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Rob flips the classroom

April 7, 2017
By Will Tomer'17

Flippin: Rob L. 

Professor of Anthropology and History Rob LaFleur has found innumerable ways to ingrain himself into the fabric of Beloit College. Well known among the student body for his lively in-class persona, Rob is always striving to find new, stimulating ways to bring his research interests —which principally center around his anthropological fieldwork in China — into the classroom. In the past, he has had students work with collaborators as far afield as Doylestown, Pa., in order to help the small town’s historical society. He has also used Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” to explain the perfect way to construct an essay. His latest method? “Flipping the classroom.”

A series of 24 lectures recorded by Rob for the distinguished Great Courses series were recently released to substantial praise. The lectures are focused on a long time research interest of Rob — influential Chinese philosopher Confucius and his famous book, the Analects. For the lectures,Rob created his own translation of the Analects, completing about half of the text. He hopes to translate the whole text soon. But more importantly for Rob, the opportunity with the Great Courses gave him a chance to experiment in the classroom.

 Rob believes that Confucius and his writings have numerous present-day applications, with his aphorisms shedding light on many contemporary queries and quandaries. Rob says that, in China, most students will only examine a handful of passages from Confucius’ Analects. Most Americans have not studied any of them. As such, the Analects offer a relatively untapped fount of information and philosophy for students.

By having students view the lectures outside of class, Rob has opened the door for more thorough and in-depth discussions with his classes. “The lecture series started from my research and then I decided to teach the course in order to prepare for the lecture series. These lectures really exemplify, probably better than anything I’ve done before, the idea that teaching informs research and research informs teaching,” he says. “So it is a big step forward if scholars start to realize that teaching can inform their research.”