By Lorenzo Brancaleon, Ph.D.
UTSA 2022-2023 Next-Gen Leadership Fellow
Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Academic Innovation (AI) is excited to offer the latest round of Teaching Tips lead by Lorenzo Brancaleon, 2023-2023 Next-Gen Leadership Fellow working on advancing the digital literacy and fluency of faculty and students at UTSA. He is a Professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department. His laboratory research specializes in the Molecular Biophysics of natural and artificial photoreceptor proteins. In the last few years he has been collaborating with Academic Innovation and with Dr. Cynthia Lima in the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching to learn and research pedagogy, in particular as it applies to the teaching of STEM courses. The particular focus of the education-related research is the application of gamification to STEM courses and its effect on student engagement, the deployment of novel assessment approaches and issues of diversity equity and inclusivity. The vision for this and future Teaching Tips is to give an idea of how UTSA faculty are using technology to enhance their teaching or the students’ learning experience in their classes.
The idea of flipping a classroom has emerged as a viable modality of teaching and has become almost synonymous with active and experiential learning. However, I would argue, it is also a vehicle to improve inclusivity and equity. From an instructor point of view it also adds an element of creativity in the design of a course because of the intrinsic versatility of the model.
The basic idea of a flipped classroom is that traditional lecturing is moved online while in-class meetings are dedicated to practice, Q&A session, recitation, and whatever the instructor believes would benefit the students most at that time.
Transforming traditional lectures into online videos is aided by tools such as Panopto or PlayPosit which can be used to record traditional lectures. In fact, if an instructor has time to invest, they can be scripted, edited and polished to products that are probably better and more effective than in-person or synchronous lectures. Here is a twist, Panopto and Playposit already provide non-traditional routes within the traditional lecturing. Both packages in fact enable the creation of interactive tasks that can be embedded in the video lecture. Students go through the lecture videos and occasionally conceptual quizzes pop up. Each correct answer to these interactive elements awards them game points that contribute to populate a leaderboard. Interactive lectures can be replaced by the same lecture without interactivity after its due date.
So, if lecturing is left to video lectures what’s left to do in class?!
I would argue: learning!
First of all, instructors can deploy the tools they prefer (quizzes, clickers, etc.) to make sure that students watch the videos (at least once) before going to class.
In my case, however, I decided to pair the flipped model with the muddiest point technique that I have implemented using Padlet (a tool integrated with the Blackboard LMS). Padlet is substantially a message board that, compared to a discussion forum, has a feel more similar to modern social media.
So, how does it all come together?
Students are instructed, each week, to create anonymous Padlet posts that contain the concepts/topics/problems/examples that they found to be more confusing for that week. Posts can include questions about video lectures, concepts explained in the textbook, homework from the previous week, or any other material pertinent to the course. At that point the core of the in-class meetings is constituted by addressing the muddiest points to the entire class. How to address the muddiest points is left to the instructor’s creativity. It may include explaining the concept in a way alternative to what is in the video lecture, showing other videos, clearing misconceptions, etc.. Often, however, the muddiest point posts create great prompts to make students work individually and/or in group by assigning reasoning problems (after all, mine are Physics courses) that are then worked in-class. The muddiest point approach, however, works for both STEM and non-STEM.
How to encourage students to post?
I am glad you asked! For this, I fall back again on my gamification model. Students would receive one game point every n meaningful comments and these points also contribute to the leaderboard. In the case of my introductory course n = 8, but this number is at the discretion of the instructor, as is the definition of “meaningful comment.”
So, what are advantages of a flipped classroom to the instructor?
I am not going to sugar coat it, creating the video lectures can be time consuming, however once they are created they can be used forever for that course. Moreover, one does not have to transition at once. It can be done a little bit at a time.
What are the advantages to the students?
Remember my mention of inclusivity? Having video lectures that are available all the time for students to see, means that they can view and review them on demand and as many times as they need. This expands the number of students who can benefit from lecturing. Also, the captioning of the video lectures increases their accessibility and favors the inclusion of students with disabilities. The muddiest point using Padlet also helps improving inclusivity and equity. Remember, you can set the posts to be anonymous, this typically encourages students to submit questions and requests for clarifications. Many of the same students would likely not ask questions in class in fear of being judged. In other words, the anonymity of the Padlet posts encourages students who maybe marginalized in an in-person learning model, to provide their voice and see their questions answered.
Watch me explain.
Finally, remember my mention of versatility and flexibility? Well, I have adopted this modality in at least three courses: an introductory first semester calculus-based Physics course, the first semester of Mathematical Physics (junior level) and the single semester of Thermal Physics (junior/senior level). This is to say that the approach can be adopted in large classes that enroll students of very diverse interests and backgrounds but also in smaller upper level courses that enroll only students of one major (in this case Physics). Check out this quick view of my PHY 3293 course created with Instructional Designer, Alexia Cormier.
…wait…wait….one more point, the videos created are also perfect representations of Open Education Resources (OER) that enhance student learning without costing them anything.
Tips and Ideas:
- Edit your video lectures so that each video is shorter than 10 minutes, for easier consumption and download.
- Each week the total duration of all the video lectures combined should not exceed 70% of the would-be lecture time in class, since video lectures are much more efficient in time usage.
- One can use videos online that are public domain. Reach out to UTSA Libraries for help find ones pertinent to your course.
- In multi-section courses videos can be created so that the lectures are identical among all courses and the creation of video lectures can be shared among different instructors.