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.

7 thoughts on “Guest post: Flipping?

  1. Hello,
    I agree with your article. I was at ISU 77-81 BS Nuclear Eng and I experienced the same information overload. I retired 2 years ago and now have an online course going all the time.

    Regarding access to the professor’s lecture:
    I had limited access to the professor. Usually in a big lecture hall on a cold winter’s morning. After that it was all teaching assistants. If I could replay that lecture online, then I could pick up the ideas again.

    Right now I am in a MOOC titled “Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity” at the University of Copenhagen. The professor is absolutely one of the best.: Jon Stewart, PhD, Dr theol & phil. Imagine how much it would cost in time and money for me to travel to Copenhagen and enroll in this course!

    John Hughes

  2. I graduated in ’57 and enjoy my retirement. I do appreciate a good lecture and subscribe to the Great Courses and must have 50 of their series. I lack focus and enjoy most all subjects. Iowa State gave me a good life which I now enjoy in retirement way out in San Diego where I worked for General Dynamics for many years.

  3. This is a great article and it illustrates something I have definitely come to learn as I have gone through my years of education at ISU!

    I am currently a graduate student in Mechanical Engineering studying for my masters, and I received my bachelors from ISU in Mechanical Engineering as well. I am a part time graduate student and full time engineer for Danfoss here in Ames.

    Throughout my undergrad I experienced the exact same frustrations that Tom speaks of. In graduate school, most of the classes have an online section offered. This not only helps a working professional like myself get an advanced degree, but it also has improved my learning. Having the ability to press pause and allow a complex idea to digest before moving on is an incredible feature. I typically will not take notes either, because the professor can post exactly what he wrote down in that class period. I can follow along with the notes already printed out! Now I can focus all my brain power on understanding the material. I can replay sections that didn’t make sense the first time, go back and watch a previous lecture to connect ideas etc. The possibility of what to do with the content is really endless and one can tailor it to meet their needs.

    I then use the professor in the same way as described, as a resource to come to with questions after I have seen the material and/or started working through examples. This can really hinge on the professor though. Some are not so excited to spend their office hours with student questions, some are. The ones who embrace students coming to their office after watching lecture make the experience complete.

    Glad to see I am not the only one who thinks that this method has the potential to outperform the standard educational lecture model in many situations!

  4. I am a 1962 Industrial Engineer. I am long retired. My K & E is elegantly framed hanging on the wall in my office. On my desk is a Mac Air, iPhone and iPad.

    I look back and realize that education is a lifetime job. It would help if I had Blog where I could refresh all I learned plus all the new subjects that have come and some gone in the I E curriculum since 1962. Part of my tuition of course.


    Henry Turner ’62

  5. Wow! What a great article! And it certainly doesn’t apply only to engineering. The same redundant, regurgitative style of overloading students with information the ‘traditional way’ can be seen in many a faculty at university. I have had the opportunity to teach two university courses over the years. At my last opportunity, the University’s Teaching Services was promoting the idea of introducing critical thinking into the classroom. While I bought into the idea, I found myself stumped for time to create a new program that would enable me engage the students effectively and ultimately promote learning. Sadly, I retained most of the ‘traditional style’ of teaching which comprised of lectures (posted onlie mostly a day before the class), labs/seminars, assignmentnts, a mid-term exam, a technical paper/project and a final exam. As usuual, the students were overloaded, considering the fact that they had a full compliment of courses to take that semester. I tried to get them to ‘think critically’ by reading scientific publications and decipher relevant, meaningful, critical information from it, but soon discovered they were more interested, quite smartly so, in optimizing their time by focusing on those areas of the course where they could maximize their grades (e.g., final exams that carried the most weight in terms of marks).

    Bottom line – I like the principle of ‘flipping’, and hope I have another opportunity to use it to make a better contribution to the educational system in the future. Brilliant article!

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