Dr. Tammy VanDeGrift and Niki Schulz both know what it’s like to teach a classroom of engineering students and wonder how much actually sinks in with students. Now there’s a way to find out. Both have been experimenting with recording class material on video and asking students to watch before coming to class. As a result, class time can be used for small group collaborative exercises in problem solving. Students get to interact with each other and Schulz and VanDeGrift get to find out how well students are grasping new concepts and putting them into practice.
VanDeGrift, Associate Professor, says that this peer approach to working in teams is especially helpful preparation for workforce realities which her students will soon be facing. Schulz, an instructor in the Shiley School of Engineering, says that out of the 89 students in front of her this semester, only one has expressed the desire to work solo (a request she gladly granted).
In this podcast, VanDeGrift and Schulz talk about the process of making instructional videos, the feedback they’ve received from students, and why they feel it’s a win-win situation all around.
From Our Conversation:
Sam Williams: What are some other gains that you have seen from the flipped classroom? It sounds like office hours, I don’t know-
Niki Schulz: Reduction.
Sam Williams: Reduction, in both your cases, is there. Students are getting more involved in the classroom. Is there anything else that you have found from flipping the classroom?
Tammy VanDeGrift: I think what Niki had mentioned, when students talk to each other, they use different language than what I use. I’ve been trained out of the informal into the formal, and so they can often explain things much more, in a different way so that their peers can understand what’s going on. At least in computer science, there’s an infinite number of ways that you can solve a problem, so it’s also quite fun to have the students share what they did so we can quickly see the different ways people approach the problem, and still, it’s all correct. I think it’s great for learning about the diversity of the solution space, rather than just seeing me present it. I learn a lot about how they think because I can see them work on the problems in class.
Niki Schulz: I also think it helps them connect with their peers, so if those students that maybe would have come to class and sat in the back and then gone and struggled through their homework on their own, now they are meeting at least two other people in the classroom every day. I’m hoping that translates into more robust peer connections outside the classroom as well. I haven’t looked into whether or not it does, but I’m giving them an opportunity to connect with their peers, and I think that’s important.
Maria Erb: That’s really interesting, especially since we’re talking about engineering and computer science classes where there often isn’t this discussion that there is in liberal arts classes and ways to interact like that. I think it’s really, especially interesting that you’re introducing it and providing that opportunity for your students.
Sam Williams: As somebody that went through computer science, I’ll say, you end up leaving the curriculum and going into a work environment where you have to work in teams. I think it’s wonderful that you’re getting them into that team mindset early on because they’re not going to leave that space.
Tammy VanDeGrift: We try to encourage that throughout the curriculum, but maybe it’s more so in the design projects. I would say 100% of the design projects in our curricula are team based, but I don’t know how much focus in the classroom on just working problems is team based, but I imagine that also helps with the office hour traffic, because the students have hopefully study groups that they can work with on their homework, or just ask questions of somebody who’s around.
Niki Schulz: They just struggle through it already. Again, rather than watching me do an example, which feels effective to you, because you are actively thinking about what the steps are and what the process is and what the concepts involved are, to the student, it’s a very different experience. If they watch me do something, if they’re actively doing that, they think they understand, because I did it correctly, right? They can see all the steps. That’s a completely different level to sit down and figure out where to start and how to navigate through the steps of the problem. They’ve had that opportunity in the classroom to work through all the different stages and all the different concepts and mesh all that together, and so that really helps them get going on their homework and get going on their projects. Apart from the importance of the discussion, just the opportunity to actively engage with the material while they have assistance available and they can get their questions answered, is fantastic.