Blended or hybrid learning environments have been used in several fields as a way of improving student learning. Blended learning is an extension of flipped classrooms, where students watch lecture videos prior to class and come to the class period to work extra problems and homework [Biddix, et al., 2015; Twigg, 2003]. Like flipped classrooms, blended learning makes use of the lecture videos watched before class, but then the class period can be filled with a blend of different activities such as supplemental lectures, hands-on learning with experiments, collaborative learning, problem solving, inquiry-based learning, and student-led instruction. A number of studies have investigated the effectiveness of flipped and/or blended classes in relation to traditional lectures and have found interesting results [Lack, 2013; Means, et al, 2010; Zhao and Breslow, 2013; Bishop and Verleger, 2013]. Although learning outcomes are somewhat mixed, student perceptions of flipped classrooms are generally positive overall.
In the Fall of 2014 and Spring of 2015, a series of learning experiments were conducted in a sophomore-level rigid-body dynamics class. Unlike many introductory dynamics classes where only planar rigid-body dynamics is covered, the class under investigation is relatively challenging as it covers up through three-dimensional rigid body dynamics and work-energy, within a 3-credit-hour format. One of the biggest hurdles is spatial visualization and lack of experience/practice to improve upon problem-solving skills. In two sections of the course, the in-class instruction was supplemented using video modules from two MOOCs designed for the Coursera platform: Engineering Systems in Motion: Dynamics of Particles and Bodies in 2D Motion and Advanced Engineering Systems in Motion: Dynamics of Three Dimensional (3D) Motion, both by Wayne Whiteman. Students watched video modules prior to each class, which freed up class time for other activities. Of particular interest in this paper is the inclusion of hands-on experiments performed in the lecture room, which were found to have a notable effect on student learning in prior research by the authors in the context of a circuits and electronics course for non-majors offered at the same university [2014; 2015].
Each class began with a short quiz based on the video lectures assigned for that lecture period. The remainder of the class was used for group-work worksheets, instructor-led examples, just-in-time lectures, and hands-on demos and experiments. In the Fall of 2014, two experiments were introduced on topics that students in prior semesters have found difficult: centripetal acceleration and rolling kinematics. The centripetal-acceleration experiment involved a cart equipped with a smartphone and a large circular track. The rolling kinematics experiment involved a circular disk rolling on a slight incline. Students used the free Tracker software to measure the motion of various points on the moving objects. In Spring 2015, a set of pendulum-like devices were constructed to hold student-owned smartphones to measure accelerations. Surveys were conducted at the beginning and at the end of the semester to determine student perceptions of the blended learning environment as well as the hands-on experiments. Complete descriptions of the hands-on experiments and the survey results will be included in the full paper.
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