Blended versus flipped instruction was compared during multiple semesters of a numerical methods course at three engineering schools with very diverse student demographics. This coincides with recent calls by the literature for comparisons of technology-enhanced or active learning pedagogies, versus the usual comparison of these approaches to traditional lecture. Therefore, each institution delivered the course in a blended and flipped format between 2014 and 2016. The blended approach combines technology-rich instruction with face-to-face learning to enhance the lecture. With “flipped” instruction, students “do work” during class after learning the fundamentals before class through videos or readings. The primary investigator had extensive experience teaching in a blended fashion. However, he anticipated that flipped instruction would require students to “dig deeper” and achieve more. Therefore, we conducted a quasi-experimental study to assess whether flipped instruction led to greater achievement, including for particular demographics. In addition, we hypothesized that classroom environment perceptions would differ and that students would perceive benefits with flipped instruction.
To directly assess these methods, we compared multiple-choice and free-response exam results. The multiple-choice questions were identical across the schools and for the instructional methods. We made this comparison for demographic segments of interest, including underrepresented minorities, females, Pell grant recipients, and community college transfers, as well as for students as a whole. The students rated their classroom environments using the College and University Classroom Environment Inventory and provided feedback via focus groups and an evaluation survey.
Based on combining data from the schools, blended instruction was associated with slightly greater achievement with the multiple-choice questions (i.e., lower-order skills) across multiple demographics, but the differences were not significant and the effects were small. With the free-response questions (i.e., higher-order skills), the combined results were mixed across the demographics, and there were small effects and non-significant differences. Interestingly, the free-response and classroom environment data aligned, with the blended approach showing more promise at two schools based on them, and the flipped approach doing so at the other. Based on the survey, although 48% did not prefer the flipped classroom to usual methods, 54% did prefer in-class problem solving to conventional lecture. The students identified high demands with the flipped classroom but cited benefits. In an open-ended question, the most frequent benefits were enhanced learning or learning processes, preparation and engagement, and active learning and questioning during class. These aligned with our focus group results and instructor interviews. Thus, although there were small differences with the combined exam and classroom environment data, the students qualitatively identified benefits with flipped instruction that were not captured by these assessments. Despite the small differences, there were some large differences in the exam and classroom environment results for the schools individually. This suggests the need for continued research with different demographics. Also, there may be a benefit to considering alternative measures besides exam scores. Our study is believed to be one of the few to rigorously compare technology-enhanced, active-learning approaches in STEM
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