​TLU Receives Nearly $300,000 Grant From National Science Foundation

September 19, 2016

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Imagine taking a course where lecture is minimized and class time is spent working on problems, group projects, and being actively engaged in the course material. As part of a grant awarded from the National Science Foundation, Texas Lutheran University will receive $291,828 to determine the optimum impact inverted and “flipped classrooms” should have to maximize student success in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses. 

Led by Math and Computer Science Department Chair, Professor Reza Abbasian, and Chemistry Department Chair, Professor Bill Davis, this project will look at what the optimal combination of Inverted and Active Learning Pedagogies (IALP) should be in order to maximize student learning.

Abbasian and Davis competed against large state universities and some elite private schools for this funding, including the highly selective Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. who recently received funding for their project, “Probing the Inverted Classroom: A Controlled Study of Teaching and Learning Outcomes in Undergraduate Chemistry, Engineering, and Mathematics.”

For the past five years, Abbasian—and his math department colleague Professor John Sieben—have presented and published in the area of inverted classrooms at the International Conference in use of Technology in Collegiate Mathematics.

“In a typical inverted or hybrid-inverted classroom, students watch short, 10-minute videos about a topic before coming to class allowing the instructor to minimize their lecture and spend time in class doing activities or small group projects” Abbasian said. “Our goal is to study the effectiveness of these classes across multiple STEM disciplines versus the traditional lecture.”

“In multi-section STEM courses in areas like statistics, chemistry, or biology, we will teach one section using the inverted method and another one using traditional lecture,” Davis said. “We will then monitor the performance of the students from both classes in the next course. There are studies that show the inverted classroom approach would benefit unprepared students. Another one of our goals is to find out if the inverted classroom approach can enhance the learning of underrepresented students.”

This will be measured by using pre-post test instruments and student scores on assignments including quizzes, exams, and projects. Results will be recorded and analyzed throughout the semester and course content will be optimized following analysis of these results.

While Innovative and Active Learning includes the flipped classroom approach, Davis says they will explore other methods outside of the traditional "chalk talk" that actively engages students and puts them in real-world scenarios they might see as working professionals.

“This can also include things like active group work, project based learning, or guided inquiry,” Davis said. “One of the approaches I will take in my analytical chemistry class is to have the students run a ‘company’ in the lab. They are responsible for completing the analyses I give them and must manage costs and submit invoices to me as the customer. I also function as a ‘consultant’ and it costs virtual dollars to ask me questions.”

While there is still no clear evidence that inverted classrooms are more beneficial for students versus traditional lecture, Abbasian and Davis hope to find out.

“Ultimately, we hope to find teaching methodologies that show student performance gains,” Davis said. “It may be—and most likely will be—a very different innovative pedagogy in the different STEM disciplines.”

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