Flipped Classroom for Microcontrollers

Starting in Fall 2012, we began using a flipped classroom for our ECE 3724 course. After the Fall 2012 semester, we did a survey and found that approximately 2/3 of the students liked the approach, and we received many positive comments on the end-of-semester student evaluations. We have no intention of returning to the standard classroom model. This page shares the approach that we used for implementing the flipped classroom which is about the same as used by others.

The important components of the flipped classroom are:

    • Video lectures -- we found that students wanted to download these, so they are available in raw form as well as encased in a browser window. To create the videos, we used Camtasia Studio, a Bamboo Create graphics tablet, and a USB headset/microphone. We tried to keep these to under 20 minutes if possible, but a few longer videos (about 30 minutes) were necessary. Most of the videos were created by talking to PPT slides while scribbling on the slide with the graphics tablet. Each slide was recorded separately, making it easy to post edit the videos in case a particular segment needed to be updated.
    • Online quizzes -- we found that having the students take an online quiz for each video they watched increased retainment of the material. We used Respondus for creating the quizzes, which is an off-line quiz editor. Respondus files can then be uploaded into Blackboard, which is used at Mississippi State. We also found it important that the online quizzes form a significant part of the class grade (in our case, 9%), so that students were better motivated to spend quality time on them. The quizzes are also good for spotting trouble areas, as Blackboard gives statistics for each question. Any question that falls below a particular correct answer threshold (in our case 80%) can be discussed at the beginning of class to get the students warmed up for the in-class work. These quizzes are available upon request to other instructors.
    • In-class work/demos -- since one does not lecture during class, then each class period is filled with some form of practice work and/or demos. Students liked this as they were essentially practicing what they would be tested on. For in-class work, students worked in pairs, with the instructor flitting around giving hints when needed. When a few correct solutions for a problem was done, the solution was quickly covered on the board for the rest of the class. This worked well for the assembly language coding snippets for Chapters 1-6 since the problems were small in terms of the amount work to be done. For the hardware chapters (8 and onward), we found that it was not practical to ask the students to write a lot of microcontroller C code during class. Instead, we would give them C code, and ask them what it did, or ask them to spot errors in it, or ask them to modify it in some small way. This in-class work is available upon request to other instructors.

In terms of impact on students, we found that students who did not apply themselves failed earlier/harder than with the traditional approach. However, we also found that students who did apply themselves had a better/deeper understanding of the material, and this was evidenced by overall higher test grades for the stronger students. In the end, we like that the flipped classroom has students take more responsibility for their learning, and we believe that it actively promotes the concept of life-long learning.