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Flipped classrooms enhance the learning process

© 2017 EPFL / Alain Herzog

© 2017 EPFL / Alain Herzog

A series of videos featuring EPFL teachers showcases innovative teaching methods that have been developed and put into practice on the school’s campus. The goal? To help students learn better, regardless of their field of study.

At EPFL, innovation is at work in all fields – including that of teaching itself. A growing number of instructors are taking an interest in new pedagogical methods to revamp their traditional lecture-hall courses, and they’re taking their cues from research being conducted by experts in learning strategies. EPFL’s Teaching Support Centre has just released a series of videos that were filmed in the classrooms of five instructors who are leading the way in these new methods.

An MOOC for laying the foundations

Jean-Cédric Chappelier, a computer programming teacher, totally restructured his course when he adopted the flipped-classroom approach. His 350 first-year students now learn the basics of programming at their own pace by taking a MOOC before heading to the classroom to flesh out their knowledge of the subject. Chappelier spent a lot of time with his colleagues Jamila Sam and Vincent Lepetit developing the videos in which he teaches the foundations of his course, and he feels that his effort has paid off. “There is a lot more give-and-take in class,” he says. “The students come to the practical sessions better prepared and ask much more pointed questions.” The flexibility that this approach gives the students, who are allocated blocks of time in their schedule for the online work, is also appreciated. “The impact is positive in two respects: the students prefer this approach, and it makes them better,” adds Chappelier.

In-class clickers and apps

In order to boost participation in her classes, physics professor Cécile Hébert opted for clickers, which let students vote for a multiple-choice answer when the professor asks a question. “This creates an interactive dynamic that is very constructive,” says Hébert. Getting students actively involved is clearly one of the secrets to improving their grasp of the material. “To learn, they really need to ‘do’ something: join in, speak up, write – anything is better than just sitting there and listening,” says Denis Gillet, who, in the class he teaches with Adrian Holzer and Samuel Bendahan takes a similar approach through the SpeakUp app.


It takes just a couple of minutes for a question sent out through the app to gauge the class’s level of understanding, enabling the professors to zoom in on the weak spots. “Without this app, that would be impossible in an auditorium with a hundred students where not everyone can speak up,” says Holzer.

Instructor workshops
With this initial series of videos, the Teaching Support Centre hopes to encourage other teaching initiatives within EPFL and support any instructor who is hesitating about taking the leap. “It’s not easy to put a completely new method into practice, and it's important for instructors to be inspired by what their colleagues are doing,” says Siara Isaac, a teaching advisor at the Centre. To make the leap easier, the Centre provides guidance and workshops on various topics related to innovation in teaching, and it is also developing other types of videos. “These days, professors are no longer there to simply impart knowledge – since now everything is just a click away – but to help students learn skills,” adds Isaac. “Coming up with more effective methods based on active participation is rewarding for everyone – both students and professors alike.”

The Teaching Support Centre’s next two workshops for instructors are on Flipped Classrooms (4 July) and Effective interactive Teaching (11 July). For more information or to sign up, please contact Siara Isaac ([email protected]).


Author: Sarah Aubort
Source: Mediacom