THE P FILES

On the flip side

By Derek Rodriguez
Assoc Prof Gan Chee Lip is one of those eagerly awaiting the opening of the new learning hub in August. As one of the pioneers of the flipped classroom in an engineering class at NTU, he will put to good use the new circular spaces that have no pillars, which are designed for group discussions. So what exactly is a flipped classroom?

Instead of attending traditional lectures and tutorials, students will view recorded clips and go through course materials ahead of class time on their mobile devices. So when they arrive for class, they will be ready to tackle questions on the topic and to argue and present their solutions in groups.

“Within a group, there will be differing ideas and opinions. The challenge for students is not just a technical one – they have to learn to convince their peers that their approach is the right one.

“And when you have to consider multiple viewpoints, you exercise your critical thinking skills. These soft skills will be helpful not just for their future careers, but for their lives,” says Assoc Prof Gan, who teaches students in the premier Renaissance Engineering Programme.
Initial worries that students might be hesitant to speak up and take part in the discussions were unfounded.

“In the first or second week of my course, they weren’t so familiar with one another yet so I had to facilitate the discussions. But by the third week, the team conversations started easily and became quite lively. There was a lot of open and spontaneous sharing between groups, especially since they had the support of their teammates when challenged.”

Second-year Renaissance Engineering Programme undergraduate Amber Tan vouches for it. “We made a lot of noise in class, and we became close friends with the people in our group.”

As a way to keep track of how the students were responding to his lessons and to keep things interesting, Assoc Prof Gan used wireless devices known as clickers in class. Multiple-choice questions were presented and the students answered them on the spot using them.

“It was like a game. I could reveal the names of the fastest students. They could also score points individually and in teams. If many in class couldn’t answer a question correctly, I knew it was time to clarify concepts,” he says.

Last semester, Assoc Prof Gan introduced team-based learning in his classes. In team-based learning, students take short quizzes on their mobile devices or laptops to test their understanding of the pre-class materials, before tackling the same questions as a team.

Says Victoria Zhao, another Renaissance Engineering Programme student who took his class: “Team-based learning kept me hooked and the point scoring system motivated me. I like Assoc Prof Gan’s teaching methods too. For example, for our continuous assessment, he sat us down one by one and gave us oral quizzes. It was a real test of our understanding of the subject!”

Team-based learning is not new to NTU as its medical students at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine already use it for all modules.

Assoc Prof Gan is the first to introduce it in an engineering class.

“Education is no longer about the pure transfer of information from teacher to student,” he says. “Not only do 21st century learners embrace technology in the classroom, they are ready for new methods of teaching.”
“It was like a game. I could reveal the names of the fastest students. They could also score points individually and in teams. If many in class couldn’t answer a question correctly, I knew it was time to clarify concepts.”
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Photos: Hanafi Ramdan and Sam Chin