College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Guest post: Flipping?

Brumm Nov 2011Tom Brumm is the professor-in-charge of Engineering-LAS Online Learning. In this post, he talks about a different way of teaching coursework called flipping. 

Good teaching can take many forms. There are many ways to promote student learning and not one method is appropriate nor effective for all situations. Let me share with you a method of teaching that I occasionally experienced in undergraduate education that perhaps wasn’t the best.

I was enrolled in one of my first in-depth engineering undergraduate courses. The professor would lecture three times a week for 50 minutes. All of us in the class studiously wrote down everything the instructor did on the board and struggled to keep up with how quickly the professor presented material. If there was time for questions, it was usually only a few minutes toward the end of a given class, and frankly, my head was spinning with so much new and detailed information that I wasn’t even sure what to ask, much less to have the courage to ask it. At the end of class, we were assigned homework, generally a lot of problems in the book, due at the beginning of the next class.

The evening before the next class period, I’d start on that homework. By about midnight, I got stuck on a few problems, unable to proceed because I didn’t understand the concept presented in class. The book was often just as cryptic as my notes. Amidst my frustration, I’d finish the homework as best I could and handed it in the next day. Often there was little time for questions about the homework at the beginning of class (there was a lot material to cover that class period). The whole cycle then repeated itself – lecture, note taking, assignment, frustration, submit, repeat. I passed the class, but I’m not sure how much I really learned.

Flipping the course is the opposite of the lecture model I just described. Flipping involves taking the information delivery part of the class (the traditional lecture) and putting it online, to be done by the students before they come to class. Then students do the homework (or other learning activities) in class, where the content expert (professor) is there to guide them and answer the questions I never had the opportunity or understanding to ask.

Technology enables us to put the content online in a way that is rich and interesting, a much better learning experience than the boring lectures I sometimes sat through, and as a professor, unfortunately sometimes deliver. And we faculty need to be honest with ourselves – we are not the source of information that we used to be. The same information that we used to meter out to our students in our lectures is now available to anyone with an Internet connection. Our real value as faculty is to guide our students to sort through the deluge of information available to them and help them to learn how to effectively use that information.

All across the ISU campus, and within the College of Engineering, we are experimenting with and implementing the flipped classroom. Initial feedback is that student learning is improved. Flipped pedagogy better matches what we know about student learning styles. Flipping is not necessarily the right way to teach in all situations, but it is another approach that faculty can learn to improve student learning.