Does educational technology work in a flipped classroom?

College professor in a classroom talking with a group of students

Educational technology and flipped classrooms are growing in popularity every year. So what happens when you combine the two? Lelli Van Den Einde, associate teaching professor at UC San Diego, talks about her experience of implementing the flipped classroom model in her engineering course, and shares best practices for using one program, MasteringEngineering. In the following interview, she gives just a glimpse into what she covers more in depth in the video below.


Q. In your webinar, you talk a lot about active learning with high school and university students. The flipped classroom supports active learning. Understanding how much you value active learning, what was your goal in flipping your classroom?

Dr. Van Den Einde: When I first started teaching, I tried a combination of PowerPoint slides and writing everything on the board. I noticed that students complained that I went too fast and that I was just regurgitating what was in the textbook. They seemed disengaged. So I decided to flip my Statics course. My original intent was to try to engage students in class and hope that they did the extra work outside of class. Creating the content for the course was very time consuming and is a continuous development process. However, students (after they got used to the organization and format of the course) seemed to really enjoy the approach, specifically learning from their peers. I did not think that I, too, would end up enjoying teaching in an active, flipped classroom, significantly more than traditional teaching. The energy level in the classroom is fantastic and it is fun to see student misconceptions of a concept come to light by discussing it with their classmates or going over concept questions with me.

Q. Again from the webinar, I was intrigued that you used assigned seating and created groups that your students sat with when they were in class. What did you learn from doing such an experiment with your students?

Dr. Van Den Einde: Creating the seating assignment was tricky at first. We were lucky that we had a lecture hall slightly larger than the number of students in our class so we could position the groups strategically around the room, allowing for the teaching assistants and myself to move around and access the groups more easily. We tried to randomly assign the teams at first, but based on literature out there we realized that it was important to have diverse groups, and also to make sure that at least two women were in a group together so they would feel more comfortable contributing. We also decided to mix the groups up half way through the quarter to balance the academic strengths of the group more evenly. This was based on how well students performed after the first midterm. Students were required to sit with their groups in class every day, actively discuss concepts together, and answer the clicker questions the same after the discussion. The idea was for them to reach a consensus.  

Q. In your flipped classroom you use the peer instruction model. What do you achieve with this?

Dr. Van Den Einde: With peer instruction, we put the responsibility of learning on the students. They do background reading prior to coming to class so they are prepared and can be active contributors while in the classroom. Students answer concept questions individually and based on the class’s understanding, are then asked to discuss the question with their groups. The idea is that through discussion, students learn from each other and are forced to justify their answers. This also teaches students how to communicate difficult engineering concepts using technical terms. Students also have to answer their questions the same as the rest of the group to get credit, which encourages a healthy discussion. The end result was a very active, loud, and engaging learning environment. Some students embraced the model, others were more passive.

Q. One piece of educational technology that you use is MasteringEngineering. How do you use it in a flipped classroom model?

Dr. Van Den Einde: I have used MasteringEngineering in a number of ways. I required weekly homework assignments through ME, provided recommended tutorials for students who wanted a little extra help, and also created reading quizzes on ME that students were required to take PRIOR to coming to lecture. These were a few short multiple choice questions on specific concepts that would be discussed in class. Using ME allowed me to have more time in the classroom dedicated to teaching concepts that are often challenging to many students.

Q. What is one of the main best practices with MasteringEngineering?

Dr. Van Den Einde: I found that providing recommended video tutorials of worked out problems is not enough. Students just do not seem to take advantage of the extra materials provided to them on ME. So my focus with ME is on the homework. I require them to do all of the tutorials that lead them to the correct answer. I find these the most helpful in getting students to understand how to solve the problems procedurally. I then assign a few end of chapter questions. Most of their time is spent doing the tutorials. I only allow my students six chances to answer a question and encourage them to come to office hours before their last attempt. I also allow them to earn extra credit if they do not take a hint. In other words, they can take as many hints as they want without losing points. For the most part this encourages them to take the hints as needed. However, some students are super competitive and refuse to take hints just to get extra credit points.   



About Lelli Van Den Einde

lelli-van-den-eindeDr. Lelli Van Den Einde is an associate teaching professor in the Department of Structural Engineering at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. She holds an M.S and a Ph.D. in Structural Engineering from UC San Diego, as well as a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan. Van Den Einde is committed to helping her students be successful and in 2003, Van Den Einde won the University of California, San Diego, Department of Structural Engineering Best Teacher Award. She has been using MasteringEngineering with her students for more than five years.