After teaching thousands through the digital education platform Coursera, professor Mohamed Noor decided to bring the technology home to Duke.
Noor, Earl McLean professor and associate chair of biology, taught “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” in the Fall on the massively open online course platform Coursera, reaching an audience of nearly 30,000 students. Now he is using the virtual lecture format to teach it at Duke in a “flipped classroom” format.
The flipped-class format in BIOLOGY 202L: “Genetics and Evolution” requires students to learn the material independently by watching online lectures through Coursera and to meet in class to practice and discuss the new information. Students are evaluated twice per week via pre-class quizzes on Sakai and are encouraged to engage in a flipped classroom meeting on Monday and Wednesday mornings as well as a review meeting on Friday mornings.
Noor said the format increases students’ engagement with the material.
“You can’t do it passively,” he said. “You have to be prepared. You can’t do the baby bird thing—you can’t come to class and expect the material to fall into your mouth.”
Student performance on average and on the first midterm improved noticeably in the flipped format compared to when he taught the course using traditional techniques, Noor said.
The format also enables the professor to tailor class time based on student input. Each online video lecture is followed by a short quiz that asks students what they found interesting or confusing. Noor then devotes the first few minutes of lecture to addressing the topics students identify as confusing.
At the end of class, Noor expands on whatever students had said they found most interesting from that day’s material. “It’s directly responsive to the students,” he said.
The flexibility of the new system is the biggest draw for sophomore Joseph Wu, a student in Noor’s class. He said it can be easy to zone out and miss important information during a live lecture, but a student can replay any part when watching a pre-recorded lecture online.
“I don’t really see a downside to it,” he said.
Sophomore Ha Tran, who is also taking Noor’s course, said the only drawbacks she sees are what any large course would have, such as a high student-teacher ratio.
“I was doubtful at first, but it actually worked out really well,” she said.
Tran credits Noor with the course’s success.
“His personality makes it work,” she said. “He’s very entertaining in the videos.”
Because of the required video content, though, students’ amount of work outside class is increased. Noor said he reduced lecture time to compensate for this.
Dean and vice provost of undergraduate education Steve Nowicki said the flipped-class format is valuable because of the flexibility it provides for both professors and students.
Teachers can organize the lectures in the videos based on themes and concepts without the sort of time constraint imposed on in-class lectures. Additionally, students are able to watch their professors’ video lectures according to their own schedules.
Nowicki said he expects the flipped-class format to become more common, but not all courses are suited for it. Many humanities classes already function with a similar method, where out-of-class material is discussed together in class.
Nowicki said the success of the flipped-class format depends on the professor and the subject.
“There will always be a place for a traditional seminar,” he said. “There will always be a place for a typical lecture course.”