By Caroline Bennett

So, I’ve decided to flip a class.  [File this blog post under ‘Confessions’.]  Specifically, I’m going to flip a course this Spring semester, titled “Design of Steel Structures.”  It’s a fourth-year design class taken by civil and architectural engineers.

This is an undertaking that I’m both excited and nervous to tackle.  The part that I’m really looking forward to the most is really, really focusing in on “what should students be able to do” when they’re done with the course.  This is also the part that I am the most nervous about.

When I’ve taught this course in the past (seven or eight times), I have tried to keep this end-game in focus.  However, I have found that it is far too easy to let “what do I need to cover” take front stage under the pressures of any given semester.  I am expecting that flipping this class will pretty much make that recurring ‘slide’ impossible.  Which is great, and a 100% worthy goal.  And also a little terrifying.

I’m starting to think about how I am going to restructure the course for this spring.  The class is three credit hours, and meets for “lecture” sessions twice a week for 75 minutes and once a week for a two and a half hour “lab” sessions.  In the past, I’ve used the lecture sessions for presenting the theory and concepts behind designing steel structures.  I don’t think these lecture sessions have been particularly bad; in fact, I am proud of many of them.  We spend a lot of time in class working through examples — many of them I lead, and many of them students work through in small groups.

I am planning to move approximately 75% of this content outside of the class time.  Instead of working through this material in-class, I am going to create a series of online videos that students will be asked to view before class periods.  This is going to free up a lot of in-class time.  This newly-freed class time presents a great opportunity to focus deeply on higher-order learning objectives.  The question that this begs is “what is the best way to meet those objectives?”  The answer to this question should drive how we spend our in-class time.

This is my first foray into flipping, and I promise to keep you posted on my progress — my thought exercises and implementation.  I’m going to be wrestling with a host of new questions and challenges, and I would appreciate engaging in discussion with you on this forum!

Caroline Bennett is an associate professor of civil engineering and a fellow at the Center for Teaching Excellence. 

Kicking off a blog that revolves around teaching near the end of the spring semester is probably a bit of a funny idea to you.  At this point in the semester, many of us have drank so much coffee by 9 a.m. that it is difficult to keep the text on the computer screen from jiggling.  As academicians, our focus in Week #13 of the spring semester is on: grading, coffee, lesson-planning, grading, coffee, paper-writing, proposal-writing, book-writing, grading, lesson-planning, research-planning, conference-traveling, grading, and generally keeping the ship righted.  Makes me tired just admitting it.  And now I am suggesting that you consider adding something else to your list — blog-reading.

“Ha!” you say!

That said, this can be a great point in the semester.  The classroom has an energy to it — students know me pretty well at this point, and I know them.  They have a handle on my bad jokes and I have come to understand their lack of interest in 1990s pop culture references.  I have a pretty good feel for what has gone well, and what I need to work on moving forward and in future semesters.  I start to gain a feeling of satisfaction when I see how far students have come from the first week of class.  The students start to see how much they have learned, and they’re excited.  It starts to feel like learning is accelerating — at this point, everyone is on-board, everyone has the building blocks, everyone knows the language.  As a class, we can start to put separate ideas together – and that is FUN!

Too often, though, I wait too long to actively reflect on the outcomes of my semester.  I launch from my coffee-fueled spring semester directly into summer, with little to no transition.  When fall is knocking at the door, I try to remember back to spring to see if I can recall what went well or not.

So, what could be improved?  Well, for one, I could spend more time doing this.  Reflecting.  Evaluating.  Synthesizing my thoughts and ideas.  Trying to implement positive changes in my courses and teaching practices arrived at through careful contemplation and planning… These are the types of goals that I try so hard to help my students reach for and achieve.  Perhaps I should hold myself to the same standard.

This is, of course, the source of the somewhat cryptic title of this newly-minted blog: Bloom’s Sixth.  Love or hate learning taxonomies, the topmost level of Bloom’s focuses on creating and putting together the pieces, and that is pretty interesting stuff.  Perhaps that’s what we can start building a conversation around  — the ongoing evolution of our teaching and our students’ learning.

As we kick off our conversation, I would like to bring to your attention a few disclaimers regarding this forum.

  • You can expect anecdotes, not careful scientific analyses.
  • There may be some (constructive) venting.
  • There will be wittiness.  (Although, my husband calls it something else… cynicism, I think.)
  • There will soul-wrenching self-reflection.
  • And last, but not least, there will be the expectation that you will provide me with definitive (and correct) answers to all my soul-searching questions.

There will be a number of us blogging from across campus, and this seems like the perfect point to make some introductions.  You can expect posts from Sheyda Jahanbani (History), Paul Atchley (Psychology), Germain Halegoua (Film & Media Studies), and myself (Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering).  We’ll be posting about our adventures in the classroom and the thought processes that shape our practices.  We are very much hoping that you’ll join in through the comments section and help shape the conversations going forward.

So, enjoy the the rest of your semester.  Grade.  Drink coffee.  Repeat.  Come back and converse with us often.  We can’t wait!

All the best,

Caroline Bennett

Civil, Environmental,  and Architectural Engineering