flipped classroom. Reinforcement will help with knowledge retention and deeper learning. Also, students will have knowledge of the topic before class so they can ask relevant questions during face to face time instead of going home with questions and not having anyone to answer them.


  3. This is an excellent post Steph. Thanks for sharing the resource from the Teaching Online program. This provides a different “lens” through which to view a student-centred approach to our work with learners. This lends credibility to the “Flipped Classroom” scenario where the comfortable once a week three hour classroom session is replaced by a strategy that takes into consideration the four types of interaction. Your last post was well done as well. You reference appropriate literature to support your ideas.

    Nice work!


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