Flips and "Backflips": Using EdTech for Online Scientific Teaching and Active Learning

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Does losing instructional time prevent you from using active learning? Is online scientific teaching possible? This hands-on session presents a variation of the flipped model where active learning is done online; participants will explore educational technologies that promote scientific teaching outside the classroom. Have your lecture, and flip it too! 


I am a current Education Mentor of the National Academy of Science Summer Institute, and a former Service Learning Faculty Fellow at the University of Connecticut. I am also an Assistant Director of Faculty Development Programs at the Center for Excellence in Teaching in Learning (CETL) at UConn. Over the course of my career I have taught many courses ranging from small (19+), to large (100+), to very large (400+). My interest in the scholarship of teaching led to me being selected to become an Education Fellow of the National Academy of Science and an attendee of the 2015 Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education. This provided me with specialized training and resources to implement active learning pedagogies in my classes, which I am now hoping to share with any interested colleagues. I am continuously seeking creative ways to engage students in and out of the classroom, and opportunities to blend my teaching pedagogy with my other passions – science literacy and public engagement. One avenue of interest is the service learning pedagogy, which has been widely used outside of STEM disciplines, but infrequently within. The goal for my courses, particularly PNB3120W, is to allow students apply their knowledge and skill sets for the benefit of their communities. To date, students in my service learning course have worked with the UConn community, basic research faculty, as well as domestic and internationally focused non-profit organizations. I am now studying if and how the service learning pedagogy impacts student learning outcomes and retention in STEM.
Kristen received her Bachelor’s degrees in physical therapy and biology, and her M.S. in Physiology from the University of Connecticut. She also has a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University. She has taught courses in Environmental Science (at the Cape Cod Community College) and freshman biology, biology of the brain, and comparative physiology in addition to her many years teaching anatomy and physiology. She has participated in the National Academy of Sciences / Howard Hughes Medical Institute Summer Institutes on Scientific Teaching as both a fellow and a mentor, and is a recipient of the University of Connecticut Institute for Teaching and Learning Faculty Scholar Award. Kristen has been a member of the Physiology and Neurobiology faculty at UCONN for over 30 years, and her experience as a physical therapist early in her career continues to inform her teaching.

Extended Abstract

In light of mounting evidence that lecture based pedagogies are less effective and less inclusive than scientific teaching approaches, instructors are increasingly transitioning to active instructional methods, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines. Scientific teaching is an umbrella term used to describe student-centered, evidence based pedagogies characterized by learner engagement, problem solving, and effective use of assessment.  While instructors are increasingly receptive to the idea of using active learning in FTF classes, loss of instructional time is a common concern. To cirvumvent this loss of content,  a flipped or blended instructional model is commonly used alongside the change in pedagogy. Yet despite increased learning gains evidenced by numerous studies, these models are often met with resistance from students perceiving "extra work" and instructors who prefer traditional methods. Furthermore, they are often confounded by logistical issues (administration, scheduling, depth of content, space constraints), and a lack of available models that effectively use assessment and engagement strategies – particularly in high enrollment courses. 

  • In this workshop, participants will learn about the principles of scientific teaching through example and by experiencing it from a student's perspective, but will have the ability to "unpack" and evaluate each concept as an instructor.  Each will be presented within the framework of a module from our 800 seat FTF anatomy and physiology course (no content knowledge required!).

Flipped classes commonly use online lectures to introduce material to students.  In keeping with this model, our initial efforts to implement scientific teaching in modules of our course depended on EdTech tools to deliver lost lecture content (e.g. Mediasite,  Lightboards, Graphics Tablets), and low-tech collaborative/PBL activities in class. Our approach for each module consisted of:

  • A priming activity completed asynchronously online (e.g. a narrated lecture,  case from primary literature, and pre-assessment quiz)
  • An organizing activity completed in class (e.g. concept map, reflective writing)
  • building activity completed in class (e.g. three dimensional modeling, simulation)
  • Applying content knowledge in a PBL/case study activity
  • wrapper completed asynchronously online at the end of the week (e.g. post-assessment quiz)

Our assessment of this model revealed that while the approach was well received and of significant benefit to the students, most respondants were reluctant to make the out of class commitment necessary to fully transition the class to the new format.  Furthermore, as instructors we quickly realized that we had significantly underestimated the curricular and administrative burdens of flipping (e.g. developing online lecture content AND FTF active learning content simultaneously), which made the idea of "scaling up" to a 800 seat lecture....terrifying.   

As a result, we have now retuned our approach to something a bit more outside the box - we keep our lecture and flip the active learning ("backflip") content.  We adapted each phase of the low-tech active learning/PBL activities (organizing, building, applying) for online delivery using freely available or low cost EdTech tools (e.g. Bubbl, Twiddla,TopHat, Adobe Captivate...etc). 

  • Workshop participants will be able to interact with our active learning content in a sample module by again taking the role of the student.  As we explore each piece of technology, it will be compared to its FTF counterpart.  Our goal is to offer the audience not just an opportunity to use the EdTech, but also to see a working model of how it can be used to promote active learning and how it measures up against more traditional activities that they might be exposed to in other sessions or currently using in their courses.  

Using this backflipped model alleviates skepticism from students and colleagues, since content is still introduced for the first time FTF, in lecture (though this could be easily adapted for an online course).  It also allows instructors to capture most of the proven benefits of scientific teaching in online and hybrid courses,  or even in traditional courses that do not lend themselves to restructuring.