In an effort to raise student performance in a difficult course, San Jose State University has turned to a “flipped classroom” format, requiring students to watch lecture videos produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and using class time for discussion. And initial data show the method is leading to higher test scores, university officials announced this week.
The class, “Engineering Electronics and Circuits,” has been “one of the most-hated courses in the college,” said David W. Parent, a professor and undergraduate coordinator in the electrical-engineering department. The course has a historically low passing rate—40 percent of students in the class received a C or lower last semester—and change was needed, said Khosrow Ghadiri, an adjunct professor who teaches the flipped-classroom version.
“We were concerned about this class,” Mr. Ghadiri said. “We wanted to revamp it in a fashion that would enable the students to pass this course and continue with their education because this is a gateway course required to continue in the major.”
Over the summer, four San Jose State professors went to MIT to work with its edX team and adjust the course to the campus’s needs. edX is a partnership of MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin to offer massive open online courses, or MOOC’s.
The 85 students in the flipped course at San Jose State watched the edX lecture videos at home and attended class twice a week to practice what they had learned and ask questions. Two other sections of students took a traditional version of the course.
The midterm-examination scores of students in the flipped section were higher than those in the traditional sections, said Mr. Ghadiri. Although the midterm questions were more difficult for the flipped students, their median score was 10 to 11 points higher.
The final reckoning of whether the students have learned better through the flipped classroom will come in the class’s last week. Professors plan to give the same final exam to all of the sections. Researchers will then control the data for grade-point average and prerequisite knowledge to “prove to ourselves and fellow faculty that we didn’t stuff the classroom with dead ringers,” Mr. Parent said.
The university will also survey students’ views of their experience in the alternative format before deciding whether to develop more flipped-classroom courses. “I think, in a way, that’s more important,” said Ping Hsu, interim dean of engineering. “If students feel this is a better way to learn, then that says a lot, perhaps more than exam scores.”
Some students have complained about the fast pace of the flipped course and the demands of more-frequent quizzes, Mr. Ghadiri said.
Adam T. Allen, a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering, was curious about the flipped-classroom method but nervous about signing up for the course because his friends had had to retake it. He likes the format but said the pace could “slow down a bit” to align with the other sections. “We do have to learn more, but I don’t mind too much,” he said.
“The flipped classroom receives a lot of resistance upfront,” Mr. Parent said. “What the students didn’t say, but were effectively saying, was that they had to learn at the rate which the classroom was going rather than letting it slide and cramming at the last moment.”