Flip over your learning

Learning on the flip side in smart classrooms can be fun – you get to watch videos as homework and you do quizzes in class. Lo Tien Yin hangs out with Catrina Lim, a first-year Renaissance Engineering Programme student attending a class on electronics and information engineering

Sunday, 11pm

Catrina is lying on her bed, watching the last video on her iPad. There are six videos to watch for the class tomorrow morning – and she has caught up with most of them last week.

Monday, 9:30am

Catrina arrives at the smart classroom. Soon she and her team mates are poring over their iPads, completing a quiz of six multiple choice questions. They are given 15 minutes for this weekly closed-book test. Assoc Prof Goh Wang Ling, leading the class, explains that the test allows her to gauge each individual’s grasp of the subject.


They are given 10 minutes to do the quiz again, this time as a team with members coming to a consensus on the best answer for each question. “Open book” is allowed for this round. This stage helps to improve their decision-making, communication and critical thinking skills.


The teams are still bent over their iPads. Their responses are relayed in real time from their iPads to the class facilitator’s laptop, allowing the professor to know how they are faring – and which questions need further discussion later on.

The students are graded individually on their quiz results, and also on a team basis. Performance in flipped classrooms accounts for 40 per cent of overall grading, with examinations taking up the remaining 60 per cent.


Break time.


All eyes are on the LCD screens as Assoc Prof Goh guides the students through the answers of a pen-and-paper quiz taken the previous week. A little debate is taking place. The point of contention? Whether PAL or Programmable Array Logic can be re-programmed once programmed. Strictly speaking, PAL, an electronic component used to build digital circuits, cannot be re-programmed. However under certain conditions, PAL can be re-programmed.


A smiling Assoc Prof Goh packs the class off and promises to disseminate the best answers to all teams. “These are first-year students who are experiencing flipped classrooms for the first time. They are smart and are adapting very well! I think they really enjoy learning as teams. For example, I understand that they coordinate on a colour theme for each of their classes. Today, it’s red!” she says.

Professor iPad is in

The flipped classroom works well for Renaissance Engineering Programme student Catrina Lim. She likes the way students are not pitted against one another but are learning as a team.

“I didn’t find the system too difficult or stressful compared to the normal lecture and tutorial way of learning. In fact, the flipped classroom factored quite a bit when I chose NTU over other universities. One big advantage is that it allows you to manage your time. You can choose when to read or watch online materials as opposed to a fixed timetable for lectures,” she adds.

Medical student Lavisha S Punjabi agrees. She is happy to have online materials on her iPad so that she can prepare for classes anywhere and anytime. “I am fortunate to be spared the despair of trudging to school for an 8am lecture with a heavy backpack of textbooks,” she says.

By 2020, NTU will be taking the flipped classroom pedagogy across 1,500 of its undergraduate courses. Prof Kam Chan Hin, Senior Associate Provost (Undergraduate Education), says the flipped classroom prepares students for future careers.

“The ability to take learning into their own hands is an invaluable skill that will stay with our students even after they graduate,” he says.

Assoc Prof Tan Joo Seng of the Nanyang Business School, who is a Fellow with the Renaissance Engineering Programme, says the flipped classroom provides a coherent structure and process for students to learn effectively and collaboratively in small groups.

“What students enjoy most is the process of working together to apply their new knowledge to the questions and application exercises," he adds.

Assoc Prof Naomi Low-Beer, Vice-Dean (Education), who helped to pioneer the new pedagogy at NTU’s medical school, has noticed it gets students motivated, engaged and taking a mature, collaborative approach to their learning.