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Probing the Flipped Classroom: Results of A Controlled Study of Teaching and Learning Outcomes in Undergraduate Engineering and Mathematics

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Classroom Practice I: Active and Collaborative Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Nancy K. Lape Harvey Mudd College

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Nancy K. Lape is an Associate Professor of Engineering at Harvey Mudd College.

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Rachel Levy Harvey Mudd College

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Rachel Levy is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and the Associate Dean of Faculty Development at Harvey Mudd College. In addition to her work on fluid mechanics, she is an investigator on two NSF-funded education projects: one studying flipped classrooms and the other preparing teachers for mathematical modeling in the elementary grades. She is the Vice President for Education for SIAM, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the founder of the blog Grandma got STEM.

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Darryl H. Yong Harvey Mudd College

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Darryl Yong is currently a professor of mathematics and associate dean for diversity at Harvey Mudd College. His research interests relate to partial differential equations and the preparation and professional development of secondary school math teachers.

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Nancy Hankel Cobblestone Applied Research & Evaluation, Inc.

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Ms. Hankel is a Research Associate II at Cobblestone and is currently pursuing an Ed.D. from UCLA in Educational Leadership. She manages multiple evaluation projects related to teacher training and professional development as well as various federally-funded STEM-focused programs at the post-secondary level. She has extensive experience in all phases of data collection (such as instrument development and administration, observations, focus group and individual interviews) as well as experience in site recruitment, developing logic models, quantitative and qualitative data analyses and reporting, and presenting results to a variety of audiences.

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Rebecca Eddy Cobblestone Applied Research & Evaluation, Inc.

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Dr. Eddy received her doctorate in Applied Cognitive Psychology and has spent her career focused on applying the principles of learning and cognition to evaluation of educational programs. Her work includes published articles and client technical reports as President of Cobblestone Applied Research & Evaluation, Inc. and a faculty member at Claremont Graduate University. Work at Cobblestone focuses on advancing the numbers of underrepresented minority students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Dr. Eddy has conducted evaluation or applied research studies on numerous university projects including clients programs funded by the National Science Foundation; U.S. Department of Education Title III and Title V; National Institutes of Health; Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among others. Dr. Eddy also trains professional evaluators from around the world as a faculty member at Claremont Graduate University in the Advanced Certificate in Evaluation Program.

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Motivation and Background: A flipped classroom reverses the paradigm of traditional lecture courses by delivering lectures outside of class – by means such as videos or screencasts – and using class meeting time for instructor-mediated active learning. This format has the potential to transform STEM education by increasing student time spent on what research has demonstrated to be the most effective teaching techniques (i.e. active learning) without sacrificing material coverage or educational scaffolding. Many educators are flipping their classrooms, but there is limited data on learning gains currently available. We have rigorously examined the impact of three instructors inverting two STEM courses, in engineering (thermodynamics) and mathematics (differential equations), by measuring student learning gains and attitudes towards the course material and comparing to a “traditional” active learning control class. Our expected measureable outcomes were:

1. Higher learning gains; 2. Increased ability to apply material in new situations (transfer); 3. Increased interest in and positive attitudes towards STEM fields (affective gains); and 4. Increased awareness by students of how they learn and strategies that support their learning (metacognitive gains).

Our hypothesis was that increased student learning would arise primarily because of the additional time that students will have with instructors actively working on meaningful tasks in class.

Methodology: The study design was composed of three components: (1) direct assessment measures specific to each of course/discipline in addition to indirect assessment measures; (2) comparison of control and experimental sections offered simultaneously (to reduce student demographic variability) using the same instructor (to limit instructor bias); and (3) direct assessment of learning gains and application both within the course and in downstream courses to determine if learning gains persist.

Results: For nearly all measures across the three-year study, the flipped classroom model showed mostly equivalent results to the traditional active classroom model in terms of student performance. While these findings do not support original expectations of the inverted model, there are possible explanations for these results. It is possible that detecting differences in student performance may be difficult, since students at [school name redacted for review] generally have high academic achievement regardless of the classroom design and the culture of collaboration is already strong. Another possible explanation is that the intervention (i.e., the inverted classroom) was not distinct enough from the traditional active learning course sections and therefore was not a sufficiently strong intervention in comparison to the control. For the first two years of the study, the course formats were similar between the inverted and traditional classes: students encountered similar assignments, homework, and tests regardless of the class format. The main difference for students between the two classroom models was when they had access to the professors for questions, during the lecture (traditional) or while doing homework (inverted). The third year of the study relaxed this requirement but did not show significantly different results.

Conclusions and Next Steps: These results suggest that the rearrangement of classroom activities and homework may not have a measurable effect on student performance. Some literature suggests that an expansion of the curriculum, rather than a mere rearrangement, is necessary to properly implement an inverted course model (Bishop & Vergeler, 2013). Our data also seem to support the idea that students are impacted the most when an active-learning style of instruction is used, regardless of when they are introduced to new content (in the classroom or at home through video lecture. For the final (fourth) study year, Engineering 82 and Math 45 courses will include an integrated “best practices” or hybrid model of instruction for all participating course sections, hence, eliminating distinct study groups. These results will be compared to results from the first three years of the study to see if student performance has improved.

Lape, N. K., & Levy, R., & Yong, D. H., & Hankel, N., & Eddy, R. (2016, June), Probing the Flipped Classroom: Results of A Controlled Study of Teaching and Learning Outcomes in Undergraduate Engineering and Mathematics Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25958

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