First-Year Engineering: Flipping the Lecture

Five years ago, with the launch of the Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory and accompanying new curriculum, our First-Year Engineering (FYE) program took a big step away from the traditional lecture-hall style of education (“Sleep 100”?) and toward a “studio mode” that emphasizes team-based, active and collaborative learning.

large lecture hall

Less of this...

As another step along that path, a team of faculty, staff, and graduate students has been hard at work over the past year planning and producing a series of online learning modules for the two-semester sequence “Transforming Ideas to Innovation.” The modules, introduced in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013, give FYE instructors the opportunity to “flip the lecture”—that is, to provide students instruction online, outside of class time, in order to devote more time in class to student activities and less to lecturing. (This approach is also known as "blended learning.")

Under the leadership of Eric Holloway, ENE managing director, the team developed a total of 45 modules (39 from scratch), including 11 Excel tutorials, 21 MATLAB tutorials, and conceptual modules on model-eliciting activities (3), data analysis (3), teaming (1), and design (6). The modules, ranging from about four to 20 minutes in length, were created through Adobe Captivate, utilizing text-to-voice capability that enables viewers to watch content on-screen while listening to narration scripted, and easily updated, by FYE authors.

First-year classroom ...and more of this

“Now,” says Holloway, “students come to class already knowing something about the material we’re going to cover, because they view the modules before class. Instructors and teaching assistants can ask, ‘What questions did you have? What concepts did you struggle with?’”

They can then move the students on to significant problem-solving work during class, says Heidi Diefes-Dux, engineering education professor and the course coordinator for ENGR 132, the second course in the two-semester sequence. “We’re taking advantage of technology that’s already out there to provide content in an engaging format,” she says. “Then students can hit the ground running in class.”

With the instructor, teaching assistant, and four peer (undergraduate) teachers circulating through a classroom of up to 30 four-member teams, class time becomes students’ golden opportunity to get help with a project or check their understanding of a concept. And for those students who want to watch the online modules again to brush up on, say, their MATLAB skills, that option is available 24/7.

First-year engineering student Michael Mapolaya describes the format as “a mix between actual and online classes and lectures.” He feels more prepared in class because he can grasp the material ahead of time. “I’ve never had a course like this before,” he says. “It’s certainly new and interesting. The modules get really helpful when I’m trying to figure out the basic structures and procedures for certain concepts and skills so that I don't have to scour the Internet for answers.”

With two semesters’ worth of modules just completed, the FYE instructional team isn’t resting on its laurels. Next up: looking for new technologies and approaches to improve content for next year.