Using a Flipped Classroom Approach and Just-in-Time Teaching to Engage Students

Jason Guzman

TA working with small group of students.

Silvia Martins, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, faced a challenge in her introductory epidemiology course, Principles of Epidemiology. She found that students needed more time to process the weekly lecture material before attending the follow-up seminar sessions with teaching assistants (TAs).

As a recipient of the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery grant, Martins worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to develop a plan that would give students the opportunity to spend more time with lecture content as well as provide TAs with feedback on how students were absorbing the material. Over the course of several semesters Martins redesigned the course using the flipped classroom model and incorporated recorded video lectures and Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) techniques that promote the use of class time for more active learning.

Drawing on the Mailman School of Public Health’s distinguished faculty, Martins planned a series of lectures featuring experts in each of the topic areas covered in the course. The lectures were placed online for students to access up to a week before they would come to seminar session. This gave students the opportunity to watch the videos on their own time and supplement the lectures with additional reading.

In addition to watching the videos, Martins incorporated web-based JiTT exercises where students were asked to apply the concepts from these lectures to short problem sets. Then they submitted their answers and any additional questions they had. Responses to these JiTT exercises helped TAs decide which topics to focus on in the seminar sessions. We had the chance to talk to Martins and the team of TAs about their teaching experience. We also heard from several students about the impact these course innovations had on their learning.

What are the goals and objectives for your course?
Martins: Principles of Epidemiology is a basic introductory level course for master’s students to get familiar with epidemiology. We know that most of the students in this class are doing their master’s in other areas of public health so we want them to develop critical thinking toward epidemiology and be able to understand an epidemiological study and research papers, and to be able to critically assess these studies and papers.

Why did you apply for the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery RFP?
Martins: We had been thinking of applying for the Request for Proposals for a while particularly because we thought that a three-hour class was too long for students and we had gotten feedback from our students confirming this. Most of the students were full-time or part-time workers besides being full-time students and coming from an hour-and-a-half lecture to an hour-and-a-half seminar session, so they didn’t have time to absorb the content. We were trying to think of ways of organizing the content that would be more beneficial to their learning.

How did students benefit from this redesign?
Eva Siegel, Seminar Leader: The flipped classroom design was beneficial in that it allowed students to review materials at home and then come to seminar to address any of the questions and concerns that they might have. Once content was clarified, students would apply the theoretical concepts to problem sets so they got the chance to see how epidemiology works in practice and how they might be able to apply these concepts in future research.

Collaboration was also a big part of this course. It allowed students to see each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and learn from each other. In addition to a group project that they worked on together they also worked together to solve problem sets during the seminar sessions. I think this was important for them because when you work in research, you work in collaboration with others.

How did you evaluate the effectiveness of this course redesign and assess that students were learning?
Linda Kahn, Co-Instructor: We used a variety of instruments to look at students’ engagement with the new course format but also to measure how we were meeting course objectives. To get a sense of how students saw their own growth throughout the semester we surveyed them on their knowledge, skills, and attitudes about epidemiology, and the course structure in the beginning and end of the semester. We also used an observation tool that provided an inventory of the types of behavior students and instructors were displaying during a class session. This allowed us to reflect on the kind of engagement opportunities we were creating. Finally, we created rubrics that were mapped to course objectives as a way of grading the JiTT questions. This allowed us to be sure we were meeting course objectives and allowed for standardization among TAs.

As a student how did you feel about the structure of this course and the online elements?
Grant Conway, Student: I thought that I would be more motivated to listen to the lecture if it was in a classroom but I quickly adjusted to the format. I found that I could watch the lecture on one side of the screen and take notes on the other side. What was most helpful was that if the lecturer was emphasizing something, I could pause the lecture and go back and take closer notes. And then I really appreciated how class time was spent on discussion and clarifying areas of misunderstanding.

Jason Guzman is a learning designer at Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

Reprinted with permission from Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Photo and video courtesy of Jason Guzman.

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