Engineering Class Pilots the Flip Class

Many college students have experienced moments when they wish they could stay in their beds but still get credit for going to class, especially during the icy winter months. With the new concept of a flip class here at Manhattan, this may become a reality.

A “flip class” means exactly what its name implies. It is the opposite of a regular class where the lecture are posted online and done in a student’s dorm or home and the homework and review is done in the classroom.

Provost William Clyde has been encouraging professors to try out this type of approach in order to take better advantage of the new technology available. One professor who has decided to try out the new teaching method is mechanical engineering professor Dr. Graham Walker, who has made his materials science course into a flip class for the first time this semester.

“Doing the flipped classroom is different in the sense that I still will be going to class, so we don’t stop the class, but what the students are expected to do is to watch the PowerPoint presentations ahead of time,” Walker said.

“I sit in my office with a microphone and I have the slides there, and I put up the first slide and I do a voice over as if I were talking to the class, explaining the lesson. Then I click the next slide, and do the voiceover for that one.”

For the past few weeks Walker has been sharing the lecture presentations with students through DropBox, an online storage site, as Moodle does not have the storage capacity for the entire PowerPoints.  Walker said that the lectures he creates are typically about 45 minutes long.

“Personally I find myself more focused, the lectures are more visual, and note taking less rushed,” sophomore mechanical engineering major Alex Lehnes said, as she is in the class. “I did not know that it was going to be a flip class until the first day and Dr. Walker explained to us that this is a trial and of we don’t like it he will go back to lecturing during the class periods.

“The material I feel is just as difficult but the classes are more productive,” she added. “Students are able to think of questions, know the material, and have it digested before jumping into example problems.”

Another class member, sophomore David Mattioli, also has positive reviews of the flip class style.

“I personally think it makes learning a lot easier,” he said. “Just think, don’t you wish at times your professor could just slow down during a lecture because maybe you missed something or it is a topic that is just so complex? The flip class allows you to re-watch the lectures whenever you wish and it is always at your disposal.

“Engineering in particular is a different major due to the way of thinking and applying,” Mattioli said. “It is more beneficial to really go through examples in class step by step with the professor so you see how you are supposed to approach each problem. This is how education in America will improve, by implementing technology in the most efficient way.”

As it has only been a few weeks into the semester, Walker does not know exactly how successful the approach has been so far. He said that around the spring break mark he will probably ask the class if they would like to continue with it or if they would rather go back to the old format.

Also, Walker is quick to point out that the flip class works for how the subject of engineering specifically is taught and learned. How practical it is for other subjects and classes?

It’s hard to say.

“Keep in mind, this is engineering,” Walker said. “I don’t know how they would do this in history class, but in engineering you do presentation of new material, examples, questions and then repeat. So now, the students watch the presentation of new material in their dorms or at home, so in class I can just go over example after example or answer questions.

“The classroom has become more of a recitation. Engineering students learn by doing examples so if we do lots and lots of examples, hopefully we’ll be able to get the materials across better.”

As of now, Walker does not know of any of other professors, in engineering or any other majors, who have taken on doing a flip class.

“I basically just took on board what the provost wanted us to do and the students are guinea pigs this semester, and I am as well because I’m learning myself too.

“I would say maybe 85 percent of engineering classes could be done this way,” said.

He also said that having students watch an hour or so of lecture outside of class time ensures that they are continuously learning as much as possible.

“We’re always concerned with having students be as proficient as possible when they leave the classroom, because with engineers…well, if a doctor makes a mistake one person dies, but when an engineer makes a mistake, lots of people die.

“We want our students to be as good as possible when they leave here. So, by doing all of these examples hopefully the students are going to learn even more.”