Published: April 18, 2013

'Flipping' the way college students learn

Contact(s): Tom Oswald University Relations office: (517) 432-0920 cell: (517) 281-7129, Brendan Guenther IT Services office: (517) 884-0679

Some faculty at Michigan State University are using a new model of teaching, one that is “flipping” the world of higher education on its head.

In fact, it is known as “flipping” a classroom. It’s called that because the students will listen to a lecture as the homework assignment and do the homework in the classroom setting.

Here’s how it works: Instead of the traditional students-listening-to-the-professor-lecture model, the students are expected to cover the lecture material out of class. Classroom time is then spent in groups, where the students discuss, with guidance from the professor, and problem solve.

“There is a lot to be said for the general model of collaborative learning,” said Jon Sticklen, who uses this model in teaching his College of Engineering class, “Sustainable Systems Analysis.” “It isn’t just about the material, getting it stuck in your head and regurgitating it. It’s about understanding it at the practical, I-can-apply-this level.”

To accommodate this new model, classrooms are undergoing some physical changes as well. Known as Rooms for Engaged and Active Learning, or REAL, the space is specifically designed to enable lively interaction, enhanced learning and increased faculty-and-student engagement.

“It’s a unique design, aimed at promoting more collaboration,” said Brendan Guenther, director of teaching and learning for MSU’s IT Services. “It can make for a deeper level of student-to-student learning because they can all share the work product.”

In this form of learning, Guenther said, the professor becomes more of a guide or facilitator. “They are responsible for setting up the exercise and managing it,” he said.

In Sticklen’s McDonel Hall classroom, groups of six students meet at workstations scattered about the room. The students work on solutions to the problems presented on a dedicated whiteboard and screen at their stations. When the students report their findings back to the entire class, the instructor can display each team’s work to the entire class on large screens.

“In a lot of ways it’s an easier way to convey difficult concepts to the students,” Sticklen said. “They do the homework ahead of time and come in prepared to be engaged and interact with me and their fellow students.”

The two REAL classrooms opened in McDonel Hall just this past year. Another is planned for the MSU Union, to open for classes next spring.


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