VISIONS Winter 2017: Inside Academics


The big flip: New ways to learn

If your memory of attending classes at Iowa State was to drag yourself to class, plop down in your seat, and let the knowledge wash over you, you’d be in for a shock in many of today’s classrooms.

New ways of teaching – flipping the classroom, team-based learning, and innovative uses of technology – have changed the way students learn.

“Students like to be engaged,” says Ann Marie VanDerZanden, director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). “They like to be doing something other than just sitting there.”

As a result of ISU’s Presidential Flipped and Hybrid Course Initiative and the faculty’s Team-Based Learning (TBL) Community, students are engaging in the classroom like never before.

In the old model, students would learn curriculum content through a lecture and then do homework outside of class. The benefit of flipping the class, according to VanDerZanden, is that now when students have a question, the faculty member and their peers are there to help guide the learning. The result: significant learning gains and a deeper understanding of course content.

Here’s an example of both the “flip” and TBL: In Peter Savolainen’s Civil Engineering 453 Highway Design class, students are arranged into teams in one of the newly renovated Marston Hall classrooms. The team approach, he says, eliminates the problem of providing one-on-one consultation to students in a large classroom.

“By arranging the students into teams, I am able to more effectively interact with the entire class over the duration of the semester. I am also able to provide more challenging problems, which are well-suited for teamwork,” he said.

And here’s where the “flip” comes in: The prerequisite course, CE 355 Principles of Transportation Engineering, was a flipped class. So instead of reviewing that material at the beginning of CE 453, Professor Savolainen is able to refer his students to the YouTube site where the CE 355 lectures reside, allowing students to catch up on topics they may not remember while allowing him to keep pace and cover new material.

Online/distance learning has also expanded in recent years. Thousands of Iowa State students enroll in online classes today for a variety of reasons.

“Some academic departments are offering undergraduate courses that are part of a sequence of courses that students have to take, so they’re offering an online version of the course as a means to allow students to make progress toward their degrees,” VanDerZanden explained. “Sometimes it’s a bottleneck class, so the online (option) is relieving a little bit of pressure as our enrollment has grown. Other departments are thinking about attracting new audiences who might be looking for graduate programs
or professional development.”

In fact, 28 ISU degrees and 22 graduate certificate programs can be completed entirely online.

VanDerZanden says some faculty members at Iowa State are eager to integrate new uses of technology, new methods of teaching, and expanded undergraduate student research into their classrooms.

“Where it works in the discipline, I think more and more people are looking for different ways to teach,” she said. “It’s kind of that crest of the wave, right? I mean, there are the early adopters who will do a whole range of different things in their classes and be willing to take that risk.

And then, as there are more successes and positive student feedback and acknowledgement that this can be effective in the discipline, others start to join along.”

What is it? Defining the trends

  • Flipping the Classroom: A teaching model that “flips” the traditional instructional format. Students view lectures and other academic content, mainly online, prior to class. Class time is used for active learning activities such as discussion, problem solving, projects, and further explanation of materials.
  • Team-Based Learning (TBL): An increasingly popular form of flipped-classroom, small-group learning that provides students with an intimate, collaborative, active experience even in a large class.
  • Online/Distance Learning: Classes are offered online both to resident students and distance students for convenience, to make progress toward a degree, or for professional development.
  • Hybrid Course: A portion of the course’s meeting time is replaced by online instruction.

Hottest majors on campus

Some of today’s most popular majors have been around for years: Think animal science and mechanical engineering. Others are new to the mix. Here are the top undergraduate degrees conferred in 2016:

  • Mechanical engineering (358)
  • Kinesiology / health (282)
  • Supply chain / management information systems (274)
  • Apparel, events & hospitality management (267)
  • Animal science (232)



This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

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