Making sense: digital modelling and flipped classroom

‘Use of technologies in Teaching & Learning’ proved a hot topic for over 40 staff here at Reading who joined us for another session in our popular Teaching & Learning Showcase series, to hear from three colleagues who are employing digital technologies to help their students make sense of complex concepts.

Matthew Nicholls, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Classics, who is chairing all sessions this term, kicked off with a presentation on ‘Integrating digital modelling into student teaching and assessment’. Matthew has been using architectural modeling to build a huge, detailed digital model of the ancient city of Rome as it appeared around AD 315. The model, which has over 9,000 buildings, has a wide range of uses and applications in teaching, learning and research.

But Matthew has been involving students not just as passive recipients, but as developers of such models too – initially through placements under the University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme (UROP) and now also through his new module, Digital Silchester.

Digital modelling was also the focus of Milan Radosavljevic’s talk on ‘Augmented Reality and BIM Lounge’. BIM, which stands for Building Information Modelling involves generating and managing digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility. Milan has been instrumental in setting up a ‘BIM Lounge’ in the School of Construction Management and Engineering here at Reading, where students can experience a variety of software applications and learn to use them in combination for BIM. For example, models created in SketchUp, incidentally the same free modeling tool Matthew uses for his models of Ancient Rome, are brought to life using Augmented Reality and 3D holographic printing – both demonstrated by Milan at the session.

David Nutt, Lecturer in Physical Chemistry, has been ‘Piloting the “flipped classroom”’. He has flipped two of his lecture courses, a second-year course on spectroscopy and a fourth-year course on biomolecular modelling, transforming them into workshops where concepts are put into practice, the students having prepared beforehand with the help of video podcasts and formative Blackboard tests. Back in September, David blogged about his thoughts on ‘Preparing to turn the classroom upside down’ so it was time for an update on how he has bedded down with this new approach to teaching.

On the whole, David has found the experience a positive one: ‘I got a lot more detailed feedback [from the students’ responses to the formative online tests] than I would from just giving a traditional lecture … I’m very pleased with how it went … I’ll definitely use it again next year.’

Despite some negative comments and issues including problems with attendance and student complaints about a change in teaching style on a module they will be examined on, the students, too, have taken to David’s flipped classroom: ‘I had students come up to me in the corridor saying “I’m really enjoying these lectures”’.

Our Teaching & Learning Showcase series continues next week with a session on ‘Closing the feedback loop’. This showcase will highlight how student input has been instrumental in bringing about changes in practice in academic Schools and departments as well as University support services. Crucially, it will underline some examples of how actions taken as a result of student feedback have been communicated back to the students themselves, and the benefits this has had for student engagement in evaluation and feedback processes.

If you’re around, join us on Tuesday 12 February 1–2 pm in Carrington 201. But if you can’t make it, or can’t get enough, watch out for an update later this month.

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