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Teaching Electromagnetism with the Inverted Classroom Approach: Student Perceptions and Lessons Learned

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Flipping ECE Courses

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1160.1 - 24.1160.15



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Paper Authors


Micah Stickel University of Toronto

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Dr. Micah Stickel (ECE) is Chair, First Year, in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. He is also a senior lecturer in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Dr. Stickel first came to the faculty when he started as an undergraduate in 1993. Since that time, he has completed his B.S. (1997), M.S. (1999), and a Ph.D. (2006) — all with a focus on electromagnetics and the development of novel devices for high-frequency wireless systems.
He has a great interest in engineering education and the use of technology to advance the student learning experience. He has been honored with three departmental teaching awards and was selected as a New Faculty Fellow at the 2008 Frontiers in Education conference. In 2012, he was awarded the Early Career Teaching Award by the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

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Teaching Electromagnetism with the Inverted Classroom Approach: Student Perceptions and Lessons LearnedFor a number of years now, engineering instructors throughout the world have begun toexperiment with the notion of a “flipped” or “inverted” classroom. This teaching approachencourages students to gain the required base knowledge of a concept prior to class through short“mini-lecture” videos. The great advantage of this approach is that it provides instructors withthe opportunity to reimagine and redesign the in-class experience to create a more active learningenvironment.Recently, this approach was applied to the teaching of an electric and magnetic fields physicscourse as part of the second-year electrical and computer engineering curriculum at a largeresearch-intensive engineering school. The teaching approach consisted of (a) pre-class lessonvideos with embedded viewing quizzes (average length of 25 minutes), and (b) in-class activelearning opportunities, including conceptual questions and peer instruction facilitated through aclassroom-response system, group work exercises, and opportunities for individual work andconsideration of the material at hand.This work is part of a two-year study in which the course was taught using a traditionalinstructor-centered approach in year one and then was taught using the inverted classroomapproach in the year two. The same instructor taught the course in both years, andapproximately 330 students took the course each year. The study used a mixed-methods designwhich, in part, included standard pre/post conceptual assessments, an end-of-course survey, andfocus groups sessions. The purpose of this paper is to present the details of how this approachwas applied to teach this fundamental course on electromagnetism, summarize the students’perceptions of this new teaching method, present a comparison of the academic performancebetween the two cohorts, and provide some key lessons learned related to this emerging teachingapproach.Overall, students had a positive, but somewhat mixed, response to this new teaching method.Over 71% of the students in the inverted cohort agreed that the lecturing approach that theinstructor took was effective in helping me learn the material in the course, yet only 48% of thiscohort agreed with the statement: In comparison with the traditional lecturing approach, I preferthe inverted classroom approach. With this new approach there is the concern that students willperceive this pre-lecture video viewing to be burdensome, yet between the traditional and theinverted cohorts, there was no statistically significant difference in how the students rated theamount of work required for this course. In terms of academic performance in the course, thetraditional cohort performed better on the standard pre/post conceptual gain (Traditional classgain = 20.0% versus Inverted class gain = 15.6%). However, if you isolate those students thattruly participated in the inverted model, meaning that they watched the majority of the videosprior to the lecture and attended the majority of the lectures, the results change with the Invertedclass gain improving to 21.0%.From this initial experience in teaching with the inverted classroom technique, a few key lessonshave been noted. First, it is very important to provide explicit coaching and guidance throughoutthe course to help students acclimatize to this new student-centered learning approach. Thismust be integrated into the course materials, lectures, and course work so that students see theimportance of investing their time and energy into defining their own learning experience.Through the survey and focus group sessions it was clear that the mixed reaction to thistechnique is that the students did not clearly understand how to engage with this new method andthe potential benefits of this new approach. Second, while there is a significant investment intime to create the pre-lecture videos and quizzes, an even more serious effort is needed to createappropriate and effective in-class experiences. The foundation students come to class with mustbe deepened and solidified through a carefully considered series of learning exercises. Finally, itis important to take advantage of the additional in-class opportunities that are available given thatthe basic material introduction is now done outside of class. In this course, the instructor wasable to incorporate a number of more significant discussions about how the course materialrelated to Electrical and Computer Engineering applications, which provided significant newcontext to students in the inverted cohort. This new teaching approach has great potential toprovide students with significant learning experiences, and help them to become more self-motivated learners. As well, from an instructor’s viewpoint, the in-class experiences can bemuch more enjoyable and rewarding due to the opportunity to interact directly with small groupsof students.

Stickel, M. (2014, June), Teaching Electromagnetism with the Inverted Classroom Approach: Student Perceptions and Lessons Learned Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23093

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