Saturday, June 7, 2014

A look inside one of my flipped chemistry classroom

Here is the approach I take in my second year thermodynamics course.

The "lecture"
* I meet with the students twice a week for 90 minutes (plus a 15 min break in the middle).

* The very first time we meet, I lecture for 5-10 minutes, then ask a question on which we vote using Socrative, and repeat.

* Before every meeting after that the students must watch 4-6 video lectures, each 5-10 minutes long. Each video concludes with a multiple choice question with answer, i.e. immediate feedback.

* The videos are based on Powerpoint slides that the students have access to while they watch the video.

* Before every meeting after that the students must answer a multiple choice quiz with a question for each video.  The questions are relatively easy to answer (often T/F) for someone who has watched the video.  The students get immediate feedback on the answer to each question.

* The deadline for the quiz is midnight before the meeting.  The quiz is mandatory, though the repercussions for not taking it is left vague.  The U. Copenhagen course site has a nice feature where I can selectively send email to students who haven't taken the quiz yet.  If I remember, I do this around 8 pm. The quizzes do no contribute to the grade, which allows me to give immediate feedback.

* During the our meetings I use the peer instruction approach, where I ask about 10 multiple choice and 2 short answer questions using Socrative.  Roughly half the questions cover material from previous weeks and new material, respectively.  The questions tend to be conceptual questions that facilitate discussion.

* The students get the Powerpoint slides with the questions (but not the answers) after our meeting.

* The Powerpoint slides and videos replace the textbook for the course.

The homework
* Teams of up to 30 students meets with a TA for a 4 hour session every week where they can get help with the homework.  If possible I show up for an hour or so for each session to get a feel what students are struggling with.  How else will you know?

* Each week I present them with about 10 homework problems, of which they have to solve a minimum of about six. The first six are relatively easy and should be doable by everyone who deserves to pass.  The last four are more challenging and one of them is typically an open ended question. The mere fact that the student chose a particular problem makes them invested in solving the problem.  In my experience most students attempt all 10.

* The answer to the question is provided as multiple choice using the PeerWise platform, i.e. the student is presented with 4 possible (often numerical) answers, where one is the correct one.  After the student chooses one answer they are presented with a detailed explanation of how the problem should be solved.  In some cases this takes the form of a video, but most often the solution was a screenshot from MAPLE.

* The homework does not contribute to the grade (which allows be to give immediate feedback). However, PeerWise uses points and badges as motivators, and I frequently highlight the number and kinds of earned badges on the course website.

How I designed the curriculum 
1. I started by writing the homework problems I really wanted them to be able to solve. They are encouraged to use MAPLE, so the problems can be quite mathematically involved.  Ideally they involve some application, experimental data, or simulation.  You can see them here.

2. Then I wrote the in-class questions related to the underlying concepts behind the homework problems. I also included some questions on estimating answers to questions that where similar to the homework questions.

3. Next I created the Powerpoint slides for the videos, containing the information they would need to do the homework.

4. Then I recorded the videos.

5. Finally, I wrote the quizzes.

Contrast this to the usual curriculum "design":

1. Find a textbook and select relevant chapters

2. Divide "number of chapters" by "number of lectures" to obtain content of each lecture

3. Hunt through problems in the back of chapters for homework problems, most of which are uninteresting "toy" problems written to illustrative some concept from the chapter.

Considerations that went in to the curriculum design
* "Relevance" is a great motivator. Write relevant homework problems and let them drive the curriculum. If something doesn't contribute to solving an problem, leave it out.

* Just in time instead of just in case.  Introduce new concepts and technique as you need them to solve a problem. "You'll need this for later" is not a good motivator in and of itself.  For example, spending a lot of time deriving an equation before you know how to use it is not very motivating.

* Cognitive load. You can handle no more than 7 new concepts at a time.  So, one new concept per video and no more than seven videos before each meeting. Yes, you'll have to reduce your curriculum to avoid drowning out the important stuff.

* Spaced learning. Things don't "stick" (committed to long term memory) until you have seen it 3-4 times over a period of weeks. Covering something once or repeating something several times in the same lecture doesn't work. This means you have to start the course with the most important concepts to you can repeat the most important stuff most often.  Yes, you'll have to reduce your curriculum since you have to cover many concept several times.

Considerations that went in to the choice of teaching style
* Active learning. Ultimately, you are teaching students skills not facts.  You only learn skills my actively doing something.  As you apply the skills often enough you will commit the relevant facts to long-term memory.

* Peer instruction.  Students have an easier time understanding explanations given by their peers than by you and students learn an awful lot by actively explaining things to their peers.

Formative assessment. Answering questions is a powerful learning techniques if you get immediate feedback. Problem solving and conceptual understanding are two different skills and both must be assessed.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

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