Improving Student Learning Outcomes: A Comparative Study of a Traditional and a Flipped Classroom with Differentiated Instruction to Engage Students and Support Active Learning in Two Doctoral Qualitative Research Methods Courses

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 16–17, 2018

Stetson University
Miami, Florida


This article shares the results of a 2016-2017 study at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) on teaching Qualitative Research Methods to doctoral students in Educational Leadership and Higher Education. The results were presented in a poster session at the Faculty Resource Network’s 2018 National Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

In the Spring of 2016, after the first two weeks of the course, the researcher found that the graduate students were not able to grasp the content as well as they had in the previous 15 years. Students reported feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the assignments. In the past few years, the department had experienced a significant increase in the number of international students whose native language was not English. During this semester, a third of the students were international, and, as a group, they tended to have the greatest difficulty in the Qualitative Research Methods course. Modifications included assignments broken up into smaller chunks, study groups, the provision of online resources, and the researcher dedicating 8 hours every week, in addition to regular office hours, to meet one-on-one with students who needed additional assistance.

The poster presented by the researcher represents a piece of a larger SoTL research study grant. It is one of only three published studies on flipping a graduate course in the nation. The guiding research question for this poster session was: How do the elements of a flipped qualitative research methods classroom with differentiated instruction influence academic performance through active learning and greater student engagement?


CAU is a single, comprehensive, urban, private, coeducational, United Methodist-affiliated Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the United States. The campus has 38 areas of study in four major schools, including arts and sciences, business, education, and social work. The university also has an award-winning Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development, and enjoys more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students of diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. CAU offers certificate, professional, and degree programs from BA/BS to EdD/PhD. The president of CAU, Ronald A. Johnson, became the fourth person to hold that position on July 1, 2015. CAU is one of five schools that compose the Atlanta University Center. The other four schools are Spelman College, Morehouse College, the Interdenominational Theological Center, and the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Dr. Mary Hooper, associate vice president of online learning and continuing education, and Dr. Markeshia Henderson, director of the Center for Innovative Teaching, Learning and Engagement, have generously provided their time and talents for the benefit of faculty interested in educational technology.  Tailor-made teaching and learning technology workshops are available for faculty at various stages of development. Weeklong faculty training is offered in the summer, with shorter training offered throughout the year. As members of one of the Faculty Resource Network (FRN) participating institutions, faculty can write proposals to attend professional development seminars, symposia, conferences, and summer residencies. This researcher has benefitted from these opportunities for the past few years, including attending the 2018 Symposium.

Comparative Descriptive Qualitative Case Study

The 4 intentional elements were: 1) a Student Learning Community; 2) variety of Media Resources with visual examples; 3) better alignment of the Mini Qualitative Research Study to the actual department Dissertation chapters and; 4) the chapter quizzes graded for completion only, rather than content in an effort to prepare the students for the next course to increase engagement and academic performance.

Research Methods

The researcher flipped the classroom to utilize class time for hands-on group work to better engage students, and to model what students must master on their own. The methods implemented included:

  1. Providing a learning community for students on a platform they were already familiar with, such as Facebook Live, where they could work together on a qualitative research project before being required to do their own major study. This enabled them to connect with each other and share resources, getting them more engaged and helping support their learning;
  2. Developing and borrowing from the web a variety of videos and other media clips that provided clear visual examples, from the start to the finish of a qualitative study, to serve as a model for their work;
  3. Revising the structure of the course to better align with the actual dissertation in the academic program, so students could focus on exactly what they were expected to do after course completion, when they became doctoral candidates;
  4. And reviewing and revising the point structure of the chapter quizzes, and grading for completion only, rather than content. In the Spring 2017 semester, the researcher used the quizzes to introduce students to what was going to be taught in the next class, so they were better prepared for greater engagement in discussion.


Over the two semesters, both instructional methodologies—traditional and flipped—resulted in improved student performance. However, the level of academic improvement in the flipped classroom with differentiated instruction showed a nearly 25% gain over the traditional classroom. Furthermore, the quality of engagement in the flipped classroom learning community reported greater opportunity for active learning, critical thinking, and problem solving, empowering students to become self-directed learners. Media resources, such as video lessons, Canvas, Skype, and Facebook Live, were reported as favorite tools.

The researcher thanks Drs. Barbara Hill, Mary Hooper, and Markeshia Henderson and Mr. Omar Harbison for their support of the researcher’s work in the development of the SoTL proposal for this study.

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Spring 2019: Transforming Teaching Through Active Learning