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2016 July 8

Flipped Learning

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:39
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In A call for flipped learning experiences – Casting Out Nines, Robert Talbert has asked for help finding examples of flipped learning outside math and statistics:

Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which first contact with new concepts moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space in the form of structured activity, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.

If you teach a face-to-face in-seat class (not online) then “group space” = “in class” and “individual space” = “outside of class”. (This definition is a recent modification of mine, based on the one at FlippedLearning.org and I may have more to say about it in another post.)

What I’d like to hear from you, is

  • The reasons why you chose to use flipped learning in your class;
  • What students in your class do during the “group space” and the “individual space”; and
  • Any evidence of effectiveness of flipped learning you may have, including anecdotal (student comments, etc.)

Also: I especially would like to hear from people not in mathematics or statistics. Back in November I tweeted out a request very similar to this and got several responses, only one of which was from someone outside of math or statistics. I know that flipped learning is used in a variety of disciplines and I want to showcase that variety as much as I can.

I have not done a lot of “flipped learning” in the most commonly used sense of preparing video lectures that students watch on their own. I did add one video (voiced and acted by my son) on using oscilloscopes to the Applied Electronics course this spring, but that isn’t really “flipped learning”, because the intent is not for the students to watch the video before class, but to watch it in the lab and step through the process of setting up the oscilloscope while running the video.

In general, I don’t find videos a good way to help students learn new concepts—they are too slow and too passive, even worse than lectures, where students can at least ask questions.  Videos are useful for certain limited tasks (such as demonstrating how to use a tool, as long as students can follow along and use the tool at the same time), and I do plan to make a few more this summer for training students in using other lab tools (different model of oscilloscope, function generators, power supplies, multimeters, maybe calipers and micrometers).  The key here is that the students are expected to use the tool as they watch the video—the video is a substitute for me standing beside them guiding them (which is still a better approach, but is hard to scale up—a 13-minute video for setting up the oscilloscope would take me 2.6 hours to do with a class of 24 students, working with a pair of students at a time—with 66 students, it would take over 14 hours of my time).

I do use “flipped learning” in my classes is in a more old-school way: I require students to read the textbook, and often even do homework before I lecture on the subject in class.  (See, for example, my early blog post on live-action math.)

My value as a teacher is enhanced if the students have made some attempt to understand the material before class, so that their questions can be more focussed on the things that confused them. I can then spend time in class on the boundary between what they understand and what they don’t understand, maximizing the learning, rather than on covering stuff that they could have learned in the same amount of time on their own, or on stuff that they don’t understand even after my explanation.  (When students don’t ask enough questions in class, I tend to err on the side of giving them stuff beyond what they understand, rather than re-iterating basics, so questions are super-important to keeping my lectures at the right level.)

To use a textbook for “flipped learning”, it needs to be very well matched to the course—either the course is designed around the book, or the book is designed around the course.  For my applied electronics course, I wanted the course to center around the labs, which need to be carefully ordered to build up design and debugging skills, so I ended up writing my own book.

Students are motivated to read the book, because each chapter provides just-in-time material they need to solve the design problems they are facing in the lab.  Students need to learn something new for each lab, adding it to the material they have already learned.  The old material is used over and over, so that students aren’t tempted into cram-and-forget learning.

Requiring students to read how to do something and work problems on the new concepts before being given a carefully worked example helps them learn how to learn from written references—a skill that all engineers need to develop, but that students often have not developed (particularly not in lower-division biology, chemistry, and physics courses, which tend to spoon-feed them just what they need for the problem at hand, encouraging cram-and-forget strategies) .

Getting explanations and corrections after students have struggled with a new concept helps the explanation sink in—they aren’t just memorizing a meaningless series of steps, but seeing how to get around barriers that they’ve been struggling to bypass. Having to demonstrate a working design and write a design report on it further deepens the learning.  Students have to not only learn the material, but use it and explain how they have used it.

So the electronics course uses some flipped learning, but it would probably work just about as well with no flipped learning.  The key to the course is having design tasks that students are motivated to complete, and that require them to use, demonstrate, and describe the concepts they are learning, and using the same set of concepts over and over in different concepts, until they seem second nature. Having students struggle with some material on their own before lecture makes the lecture time a bit more efficient, but the effect is probably pretty small.

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