Flipping the classroom in Meteorology

Dr. Andrew Charlton-Perez, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
a.j.charlton-perez@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2015/16

Overview

12484A flipped learning approach to teaching the part 3 and part 4 module, ‘The Global Circulation’ (MT38A/4YA) in Meteorology was developed and tested. This approach was very successful, encouraging students to apply complex ideas to real-world problems.

Objectives

  • Develop a new set of learning resources which could be used both in a flipped learning or traditional lecture based delivery.
  • Test and evaluate if teaching in a ‘flipped learning’ style improved student engagement and higher-level learning.
  • Implement authentic assessment that models the real-world process of enquiry and peer-feedback.

Context

I’ve been teaching this module for eight years adding some enquiry-based learning elements around four years ago. While it has always received good student feedback, a colleague who moderated my exam scripts last year made me consider if students were as actively engaged with the module as I had previously thought. Looking at student work it was clear that while students could remember and reproduce sophisticated concepts and mathematical derivations, their ability to apply this knowledge to unfamiliar situations was limited.

Implementation

Prior to the course I developed a significant new set of learning resources for the course:

  • 21 short videos (between 4 and 6 minutes long) targeted at difficult concepts.
  • 13 online quizzes of ten questions in Blackboard Learn.
  • 24 new learning activities linked to the research literature which students completed during class. 12 of these activities were supported by simple numerical models developed from scratch in open-source Python code.

The course was delivered to students in Spring 2016. The first time the class met as a group I explained the flipped classroom idea and we negotiated an approach to learning.

Following this first meeting, the class operated in three, three-week units. During the first two weeks of each unit, students studied notes and videos in their own time and then completed the on-line quizzes (with instant feedback) prior to attending the next class. In class, students had a choice of two learning activities. Students worked with each other in small teams and with me to complete the problems, writing notes in a rough lab book.

In the third week of each unit, students prepared a more formal write-up of one of the problems as summative assessment for that unit. In extracting information from their lab book, students needed to think about how to frame the problem by stating a hypothesis they wished to test and put the work they had done in the context of the current research literature.

In class, students exchanged their work and gave peer-feedback to each other, before completing the formal write-up with the chance to ask additional clarification questions.

Impact

The change to a flipped learning style had a transformative impact on the module; Student feedback highlighted the benefits of the investment in a number of ways including that they enjoyed the flipped learning approach:

  • ‘The structure of the module was the best out of my three years of university, flipped classroom should be done more’
  • ‘Always felt engaged with the lectures thanks to a different learning style’
  • ‘… I could run over the tricky concepts in more detail on a 1-to-1 basis with the lecturer. Often the same question applied to others and the class environment allowed group discussions which really enhanced the learning in a relaxed and productive way.’

And that their learning was improved:

  • ‘…brought my attention to active research areas at the front of study – it got me very interested in the exercises.’
  • ‘Class room discussions made me learn more than in a lecture style class’
  • ‘It isn’t an easy module, but it is very rewarding’

Reflections

Teaching in a flipped learning style also had a significant impact on my own enthusiasm for teaching the course because the improvement in student learning and engagement was tangible. The image shows an example of student work produced on a white board by a small group during one of the class sessions, applying ideas from the core course material to a recent research paper. It was extremely exciting to see students applying complex ideas in this way and succeeding in writing high-quality research reports on their work.

The flipped learning approach also challenged me to think more deeply about the material because I needed to produce engaging and manageable problems for students to work on.

It was also very rewarding to see how much students made use of the new teaching materials I developed. By monitoring the use of the videos on Blackboard I could see that typically the videos were viewed between 100 and 150 times by the ten students on the course, indicating how important these videos were for student learning. Based on student feedback, short and engaging videos encouraged repeated viewing. I also included music in the videos, often with an oblique reference to the content and students commented that they enjoyed this element of fun! At the end of the course, students requested the ability to download and keep copies of the videos (this functionality is currently not available in Blackboard).

An important part of producing the videos was to also provide transcripts to ensure they were accessible for all students and this took quite a bit of time in addition to video production (which was relatively straight-forward).

The on-line quizzes had a completion rate of 80% with average marks above 70% for most students. As with the videos, the high level of engagement with these materials suggests that they were of an appropriate length and level of challenge for students (pitched so that a student who had studied the notes and videos could answer most questions without further detailed application).

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