Flipped Learning Case Study: Computing for Engineers

Ashley Weleschuk, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning 

Based on an interview with Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour, Schulich School of Engineering.

June 19, 2018

Course title

ENGG 233: Computing for Engineers

Student profile

First-year engineering students

Class size

800 students divided into 3 tutorial sections and ~30 lab sections


Traditional classrooms

Thoughts and Reflections

How would you describe your typical flipped classroom?

Before class, students watch several short videos (10 minutes or less) about the course content. There are quiz questions associated with each video that students complete as they watch. They are able to rewind the video before answering the question in case they missed the answer. There are additional videos created for areas that are challenging for students.

Instead of meeting several times a week for lectures, students attend one longer tutorial session. The program along with Mohammad, who is at the front of the class, demonstrates the concepts from the previous week’s videos. Students also have lab sessions where they work on problem-solving in smaller groups. Mohammad is present in the labs to help students, along with teaching assistants (TAs). If many students are having trouble with the same concepts, Mohammad gives short lectures during the session. Students complete exercises during the labs, and then they have a post-lab assignment to finish afterwards. The course assessments all focus on applying programming skills to solve problems.

What was your motivation to get started with flipped learning? How did you start?

Mohammad wanted to bridge the instructor-student gap in large lectures. Students need to feel supported in their learning, which is challenging when there are several hundred of them and only one instructor.

He also wanted to use class time more efficiently. Regular lectures tend to have lots of wasted time: students come in late or leave early, there are interruptions and distractions, and time is spent each day reviewing previous lectures. 50 minutes worth of videos can cover far more content than 50 minutes of in-person lectures.

Mohammad used flipped learning for the first time in 2015 and was immediately impressed with how successful it was. He took advantage of different resources available to help him figure out the best way to implement flipped learning into the course. He made adjustments each time he taught the course since, such as introducing the weekly tutorials and adding additional videos. Now that he has been using the flipped format for several years, only small changes need to be done each year.

What were excited about? What were you concerned about?

Programming is a very practical skill. The flipped model allows students to dedicate more time to using their skills and writing code. They are able to do more by the end of the semester, which is encouraging to see. More students are feeling supported in the course. According to a survey, more than 80% of students report that they like the video lectures and the flipped class.

He was concerned about the lack of interactions between him and the students. Being present in both the labs and tutorial help students still feel connected. As well, students had positive feedback about Mohammad including his face in the videos, even if that meant less space for content on the screen. It reminds them that there is someone teaching them and supporting them the whole time.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you address it?

It is challenging to divide content up into videos that are 10 minutes or less. However, it is important to keep videos short so that students do not lose interest. Creating videos is a major time commitment, but it is worthwhile to get students the content they need. After making the videos for several years, has found ways to split up content effectively.

What tips do you have for other instructors who want to engage students in flipped learning?

Flipped learning is all down to the planning and implementation. You can do it with only a few students or with several hundred, as long as it is done thoughtfully and carefully. Taking time to review literature and attend workshops on flipped learning is key. The information is already out there, it is just a matter of figuring out how to fit it best for a specific group of students and their learning goals.

Like most instructors, Mohammad also believes gradually flipping a course is a lot easier for both students and instructors. Flipped learning takes some adjustment, so doing it slowly over time ensures that enough mindfulness is being given to the new methods.

What was your biggest take-away from the experience?

The small details make all the difference in flipped classes. A minor change by the instructor can make major improvements for students. For example, organizing the videos into different categories (Content, Tutorials, Extra Help) does not require much effort for Mohammad to do, but it makes it easy for students to find one that addresses a particular issue when reviewing or working on assignments. Every year, he tries to find small ways to help students throughout the course.

Flipped learning has really changed the way the course works. Students have a higher-level understanding and are more successful in the flipped class. According to course surveys and USRIs, both grades and engagement increase every semester.

Assessment and Technology

How did you assess student learning? Did these differ from previous offerings of this course?

Most of the assessments did not change when the course was flipped. The lab assignments, midterm and final have remained consistent. The assignments ensure that students have many opportunities to practice a range of programming skills. The exams ensure that students have can use their skills without having to reference other materials.

The two assessments that changed with the flipped class are the video quiz questions and the project. The questions associated with the videos are worth 5% of the course grade. This is a small portion of the grade, but enough to motivate students, who do every question.

The final project is a major assessment in the course.  Students are given a complex programming task, such as creating a playable game of pool or making a parking lot simulator. It is quite ambitious for a first-year class and requires bringing together all of their skills. Mohammad believes

What technology do you use?

SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) files are used for creating videos with embedded questions. There have been some technical difficulties with the platform and it is not compatible with D2L. Although most students like video lectures, dealing with technology issues can be frustrating. Mohammad is considering using Youtube to present the videos in future, which is more reliable and includes more features, such as speed control. Instead of embedded questions, students will have quiz questions on D2L to complete after the video.

This course fits well with the online delivery method. It is easier to be introduced to programming through videos than through readings since the process of how code is written is important for students to see. However, other flipped classrooms work just as well with readings, podcasts, or other forms of delivering information. Instructors can include as much or as little technology into their classrooms as they see fit.

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