Flipped Learning

U Wisconsin College of Engineering Embraces Flipped Classrooms

The University of Wisconsin's (UWISC) first cohort of students to complete a significant number of their undergraduate courses primarily through the flipped classroom model is preparing to graduate in the spring.

The college has been encouraging its instructors to switch to a flipped classroom model, where students watch recorded video lectures before class and then use class time to put their learning into practice through in-class activities and to interact with their instructors and their classmates. According to a news release from the UWISC College of Engineering, the flipped learning approach can help students develop "communication and collaboration skills that often prove just as important as the technical foundations of engineering."

When this year's graduating class began their program in 2013, the departments of Geological Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering offered four blended-learning classes each. Since then, the number of flipped classes has increased significantly. The college has been encouraging its instructors to switch to the flipped classroom model, but ultimately it's up to the instructor to decide which approach they use since flipping "challenges both instructors and students to get out of their academic comfort zone," stated a news release. "The course can require considerable re-working, and donor resources are used to help offset the initial costs for conversion such as development of online materials like lecture videos."

The university offers several classrooms specifically designed to support active learning. The Wendt Commons WisCEL Center contains four active learning spaces that can accommodate as many as 104 students in the largest room and as few as 15 in the smallest. The active learning spaces feature group worktables or mobile furniture, as well as collaboration tools. In 2015, the college opened the Plexus Collaboratory in its Engineering Hall. The room features "90 workstations allowing students to actively work on projects while benefiting from increased interactions with peers, instructors and teaching assistants," according to information from Plexus, a Wisconsin-based electronics design and manufacturing services company that contributed $200,000 to the facility.

The flipped classroom has had a positive effect on student learning, according to Greg Moses, an emeritus professor of engineering physics, who has collected data from his experience flipping his classroom. "As his approach to the flipped classroom improved, the percentage of students with higher grades increased, indicating a greater mastery of material," he told Wisconsin's Badger Herald.

John Booske, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), hosted a half-day workshop on blended learning at the annual meeting of the ECE Department Heads Association this year. More than 30 ECE department heads from around the United States attended the workshop, where they learned about flipped classrooms and enhancing learning through blended instruction.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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