Making the flip: Megan Squire’s take on technology-based learning
When Megan Squire, an associate professor of computing sciences, attended the Flipped Instruction seminar this summer, she was excited to be in her students’ shoes, seeing learning from their side of the monitor. Sitting in a classroom with several other professors helped created more energy and enthusiasm around changing things up in the classroom.
“I think these workshops… give you a little bit more practice in a structured format where you say, ‘Oh, I’ll get to it,’ but you never really will,” she says. “So if you take the class, at least you’re on a timetable.”
While many professors were interested in altering the way they teach, Squire has been teaching in a flipped instruction style for years because, she says, this is the way most computer science courses operate. Often professors assign readings and video or online tutorials outside of class, and then they devote class time to working on labs and answering the questions students have as they go along. This follows the flipped model almost to a T.
“It’s kind of like learning to cook or something, you can’t really learn to cook by watching a screen; you learn to cook by cooking food,” Squire says of her experience with flipped learning. “So it’s the same thing. We learn to code by writing code.”
Despite Squire’s long history of using flipped learning, she was drawn to the flipped instruction course by the promise of learning tools like screencasting to simplify the grading process. Squire admits that she does not use screencasting as often as she expected following the workshop, but she realized she could use a similar method to grade students’ websites: screenshots.
“It’s not rocket science, but I just didn’t think of it before,” she says. “So even though it wasn’t exactly what I learned from the workshop, it did come out of that as an outcome.”
Squire learned that, to make grading faster, she could draw upon the work of others… literally. She’d open the student’s work, take a screenshot, circle what she wanted the student to fix in Apple’s Preview on Mac, and type a sentence or so explaining why it should be changed.
“Before I was giving feedback in these long paragraphs,” Squire explains. “[I’d say,] ‘This project is very interesting, except I would like you to fix on the right-hand side of your first page, the blue area.’ And I’d have to describe this in words, but it’s a visual thing. That’s pointless. A picture’s worth a thousand words.”
Squire says that the biggest challenge of taking a flipped instruction course is making sure that the technology is “keeping up with the pace of change.” This can be difficult when working in computer science because technology is constantly changing, but she recommends finding the right balance of technology and personal interaction in the classroom.
“I just cherry-picked the pieces out that I wanted to use,” she says, of the flipped instruction course. “And like I said, it ended up helping me most with grading… Anything to make that better is a good thing.”