We are BILT, and we're here to provide information and resources to promote educational excellence in the University and beyond. This is our blog site, where you can also find resources, videos and our discussion forum!
In this session we will look at bringing active learning to lectures through the use of flipping content. What is the evidence that flipped learning actually works? We will look at an example of flipped sessions conducted with a class of 160 students in the University of Bristol. Those students then do interactive small group work together and with the lecturer to help make the lecture a student-led experience. We shall explore what worked well and the pitfalls and lessons learned before moving on to thinking about how you can bring the flipped format to your lectures to increase engagement from students.
The session will include a talk, followed by an opportunity for participants to share ideas and discuss how they might be able to use some of the ideas in their own teaching.
Paul is a Professorial Teaching Fellow in the School of Chemistry and a Senior Academic Developer.
I love lecturing. It’s awesome. I get that nervous excitement beforehand,
like an actor or musician about to perform – it fires up my imagination – I
think of new ways to say the same old thing. And then there is the lecture
itself. The whoops of joy as I derive the equation for timber design – the
ohhhs and ahhhs as it looks like my worked example has gone horribly wrong only
for me to save it at the last minute with a daring leap of engineering logic
(change the initial assumptions and post rationalising). And then there is the
cheering – the standing ovation – as 2 hours later we come in to land. Everyone
having been on an emotional rollercoaster.
Now I know what you are thinking, you think I am joking, but I am not
(in fact I very rarely joke as I have a below average sense of humour – as my
children like to regularly remind me). I am exaggerating – of course – but in
my mind the above is how a perfect timber lecture would go.
And so, when I say “I am not lecturing on my timber unit this year”, it
is with a heavy heart – and it’s important that you know that this was a hard
decision for me to make, a costly one.
But I have another agenda, a more important one, I really want my
students to learn about timber. I believe that the world needs more people who
can design not just with steel and concrete – that we need engineers who can do
more than just replicate the designs of the past – we need engineers fit for
the future who can design with more materials. And however much I love
lecturing I believe that by flipping the teaching my students will learn more.
Now let’s be clear. There is nothing new about flipped teaching. Back in
1997 when I was a green haired undergraduate studying Civil Engineering I
decided to take an option on the philosophy of science. Every week we were
required to read a book. And every week we would come not for a lecture but for
a debate. Facilitated and led by our ‘lecturer’. The whole thing worked really
well. Every week the chapter of the book would convince me that this was indeed
the ‘philosophy of science’ only for this philosophical viewpoint to be slowly
ripped to shreds over the course of an hours discussion and leaving me
wondering why I had been so foolish to believe it in the first place? I would
then read the next chapter, the next idea, which would respond to all the
arguments from the discussion we had in class, only for that approach to be
similarly reduced to rubble in the next discussion. Flipped teaching goes back
way further than my own education. And yet in engineering it happens very
rarely. We love to lecture.
But lectures are not the best way for people to learn. And so, this year,
in ‘the office’ there are no lectures. No derivations. Instead I have gone for
a different approach. But before I break this down maybe it would be helpful
for me to describe my old approach. It goes like this:
Part 1– Context
Talk about some projects that relate to the topic for this week for
about 20 minutes. This achieves a number of things: It gives the learning some
context – students can see why they are doing it. It also gives me, as their
teacher, credibility – I have done it. Finally it gives them some technical
language and understanding of why we do what we do – it helps them join the
‘community of practice’.
Part 2 – Theory
Next I reach for the notes. Personally I don’t like to use powerpoint
for this I proffer to use a stack of paper, a pencil, and a visualiser and I
will explain the theory of what we are doing – effectively teaching them what
is already written in the notes. This will typically take place as two blocks
of 20 minutes.
Part 3 – Example
Once the technical content has been delivered I will talk through a real
example by doing it on the board. This will normally last about 20 minutes. I
generally make these up on the spot – asking students for numbers. This way I
have to think about what I am doing and as a result I find it easier to explain
my thought process to students as I go through the example – it also slows me
down (a good thing). But this also has a negative effect, for I find writing
things down hard. I will say one thing and my hand will write something
different. It used to make maths exams tricky as I would regularly think the
right process but write down the wrong number, similarly for students my
mistakes can be confusing.
Part 4 –
Application and conversation
Students are set a number of problems to work through where they build
up and extend their understanding of the course materials: – This occurs both
in example classes, where I am able to answer questions and discuss the content
with them. But also outside of the taught time as students work on their own.
This year I have used the same model in many regards but rather than
deliver parts 1-3 in a lecture with part 4 predominantly happening elsewhere I
have flipped it (hence the term
flipped teaching) so part 4 happens in my teaching environment with parts 2 and
3 occurring elsewhere.
So this is how it (hopefully) works:
Part 1 – Context
I no longer give a 20 minute talk on projects at the start of each week.
Instead I have done a few different things:
have covered the walls with pictures of real projects – to give them a sense of
what they are working towards
have included case studies and inspiring photos of projects in the course notes
have invited a number of practioners in to give lunch time talks (we used to do
these when I was a practicing engineer) on real projects
I have authored books on timber, which I hope gives me credibility without having
to talk about my projects
Part 2 – Theory
mentioned in episode 2
I have slowly built up a set of notes which are highly detailed over the last 8
years. So now, rather than effectively read them to the students (and anyone
who has witnessed me reading a bedtime story will know that that is a lot more
engaging than it sounds – see my BoB lecture for evidence)
I let them read them to themselves. It’s that simple.
week I have a list of pre-reading which has been there since before the course
began so that student can read it in their own time for the whole course.
Part 3 – Example
the biggest change for me this year has been that I have created a series of
worked example videos. These go through the core concepts for each week. There
are many advantages to this approach (rather than doing it live in class)
students can pause – rewind – re-watch – jump ahead to where they are stuck.
And more importantly I don’t make mistakes! The casual feedback from students
has been very positive. The down side is that each 15 minute example takes
about 1-2 hours to produce. And I need to find a silent location with no
interruptions to make them in.
Part 4 – Application and conversation
brings us to the purpose of all of this. By enabling students to learn about
the subject for each week before they arrive at ‘the office’, we can use the working
day to apply the information. I have created 4 projects which they will work on
over the course of 10 weeks. Each designed to challenge them in a different
way. Each designed to build up their engineering understanding. I have also
provided a map to show how everything links together.
run the office for two weeks it really seems to be going well. Students come
ready to learn. As I sit and work on my own projects I listen to the buzz in
the room. The hum of conversation. And much of it is around the technical
details of timber design. The students are discussing their work together. Working
together. And I do get a good and steady stream of questions – but good
questions. No one yet has asked me to give a mini lecture. So whilst there is
still a long way to go (8 weeks) at this stage it feels like it is working.
Why don’t we all do it
the obvious question is, why doesn’t everyone do this? The honest answer is for
me that it is so much more work. I can see that in the long run, once it is up
and running, it will be less work. But if you are time strapped now it is so
hard to invest in the future – despite the reward.
also fear it is more work for students. Not that they will spend longer working
– but that it feels harder. That lectures seem easy – information being
delivered in accessible bite size chunks and that somehow this is more
challenging. And coupled with this, I fear that they won’t love it as much as
they love my lectures – that my ratings will drop!
challenge is space. Physical space. Working in collaborative groups – with easy
circulation and easy access for students and staff to ask question – takes up
more space than lines of desks all looking towards the screen. I have been
lucky in that I have got a small enough group (36) where it works. But I also
understand just how big the space challenge is.
a little bit of me is missing the excitement of standing up and giving a