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Case Study: Flipping Computer Programming Project

Project Leaders: Dr Paul Shepherd, Dr Nick McCullen, Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Background context

This is a case study of one of the University’s funded pilot Flipping Projects- looking at the motivation for flipping, the methods used, lessons learnt and impact.

Motivation

Computer programming is best learned first-hand through guided trial-and-error, since this helps students develop the invaluable skills of how to identify and correct errors (debugging) as well as learning the language and programming environment itself. The very large cohort size (110) and limited teaching resources (computer lab with only 40 PCs) meant the students had to be split into three groups. Therefore hands-on teaching time was very limited (even reducing the allocated 2hrs per student per week down to one hour meant the lecturer was teaching for 3hrs instead of 2). Flipping allowed some of this time to be made up by the students outside the classroom. The previous teaching methods of very short lecture demonstrations interspersed with hands-on practice had further limited the most essential component of learning programming, i.e. the actual practice.

The flipped classroom

Flipping Project Funding was secured to help create the pre-reading material for the students. Dr Jan Van Lent (now at UWE but formerly at Bath) was employed to develop the course structure, draft materials and examples with model answers, which were posted weekly onto Moodle. His experience of delivering two courses at UWE in a flipped format, and his expertise in the Python computer language to be taught on this flipped unit made him the ideal person to prepare this material.

Students were told to use one of the unallocated but timetabled slots on the unit (when one of the other groups were being “taught”) to go through each week’s online material each week and practice the examples at home before attending their timetabled slot to ask questions and work on the mini-assessments.
To help further motivate the students, each week involved a 3% credited mini assessment task to test one of that week’s basic intended learning outcome. This was automatically checked using an innovative computer script to ease the workload for the unit convener (beyond writing and debugging the marking script in the first place), and also gave instant individual feedback to each of the 110 students each week, with tips on how to improve in a re submission.

Lessons learnt

Many students did the full learning as directed and achieved a great deal (evidenced by their performance in the main assignment over Easter). Others just turned up for the tutorials and jumped in straight with the weekly task, ignoring the “flipped” prior leaning. However, with an average mark of 25 out of the full 30 marks available for continual assessment, there was clearly good engagement with the course and the ILOs were generally achieved.

The student evaluation comments (and in-person anecdotal comments) were positive and indicated that the students liked the continual assessment tasks and felt that they learned something valuable each week. They felt that the materials were too detailed in places, and the material took longer than an hour to go through. This will be addressed in future by reminding the students about the number of hours they are expected to study beyond the timetable. There was also a feeling in a few cases that there should have been some element of lecturing to complement the materials. To accommodate this without returning to an inefficient teaching style, short video lectures will be prepared for next year, for students to watch before attempting each week’s materials.

Impact

The unit assessment results were an improvement on last year. In the combined continual assessments and main coursework assignment, the student average is 64%. Unit Evaluation Scores (everything in the range 4-4.5) and Comments have been positive.

The main reason behind the success of this course, perhaps in contrast to the experience of others, is that there is a good match between the style of delivery and the learning expected, and between the choice of example material and the learning students undergo in other parallel units.

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