Flipping the classroom in Meteorology

Dr. Andrew Charlton-Perez, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Year of activity: 2015/16


12484A flipped learning approach to teaching the part 3 and part 4 module, ‘The Global Circulation’ (MT38A/4YA) in Meteorology was developed and tested. This approach was very successful, encouraging students to apply complex ideas to real-world problems.


  • Develop a new set of learning resources which could be used both in a flipped learning or traditional lecture based delivery.
  • Test and evaluate if teaching in a ‘flipped learning’ style improved student engagement and higher-level learning.
  • Implement authentic assessment that models the real-world process of enquiry and peer-feedback.


I’ve been teaching this module for eight years adding some enquiry-based learning elements around four years ago. While it has always received good student feedback, a colleague who moderated my exam scripts last year made me consider if students were as actively engaged with the module as I had previously thought. Looking at student work it was clear that while students could remember and reproduce sophisticated concepts and mathematical derivations, their ability to apply this knowledge to unfamiliar situations was limited.


Prior to the course I developed a significant new set of learning resources for the course:

  • 21 short videos (between 4 and 6 minutes long) targeted at difficult concepts.
  • 13 online quizzes of ten questions in Blackboard Learn.
  • 24 new learning activities linked to the research literature which students completed during class. 12 of these activities were supported by simple numerical models developed from scratch in open-source Python code.

The course was delivered to students in Spring 2016. The first time the class met as a group I explained the flipped classroom idea and we negotiated an approach to learning.

Following this first meeting, the class operated in three, three-week units. During the first two weeks of each unit, students studied notes and videos in their own time and then completed the on-line quizzes (with instant feedback) prior to attending the next class. In class, students had a choice of two learning activities. Students worked with each other in small teams and with me to complete the problems, writing notes in a rough lab book.

In the third week of each unit, students prepared a more formal write-up of one of the problems as summative assessment for that unit. In extracting information from their lab book, students needed to think about how to frame the problem by stating a hypothesis they wished to test and put the work they had done in the context of the current research literature.

In class, students exchanged their work and gave peer-feedback to each other, before completing the formal write-up with the chance to ask additional clarification questions.


The change to a flipped learning style had a transformative impact on the module; Student feedback highlighted the benefits of the investment in a number of ways including that they enjoyed the flipped learning approach:

  • ‘The structure of the module was the best out of my three years of university, flipped classroom should be done more’
  • ‘Always felt engaged with the lectures thanks to a different learning style’
  • ‘… I could run over the tricky concepts in more detail on a 1-to-1 basis with the lecturer. Often the same question applied to others and the class environment allowed group discussions which really enhanced the learning in a relaxed and productive way.’

And that their learning was improved:

  • ‘…brought my attention to active research areas at the front of study – it got me very interested in the exercises.’
  • ‘Class room discussions made me learn more than in a lecture style class’
  • ‘It isn’t an easy module, but it is very rewarding’


Teaching in a flipped learning style also had a significant impact on my own enthusiasm for teaching the course because the improvement in student learning and engagement was tangible. The image shows an example of student work produced on a white board by a small group during one of the class sessions, applying ideas from the core course material to a recent research paper. It was extremely exciting to see students applying complex ideas in this way and succeeding in writing high-quality research reports on their work.

The flipped learning approach also challenged me to think more deeply about the material because I needed to produce engaging and manageable problems for students to work on.

It was also very rewarding to see how much students made use of the new teaching materials I developed. By monitoring the use of the videos on Blackboard I could see that typically the videos were viewed between 100 and 150 times by the ten students on the course, indicating how important these videos were for student learning. Based on student feedback, short and engaging videos encouraged repeated viewing. I also included music in the videos, often with an oblique reference to the content and students commented that they enjoyed this element of fun! At the end of the course, students requested the ability to download and keep copies of the videos (this functionality is currently not available in Blackboard).

An important part of producing the videos was to also provide transcripts to ensure they were accessible for all students and this took quite a bit of time in addition to video production (which was relatively straight-forward).

The on-line quizzes had a completion rate of 80% with average marks above 70% for most students. As with the videos, the high level of engagement with these materials suggests that they were of an appropriate length and level of challenge for students (pitched so that a student who had studied the notes and videos could answer most questions without further detailed application).

From a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom

Dr Karsten O. Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering
Year(s) of activity: 2013-14


6477A flipped classroom approach was trialed for the Part Two Java module (SE2JA11) taught in the School of Systems Engineering. 


  • Encourage students on the module to become deep-level learners, as they analyse, evaluate and create, rather than simply remembering and understanding.
  • Introduce a flexible teaching and learning style that students will find enjoyable.
  • Introduce flexibility that allows students to manage their time in a better way, giving them more opportunities to study the materials in a deeper manner.
  • Improve attendance and engagement with practicals.


In the summer of 2013 videos were created for the module.  New slides to present the content were designed, with the fonts improved to make them easier to read on a computer screen.  While the content was based on that of the old slides that were available to students, practical screencasts were introduced in the video, whereby the students can see how the code behaves and how they are supposed to develop it practically.  Some slides were altered so that they presented difficult concepts in more easily understood ways, such as through use of analogies to the restaurant business and the automobile industry.

Feedback and feedforward videos were introduced to explain the progress through the course.  One of the feedforward videos was used to make the students aware of the object-orient programming (OOP) nature of the code, and that the weekly practicals would be building upon previous material.  Students were told that they could use the weekly practicals as a gauge to measure if they had problems with OOP, and should ask the teaching staff for help.

The videos were created using Camtasia, an tool for creating videos and screencasts from webcams and computer screens.  The software suite also has simple post-production tools, which allowed zooming to ensure that the small text of development environments could be viewed easily.  These videos were then embedded as items on the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment.  Uploading the videos to a streaming service external to the University was considered, but was decided against in order to create a classroom feeling to the videos.

The flipped classroom method generally recommends that videos be simply bite-sized chunks of around 4 to 6 minutes long.  Several of the videos created for the module, however, were over 1 hour long, as a result of the amount of material that needed too be covered, the adherence to the lecturing paradigm, and the lack of time available to transform the material as much as would have been necessary in order to make 6 to 20 minute videos.


To obtain feedback from the students, two voluntary bespoke surveys were shared with the students, one available in weeks 2-3 of the Autumn Term, and one available in week 1 of the Spring Term. The first survey showed that 84% of students preferred videos over lectures, and that only 4% of students did not expect to watch the videos more than once. In the second survey, 100% of students now preferred videos to lectures, and 100% expected to watch the videos more than once.


Flipping the classroom has been of great benefit. As the act of flipping cannot just be a case of replicating old teaching methods digitally, it promotes reflection on course content and teaching methods, and requires thorough planning. The initial investment pays off in the long term as the teaching materials produced can be reused, not only from year to year, but between different modules that have some overlapping content. While the creation of teaching materials may consume more time than the traditional delivery of content, it is flexible as it can be done when time allows, and does not require being present at an appointed time and location.

Despite concerns about the length of the videos, on the whole students expressed satisfaction about this.  The general response was that students expected the videos to be long, as they were replacing 2 hour lectures, and therefore students would feel cheated if the videos were not long and with a lot of content.  While it was agreed that students might benefit from having chapters within the videos to make them easier to search, none wanted the videos to be shorter.

In order to improve how the module is taught using the flipped classroom model in the future, the following recommendations were made:

  • Include a more self-regulated learning approach to the coursework, allowing students more flexibility over the weeks, and removing some of the summative pressures that might induce surface-level learning.
  • Change the module so that 100% of assessment is carried out through coursework. This should make students focus more on the practical work throughout the year, and help them focus more on the relevant material and learning it in a deeper way.
  • Introduce a level of self-regulated learning to the practicals, by introducing a logbook instead of weekly sign-off sheets. Students will need a number of signatures in their logbook to get 10% of their practical marks. The signatures will be given after a short formative discussion of progress provifnng useful feedback and suggestions of further work.

Follow up

The flipped classroom approach continues to be used for the teaching of SE2JA11, and has now been introduced for other modules within the School of Systems Engineering. In particular, videos on general coding theory are able to be utilised within many modules. Dr Lundqvist was able to draw upon the experience of flipping the classroom when creating the Open Online Course Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game.

The recommendations generated by the pilot year have been carried out, with the exception of the introduction of a logbook, which proved impractical. While students still complete weekly sign-off sheets, the sheets are now 50% questions on the video, to ensure that students have viewed the videos and retained the information, and 50% questions on progress in their own learning, with the intention that students will reflect upon their own learning, and staff will be aware of students who are having difficulties.

Flipping assessment?! by Dr Karen Ayres

Like many colleagues, I have attended a number of interesting talks on the ‘flipped classroom’ approach, whereby, in a role reversal, the main delivery of information takes place outside of the classroom, and the contact time is used instead for reinforcing learning. I haven’t quite identified yet how I can make use of this approach in my own teaching, but I have been inspired to try ‘flipping’ an assessment in one of my modules. Admittedly this may be the wrong terminology to use here, but what I mean by this is a role reversal when it comes to assessment. In one of my modules this year, instead of asking students to produce a guide on using a statistics computing package, which I would usually then assess for clarity, accuracy and effectiveness as a training resource, I instead provided students with a piece of work I had created (with deliberate errors and other problems!) and asked them to assess it as if they were the lecturer.

The approach of engaging students in marking is of course not new, since peer marking is used by many lecturers. However, this was not a standard peer marking exercise, because I did not provide them with a marking scheme, nor a set of solutions to use. I left it to the students to decide how they wanted to split up the 100 marks, and what they wanted to award marks for. By doing it this way, my aim was to see whether they knew what the key elements of an effective training guide was, by showing how they thought one should be marked. They were also asked to provide effective feedback on the work, on the understanding that feedback should be constructive and should benefit learning, and that the feedback should justify the mark they awarded (I didn’t use the term ‘feed-forward’, but did ask them to consider what they would find useful if the work being commented on was their own). My aim here was to determine whether they understood how the key elements of an effective training guide should be put into practice, and also to see if they were able to identify technical inaccuracies in the work. It is this last point which I feel the flipped assessment approach may be particularly beneficial for. Often students may misunderstand something but not include it in their own piece of work, meaning that this misunderstanding escapes identification. By asking that they mark work which includes errors, and by requiring that they give feedback about why it’s an error, I feel that I’m demanding a deeper level of subject knowledge from them than I would be doing in a traditional assignment. Of course, it’s then important that I go through these errors with them afterwards, to make sure that no misunderstandings have been created!

I’m pleased to report that I was very impressed with what my students did on this assignment (obviously I had to assess their assessment!). It was a group assignment, and all groups produced a very detailed marking scheme, in a grid layout – I hadn’t given them any pointers on this, so the fact that they decided to do it like this was encouraging. The written feedback that they provided on the script they were given was similarly impressive, and in some cases of the same standard that my colleagues and I routinely provide. What was more interesting was the fact that alongside their various annotations on the script, they provided a separate, very detailed, document listing errors and issues with the work, including further feed-forward comments. If students all expect this multiple level of detailed feedback on their own work as standard, this might explain why some are unhappy with the (still reasonably detailed) feedback they do receive!

In summary, my aim in designing an assessment in a ‘flipped’ way was to encourage a deeper level of thought, and to assess a deeper level of understanding, than I felt was achieved by the usual approach. I feel that those who are tasked with assessing the knowledge and learning of others need to have a deeper than usual understanding of both the technical and communication sides of the discipline (certainly in mathematics and statistics). After the success of this trial run I will definitely be looking at how else I can use this different type of assessment in my other modules. My next step is to consider how to use something like this for a quantitative assignment, for example by asking them to both produce their own set of solutions with marking scheme, and then to use them to mark my piece of work that I submit to them for assessment!

Chemistry Education Research: Conference Reflections by Dr David Nutt

I was thrilled to be heading to the Gordon Research Conference on ‘Chemical Education Research and Practice’ in Newport, Rhode Island, thanks to an ‘Activating Chemistry Education Research’ bursary from the Royal Society of Chemistry. Having been to Gordon Conferences in the past, I was familiar with the format: busy mornings of talks, free afternoons for networking (or, in the case of Newport, visiting mansions, not necessarily incompatible with networking!), and then further talks and posters until 11pm. These conferences are normally small, with around 150 people at the cutting edge of the topic. I was hoping my poster on the ‘Flipped Classroom’ was going to be up to scratch. Another cornerstone of these conferences is confidentiality, with presenters encouraged to present a significant amount of unpublished work. Live tweeting was explicitly forbidden! Continue reading →

Turning study skills learning on its head by Dr Michelle Reid, Sonia Hood and Dr Kim Shahabudin

The Study Advice team found David Nutt’s post (Preparing to turn the classroom upside down, 14th Sept 2012) very timely as we too are embarking on a project to ‘flip’ the classroom.

Flipped learning has been a significant driver in the increase in open online courses for higher education. It has been used in higher education in the US with great success, particularly in science and maths subjects and has become widely used in teaching in US secondary schools. Discussing the approach with learning development colleagues at other universities alerted us to the potential benefits for teaching study skills.

Students are often reluctant to commit time from a busy schedule to developing their study skills, despite the prospect of greater success in learning. The flipped learning model allows students to explore key concepts or theories via videos, podcasts or screencasts, whilst freeing up contact hours for interactive application of these key concepts. This means that:

  • students practise independent learning from the start;
  • they can learn at their own pace and at a time to suit them;
  • problems with understanding can be spotted and addressed quickly.

The Study Advice project, funded by a grant from the Annual Fund, will apply the model to generic study skills teaching on topics including essay writing and referencing practice. We will be developing suites of ‘bite-size’ animated teaching resources using Camtasia to produce screencasts, accessed via our Blackboard Organisation. These will be followed by ‘Workshop Plus’ sessions to practise the skills taught in the screencasts. The screencasts will also be made available to University of Reading students and staff to use for their own purposes.

Challenges include persuading students to watch the screencasts before attending the hands-on sessions. Previous examples of flipped learning are course-based, with a specific cohort of students in one subject area. This means students are more motivated to access resources, while tutors can target the ‘just in time teaching’ mentioned by David to the needs of the group. In contrast, our teaching will be generic, on key study concepts which have a significant, but less visible impact on grades.

We would be very interested to hear the experiences of any other staff taking this approach in their teaching, and will be happy to share our own experiences. If you would like to know more about this project, contact any member of the Study Advice team (Sonia Hood, Kim Shahabudin, Michelle Reid and Judy Turner).

Preparing to turn the classroom upside down by Dr David Nutt

I think it was at the HEA-STEM conference (London, April 2012) in a talk given by Prof Simon Bates from the University of Edinburgh (now at the University of British Columbia) that I first heard of the “flipped” or “inverted” classroom. The basic premise really appealed to me: contact time with lecturers is limited and precious, so why do we so often use them simply to present material? Given clear directions, the students can read things for themselves! Instead, the timetabled lecture slots can be used to create a dialogue: addressing areas of difficulty or common misconceptions, applying the material to real-life examples and so on.

There are all sorts of ways to flip the classroom, but the most common approach seems to be use video podcasts, like those from the Khan Academy, combined with “just in time teaching”. Students watch the videos in their own time in advance of the timetabled lecture and are assumed to have covered the material. This is often checked by getting them to complete an on-line quiz, with a number of questions based on the material, plus a final open-ended question asking whether there are things they have found unclear or particularly difficult. The day before the lecture (this is the “just in time” bit), the lecturer collates the data, finds out what areas are causing difficulty and prepares material for the class which addresses these issues.

I’ve decided to take the plunge and flip two of my lecture courses this year, a second year course on spectroscopy (5 lectures) and a fourth year course on biomolecular modelling (5 lectures). The second year course contains many fundamental concepts and equations which just need to be learnt. In this case, the lecture slots can be transformed into workshops, in which the concepts can be put into practice. I anticipate that the lecture slots for the fourth year course will become much more research-focussed, for example discussing a paper from the literature which uses the theories and approaches described in the video podcast to address a real scientific problem.

I’m currently starting to prepare these courses. Using a web-cam, Camtasia Studio software and a Yeti microphone (purchased as part of a previous HE-STEM project on developing video resources), it’s straightforward to produce good quality video podcasts. That’s the easy bit! The next bit is seeing how it all works in practice… I’ll let you know how I got on after Christmas!


My introductory video podcast for the students:

Introductions to the flipped classroom approach:

Other interesting web resources: