Flipping the classroom ISE instructors innovate hybrid learning

6/14/2021

William Gillespie

This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 ISE Annual Report.
Chrysafis Vogiatzsis.
Chrysafis Vogiatzis.

The University of Illinois implemented mandatory COVID-19 testing and tracking to make in-person education as risk-free as possible. And many students have chosen remote learning, causing ISE teachers to create new methods of hybrid education to accommodate both in-person and distance learning in the same class. ISE professors are using this unique challenge as an opportunity to find ways to improve classroom delivery, such as “flipping the classroom,” or other methods that privilege critical thinking over rote memorization, or that balance student interaction with instructor lecturing. As Chyrsafis Vogiatzis puts it, “COVID-19 came at a time when we had all these new technologies that we hadn’t really incorporated into our curriculum, and, then suddenly we had to use them, so when we had the summer to plan how to use them, we could take our courses to the next level.”  

Flipping a classroom isn't the same as flipping a house or a burger, nor is it a concept that was newly created in response to COVID-19. According to The Flipped Learning Network (2014), the flipped classroom is a “pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter”.

In other words, lectures are recorded for students to watch asynchronously before class, while class time is reserved for exploring the concepts with teacher guidance and often small groups. Rather than use the class for content delivery, it’s reserved for interaction. According to Vogiatzis, the “flip” is that homework happens during class, instruction before. “They learn during the activities. Ideally they also learn from their peers.”

Molly Goldstein.
Molly Goldstein.

Molly Goldstein teaches SE101 (Engineering Graphics and Design). With a Ph.D. in Engineering Education, Goldstein has fused teaching and research, making her Product Design Laboratory into her own teaching laboratory, exploring how to innovate and improve the educational experience. She had already been experimenting with a flipped classroom “in mini scale,” using class time as lab time in ISE’s Product Design Lab.  

“It’s great to have the resources to do this,” she explains, “and a lot of my friends from grad school were blown away when I told them what kind of resources the Grainger College was giving us.” Over the summer she participated, along with ISE Professor Chrys Vogiatzis, in a college-wide workshop for instructors moving classes online, in which faculty from different departments shared and peer-reviewed one another’s course plans.

One of the features of her course is to show concepts across CAD and hand-drawing, as research shows drawing by hand opens unique pathways in the brain. Over the summer she executed and uploaded a collection of hand-drawing videos to flip the class such that students would get instruction before class and use class time to practice collaboratively. In this case, creating the videos was something she had always thought would be worth doing, and she was motivated to complete them to address the problems of adapting a traditionally intimate and hands-on class to distance learning.

“Making the videos took weeks,” she laughed, “but I’m happy with them.”

Dan Block.
Dan Block.

Another lab-intensive course redesigned to accommodate distance learners is Dan Block’s SE 320 (Control Systems). Students at home are paired with friends who are present in the lab, and the two will complete the lab together, allowing the student who is not present to get as close as possible to an in-lab experience. 

Block’s other lab class, SE 420 (Digital Control—lecturer, Dusan Stipanovic), has innovated further. Each student is assembling their own kit that includes all the components needed to complete the course project, an inverted pendulum. The kit is essentially a lab-in-a-box which, should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 that forces the university to close again, students can take home and still complete the project. (And indeed the University is completing the semester remotely after Thanksgiving break.) Texas Instruments donated 50 “launch pad” development boards to the cause.

Doug King
Doug King

Doug King is teaching IE 300 (Analysis of Data) and IE 312 (Deterministic Models in Optimization ) entirely online. His goal in teaching remotely has always been “to make sure that students still had the same opportunities to engage with the material and access the materials” as they would in his class pre COVID-19, even though “.… their timing might be a little trickier and their bandwidth might be limited.” Because students may be in different time zones, living at home with different constraints, including poor internet connectivity, he does his best to make the class asynchronous and low-bandwidth. However he does not like to teach without old-fashioned black or white board access. He finds slides alone insufficient for explaining concepts—he likes to write on the slides while he lectures. Using an iPad, he has found a way to bring the white board and dynamic hand annotations to his online lectures as he would in a classroom.  

The tragedy of the pandemic cannot be overstated and none of those interviewed are happy for it, however they may have adapted. It is our hope for a post-pandemic world in which these semesters spent in online or hybrid teaching will lead to improvements in the way courses are taught, the way technology is used for content delivery, and, likely, renewed spirits for the prospect of classroom learning. As Doug King puts it, “I think the things we’ve learned out of necessity, going forward, also have the ability to improve teaching, not just in the same online kind of environment, but even in on-campus teaching as well. So hopefully it will give us another facet that we can add to our existing on-campus courses.” 

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