From a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom

Dr Karsten O. Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering
k.o.lundqvist@reading.ac.uk
Year(s) of activity: 2013-14

Overview

6477A flipped classroom approach was trialed for the Part Two Java module (SE2JA11) taught in the School of Systems Engineering. 

Objectives

  • Encourage students on the module to become deep-level learners, as they analyse, evaluate and create, rather than simply remembering and understanding.
  • Introduce a flexible teaching and learning style that students will find enjoyable.
  • Introduce flexibility that allows students to manage their time in a better way, giving them more opportunities to study the materials in a deeper manner.
  • Improve attendance and engagement with practicals.

Implementation

In the summer of 2013 videos were created for the module.  New slides to present the content were designed, with the fonts improved to make them easier to read on a computer screen.  While the content was based on that of the old slides that were available to students, practical screencasts were introduced in the video, whereby the students can see how the code behaves and how they are supposed to develop it practically.  Some slides were altered so that they presented difficult concepts in more easily understood ways, such as through use of analogies to the restaurant business and the automobile industry.

Feedback and feedforward videos were introduced to explain the progress through the course.  One of the feedforward videos was used to make the students aware of the object-orient programming (OOP) nature of the code, and that the weekly practicals would be building upon previous material.  Students were told that they could use the weekly practicals as a gauge to measure if they had problems with OOP, and should ask the teaching staff for help.

The videos were created using Camtasia, an tool for creating videos and screencasts from webcams and computer screens.  The software suite also has simple post-production tools, which allowed zooming to ensure that the small text of development environments could be viewed easily.  These videos were then embedded as items on the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment.  Uploading the videos to a streaming service external to the University was considered, but was decided against in order to create a classroom feeling to the videos.

The flipped classroom method generally recommends that videos be simply bite-sized chunks of around 4 to 6 minutes long.  Several of the videos created for the module, however, were over 1 hour long, as a result of the amount of material that needed too be covered, the adherence to the lecturing paradigm, and the lack of time available to transform the material as much as would have been necessary in order to make 6 to 20 minute videos.

Impact

To obtain feedback from the students, two voluntary bespoke surveys were shared with the students, one available in weeks 2-3 of the Autumn Term, and one available in week 1 of the Spring Term. The first survey showed that 84% of students preferred videos over lectures, and that only 4% of students did not expect to watch the videos more than once. In the second survey, 100% of students now preferred videos to lectures, and 100% expected to watch the videos more than once.

Reflections

Flipping the classroom has been of great benefit. As the act of flipping cannot just be a case of replicating old teaching methods digitally, it promotes reflection on course content and teaching methods, and requires thorough planning. The initial investment pays off in the long term as the teaching materials produced can be reused, not only from year to year, but between different modules that have some overlapping content. While the creation of teaching materials may consume more time than the traditional delivery of content, it is flexible as it can be done when time allows, and does not require being present at an appointed time and location.

Despite concerns about the length of the videos, on the whole students expressed satisfaction about this.  The general response was that students expected the videos to be long, as they were replacing 2 hour lectures, and therefore students would feel cheated if the videos were not long and with a lot of content.  While it was agreed that students might benefit from having chapters within the videos to make them easier to search, none wanted the videos to be shorter.

In order to improve how the module is taught using the flipped classroom model in the future, the following recommendations were made:

  • Include a more self-regulated learning approach to the coursework, allowing students more flexibility over the weeks, and removing some of the summative pressures that might induce surface-level learning.
  • Change the module so that 100% of assessment is carried out through coursework. This should make students focus more on the practical work throughout the year, and help them focus more on the relevant material and learning it in a deeper way.
  • Introduce a level of self-regulated learning to the practicals, by introducing a logbook instead of weekly sign-off sheets. Students will need a number of signatures in their logbook to get 10% of their practical marks. The signatures will be given after a short formative discussion of progress provifnng useful feedback and suggestions of further work.

Follow up

The flipped classroom approach continues to be used for the teaching of SE2JA11, and has now been introduced for other modules within the School of Systems Engineering. In particular, videos on general coding theory are able to be utilised within many modules. Dr Lundqvist was able to draw upon the experience of flipping the classroom when creating the Open Online Course Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game.

The recommendations generated by the pilot year have been carried out, with the exception of the introduction of a logbook, which proved impractical. While students still complete weekly sign-off sheets, the sheets are now 50% questions on the video, to ensure that students have viewed the videos and retained the information, and 50% questions on progress in their own learning, with the intention that students will reflect upon their own learning, and staff will be aware of students who are having difficulties.

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