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How Online Learning in an Engineering-Physics Course Helped Us Flip the Classroom

John Long (Deakin University, Australia)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 11:15am
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Blended Program/Degree
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Discovery Session
Atlantic Hall
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Discovery Session 2

This presentation shows how physics is taught to online students, outlines changes made to support flipping the on-campus classroom, and how it benefits everyone.

Extended Abstract

Distance education has developed in the past 25 years or so as a way of supplying education to people who would not have access to local college education facilities. This includes students who live in remote regions, students who lack mobility, and students with full-time jobs. More recently this has been renamed to "online learning". Deakin University in Australia has been teaching freshman engineering physics simultaneously to on-campus and online students since the late 1990's. The course is part of an online Bachelor of Engineering major that is accredited by the Institution of Engineers Australia.* In this way Deakin answers the call to provide engineering education "anywhere, anytime."**

The course has developed and improved with the available educational technology. Starting with printed study guides, a textbook, CD-ROMS, and snail-mail, and telephone/email correspondence with students, the course has seen the rise of websites, online course notes, discussion boards, streamed video lectures, web-conferencing classes and lab sessions, and online submission of student work. Most recently the on-campus version of the course has shifted from a traditional lecture/tutorial/lab format to a flipped-classroom format. The use of lectures has been reduced while the use of tutorials and practical exercises has increased. Primary learning is now accomplished by watching videos prepared by the lecturer and studying the textbook.

Offering this course for several years by distance education made this process considerably easier. Most of the educational "infrastructure" was already in place, and the course's delivery to a non-classroom cohort was already established. Thus many elements of the new structure did not have to be produced from scratch. Improvements to the course website and all the course material has benefited all students, both online and on-campus.

The new course structure was delivered for the first time in 2014, has run for two semesters, and will continue in 2015. Student learning and performance is being measured by assignment and exam marks for both on-campus and off-campus students. Students are also surveyed to gauge how well they received the new innovations, especially the video presentations on the lab experiments. It was found that student performance in the new structure was no worse than that in the older structure (average on-campus grades increased 10%), and students in general welcomed the changes. Similar transitions are being implemented in other courses in Deakin's engineering degree program.

This presentation will show how physics is taught to online students, outline the changes made to support flipping the on-campus classroom, and how that process benefited the off-campus cohort.

* J.M. Long, M.A. Joordens, and G. Littlefair, "Engineering Distance Education at Deakin University Australia," Proceedings of the IACEE 14th World Conference on Continuing Engineering Education, (Stanford University), 24-27 June 2014 (International Association for Continuing Engineering Education, ISBN 978-0-9916289-0-2.

** J. Bourne, D. Harris, and F. Mayadas, "Online Engineering Education: Learning Anywhere, Anytime," Journal of Engineering Education vol. 94, pp. 131-146.

Lead Presenter

Dr. Long originally trained in physics at the University Of Michigan (Flint) and in materials science at the AC Spark Plug Division of General Motors Corporation. He graduated in 1987. In 1995 he completed a PhD in physics at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Since 1995 he has been a lecturer at Deakin University, teaching physics, materials science, and electronics. He is an expert in distance education and online learning. His research interests include materials science and analysis; and engineering education.