My Notes on Teaching

In 2011 I worked with Prof. Katia Obraczka to submit a proposal to the NSF Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) program (which, by the way, has been cancelled). The proposal was for funding to develop an "Open Source Network Lab" idea we had that would make it easier for other programs to include a lab component to their network curriculum. The details of the proposal aren't too important… partly because the proposal wasn't funded, and partly because the more interesting results of this effort came from what I learned in developing the proposal.

As a part of the solicitation NSF strongly suggested that proposers read a list of papers that presented the results of recent research on what the most effective practices were for teaching. As I recall (I don't have a copy of the solicitation available), the impression they gave was that, based on recent (past 10 years) work, this was virtually a solved problem.

I credit these papers with transforming my teaching from mediocre (at best!) to where my reviews now include statements along the lines of "One of the best classes I have taken here at UCSC…". And the techniques that result in this change are really quite simple. My quick summary:

I believe this general approach has been given the named "flipping," though I haven't done enough digging into this term to know that what I describe is actually flipping.

The result is dramatic. Classes go from fairly boring affairs where students are working on their computers, drifting off to sleep, or just don't come, to lively, fully attended, and generally very engaged events.

Looking back through the papers, here are the two (of about six) that seem to get to the point most directly:

7/30/2013 - Charlie McDowell sent shared a pointer to an interesting blog posting titled "Taking a test is better than studying, even if you just guess: We need to flip the flipped classroom." The blog posting reports on a a couple of new studies on the benefits of testing for learning. The basic message is testing is important, and it appears that it is better to do the in-class exercise before the studying. [By the way, the blog itself looks very interesting….] As Mr. Spock would say, fascinating…

The order I used in my class this past quarter was (covering one topic, over the course of a week):

  1. Short lecture
  2. In-class exercise
  3. Quiz
  4. Lab exercise
However I had feedback from students that I should put the quiz last… they felt the lab often helped gel the concepts, and that they would do better on the quiz after the lab.