College of Engineering Data Shows Successful Impact of Flipped Classrooms

In the flipped classroom, there are more opportunities for student-faculty interaction
In the flipped classroom, there are more opportunities for student-faculty interaction.

Data from Villanova University's College of Engineering shows that flipped classrooms have positively impacted student performance. Flipped classrooms were introduced in four introductory sophomore engineering courses last academic year at Villanova, and the College is expanding that to eight classes for the fall of 2014.

“Achieving academic distinction by being recognized as a leading engineering college in the transformation of engineering education in the U.S.,” has long been the vision of Gary A. Gabriele, PhD, Drosdick Endowed Dean, Villanova University College of Engineering. That transformative vision calls for classroom and lab experiences that emphasize student responsibility for their learning with faculty focused on mentoring, as well as increased opportunities for students to experience the professional practice of engineering. The College of Engineering took a major step toward a new approach to classroom learning by introducing the flipped classroom model.

What Is a Flipped Classroom?

The flipped classroom, also known as the inverted classroom, shifts the focus from one-directional lectures filled with facts, theories and equations, to one that is problem-based, real-world oriented and experiential. In a flipped classroom, basic knowledge is covered outside of class time. Instructors may record lecture material and provide downloadable notes or visuals, and students are accountable for reviewing the material on their own time. Not only does this require students to take responsibility for their own learning, but it frees up valuable class time for inquiry based tasks and greater interaction between faculty and students.

The College of Engineering Experiment

In 2013–2014, the College flipped four fundamental courses. Introduction to Electronics and Analog Electronics (Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Statics and Solid Mechanics (Mechanical) both chose to introduce the inverted approach in specific course modules, while Mechanics I (Civil Engineering) and Thermodynamics II (Chemical Engineering) fully inverted their classes for the entire semester.

A complete transformation was found to be more effective, according to Randy Weinstein, PhD, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. “The inverted classroom should be introduced at the very beginning of a course and maintained throughout so students can adjust to a new style of learning,” he explains. And, it is an adjustment. Students initially grumble about what they perceive to be additional work, but ultimately acknowledge that they learn more in the process, and the work load is just shifted, not increased substantially. Instructors also are hesitant about the new approach. “Faculty are tentative because it requires extra time to prepare and record material. They also are concerned that their courses will receive lower ratings from students because they have to work harder,” says Dr. Weinstein. “They question whether students are really learning more or more effectively,” he adds. To that question, Dr. Weinstein answers “yes.”

For his own Thermodynamics II course, Dr. Weinstein compared course and teacher survey responses averaged from five sections between fall 2010–2012 (traditional lectures), to those averaged from two sections in fall 2013 (flipped). When asked a series of more than 20 survey questions gauging course value, quality of teaching and course material, the inverted classroom outscored or equaled the score of the traditional approach. In no case did the inverted classroom result in a lower score.

Most importantly, impressive results were seen in student grades and enhanced material comprehension. The chart below indicates that students whose grades represented the bottom third of the class average, showed the greatest improvement in the flipped classroom (nearly a 7 percent increase). The class average as a whole increased more than 2 percent.

STUDENT GRADES

TRADITIONAL

INVERTED

Class avg.

79.34

82.02

Top 1/3 class avg.

89.21

89.37

Bottom 1/3 class avg.

67.63

74.52

 

With the use of technology, the course instructor is able to determine whether students are participating in the online learning that is required of them. The number of views per day, and even the hour at which they’re most engaged, can be tracked. The performance of individual students can be compared to the number of times they view the material (though, at this point, the amount of time spent watching was not measured). When a certain lecture receives considerably more views than others, the instructor can infer that this particular material was more challenging and may require more time to review and discuss in the classroom. “The ability to review, pause and rewind the recorded material as often as needed, is another tremendous advantage of the inverted classroom,” says Dr. Weinstein. It is also the benefit most cited by students in their surveys.

Moving Forward

Students who experienced this new learning method in Mechanics I will move to Mechanics II, which will be delivered in the same manner. “That will give us an even better picture of how well students are learning via this method,” notes Dr. Weinstein. In the next academic year, four additional flipping projects will be implemented, bringing the total to eight and increasing the opportunities for assessment. Dr. Weinstein estimates that within five or six years, the majority of freshmen, sophomore and early junior year courses will be inverted. “This is the future of engineering education,” he says.

Credit: Article from College of Engineering's Villanova Engineering Update (VEU)