Learn Boldly: The inverted classroom

January 7, 2013

After visiting a conference in January 2011, Dr. John Sieben was inspired to makes some changes to college algebra. The math and computer science professor began working with Math Department Chair Dr. Reza Abbasian on developing a new, more exciting approach to Math 133.

In its beginnings, college algebra was created to prepare students for calculus. However, statistics show more students take college algebra as a math requirement with only 10 percent going on to calculus. For Sieben and Abbasian, this data meant it was time to change the way we approach college algebra and make the class more useful for students not studying science, technology, engineering or math.

“Our goal is to show how math can be both useful and fun for those who aren’t math or science majors,” said Sieben. “We’ll have more group discussions, in-class problem solving and collaborative group work. We want students to know that math predictions are used in everyday life from setting policy to tracking sales trends. Our students will be able to do real world applications where they will take a data set, identify a pattern and describe it mathematically.”

Based on data collected by the Khan Academy, a “global classroom” featuring an online library of more than 3200 video tutorials, Sieben and Abbasian will also implement what they call an inverted classroom.

“Students will receive lectures outside of class and class time will be spent discussing applications,” said Sieben. “This way, they have the lectures available to them at all times for reference. Students will come to class with questions where we can reinforce and verify that concepts are understood. This method has worked well at elementary and secondary levels and we believe it’ll also work at TLU.”

Sieben says he hopes these new approaches change attitudes towards college algebra.

“I want them to see how math is useful and that they’re capable of doing it,” Sieben said. “My focus is for them to not only develop specific skills but gain the confidence to look at a math problem and know they can solve it.”

Assistant Physics Professor Shawn Hilbert is also using inverted classroom techniques with his students. He uses the computer program Jing to send screencasts to students, prepping them for class with a five-minute video lecture. This helps them digest the material from the textbook better than simply reading on their own.

“I like to emphasize the importance of self-learning,” Hilbert said. “These brief lectures prep my students for class but they don’t completely lay the material out for them. My goal is for students to use the five-minute lectures as a starting point and eventually learn how to read a technical textbook.”

Hilbert also said college is meant to give a foundation with which to work. However, he said, students should know that in graduate school or when entering the job market, there are always specifics or concepts you must find out for yourself.

“If someone is accepted into graduate school or hired for a job and they are unable to teach themselves the materials and skills needed for success, neither will last very long,” Hilbert said. “So whether students go on to more schooling or the job market, it’s imperative they have the ability to self-teach.”

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