Flipping the classroom: Student engagement soars in new approach

After a decade of teaching Fluid Mechanics, one would think a professor with a well-functioning course would be content to continue the instructional routine. Not Alex Horner-Devine.

Horner-Devine, associate professor of hydrology and hydrodynamics, wanted to experiment with altering the delivery of his CEE 347 Fluid Mechanics class, bringing a portion online and incorporating new tools inside and out of the classroom.

Anonymous Account | Creative Commons 2.0

Anonymous Account | Creative Commons 2.0

Called “flipping a class,” the core idea is to invert the traditional instructional approach: lectures and material that used to be covered during lecture are now accessed at home via video in advance of class. Students then use class time to perform learning activities and engage in collaborative learning.

There are many ways to flip a class, and Horner-Devine chose what he called a “partial” flip. Taking specific aim at derivations, he sought to improve the delivery and understanding of applications and consequences by providing derivations in a pre-recorded video. Students watched the video the day prior to class and completed a straightforward comprehension quiz attached to the video. Lecture then began with “clicker-style” questions, answered by mobile device, to test students’ understanding of the material.

The clicker questions were eye-opening for both Horner-Devine and the students. With the whole class now participating beyond the usual vocal minority, not only can the instructor better gauge the class’ comprehension, but students can now see their understanding.

“When the results are displayed the students get immediate feedback about whether they understood key concepts and also whether the rest of the class did,” said Horner-Devine. “That is a greater motivation to make sure you get the story straight.”

Working in pairs, the questions also allowed for peer learning and a greater level of fun and engagement. Horner-Devine even threw in some Seahawks-related questions during this winter quarter class.

Horner-Devine found the outcome far more successful than he anticipated.

“Students were much more curious about the details of the derivations and engaged in the subsequent discussion of the derivations than in previous years,” said Horner-Devine. “Letting students digest the derivations on their own time and decoupling that process from our discussion in lecture meant that the discussion wasn’t bogged down by the necessary drudgery of the mathematical derivation.”

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