Successful Flipped Classes
What happens when you take the lecture out of the classroom and bring the homework in? More student engagement and deeper faculty interaction.
By Stephanie Butler Velegol, Sarah E. Zappe, and Emily Mahoney
A traditional lecture-based classroom can result in bored or disengaged students who retain only some of the information presented. While the use of active learning in the classroom has been shown to increase learning gains, some activities can be time-consuming, reducing the time available for the instructor to cover technical material. How can faculty cover appropriate content while maintaining an active classroom?
One solution is to expose students to new concepts at home through online instructional materials, such as video modules, and then use class time to actively apply these new concepts. This has become known as the flipped (or inverted) model, a term originally introduced in 2000.
Stephanie Butler Velegol has done just this with about 80 students per semester in an Introduction to Environmental Engineering class at Penn State University. During out-of-class time, students watch short videos that cover the technical material in the course. They then complete an online assessment that serves as a “gate check” before coming to class. Students use this online assessment to pose questions or identify areas of confusion. Velegol reviews students’ responses and then uses about 10 minutes of class time to address their specific questions. After that, the students are free to work on their “homework” problems. They work either alone or in groups, raising their hands when they have a question. Stephanie moves around the room answering their questions and teaching “just in time.” Stephanie will occasionally stop the class to address a common question within the class. Sometimes, instead of these problem-solving sessions, class time is used for brainstorming solutions to current environmental engineering challenges, listening to expert speakers, or going on field trips.
Velegol worked with Sarah E. Zappe in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education to develop an evaluation plan for examining the impact of the classroom flip. The Leonhard Center has worked with multiple faculty members in the College of Engineering in the past several years to develop and flip their courses.
Velegol and Zappe worked with Emily Mahoney, an undergraduate Schreyer Honors student at Penn State, to measure the impacts of the flipped classroom. They found that 77 percent of the students prefer this technique for three main reasons: (1) They enjoyed having the flexibility to learn the new concepts on their own time and in their own way, (2) They were able to review the lectures, which helped them focus more, and (3) they valued the interaction with the faculty and students during class time.
One student said: “I really like watching lectures out of class. I am able to watch them at my own pace and can rewind when I lose focus (which I often do). Also, working out problems in class helps me to understand the concepts that I learned out of class better, and it better prepares me for quizzes and exams.”
The authors found that not only did the majority of the students watch the videos; over 65 percent reported re-watching the lectures. The students mainly re-watched the lectures to clear up misunderstandings or when preparing for the quiz or homework. Over 50 percent admitted that they re-watched the videos because they were distracted the first time they watched them.
Based on their research, Velegol, Mahoney, and Zappe have the following suggestions for faculty interested in flipping: (1) Keep the video segments less than 10 minutes, (2) review the material in class for less than 20 minutes, (3) give students time in class to work on real-life and relevant problems or projects that are traditionally done at home, and (4) provide at least weekly assessments to keep the students on track. These should include an online assessment before class time and homework and quizzes in class.
Stephanie Butler Velegol is an instructor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Penn State University, where Sarah E. Zappe is a research associate and director of assessment and instructional support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education. Emily Mahoney earned a B.S. in civil engineering from Penn State and was the teaching intern for this course for four semesters. She currently works for Langan Engineering and Environmental Services.
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