Diving headfirst into the flipped classroom

In first semester 2021, I convened MATH3062 – Fractals and Chaotic Dynamics. This was my first time delivering the course, and to spice things up I chose to deliver it in the flipped classroom approach – delivering edited and concise online lecture material.

Having followed successful mathematics YouTubers for a few years (e.g.Numberphile and 3blue1brown), I’d been wanting to develop my skills with video communication. This semester was a good opportunity, given the uncertainty around in-person activities.

The student’s view

An intro course on blended learning, by Joe Hope and Paul Francis, was a great resource to get started with. It covers the basics of video making, the technology requirements and the principles of blended learning. I aimed for video duration of 5 to 10 minutes, each video covering one specific concept. I used an iPad for writing, a high-quality Rode HS2 headset microphone for narration and the Camtasia software to capture it all.

It was a tough semester, but enormously rewarding. My priority was to make rigorous but enjoyable content, to demonstrate the algebra properly but bring in some animations and drawings to aid intuition. With mathematics I feel there is a significant opportunity to improve learning outcomes with blended learning. 

The tech set up

No doubt the hardest aspect of the semester was maintaining a disciplined workflow to produce and perfect the video content. With all the equations and algebra, the source material for one video could be over 60 minutes long – whittling that down to under 10 minutes takes time. 

Another significant challenge was producing videos with a smooth flow. It’s a knack that took most of the semester to master. When capturing, it’s best to alternate between writing and speaking, to allow for a video speed-up during the writing. You also really need to be aware of what’s being said, and it’s worth drafting a rough script for each video. 

Students really seemed to respond well to the content. I’d even go so far as to suggest that we formed a strong student-teacher relationship over the digital divide. 

If you are an ANU academic and are interested in doing something similar I’m open to be contacted regarding technology, particularly regarding sound, and editing.

Example of one of the recorded lecture

July 2021

Dr James Nichols is a Research Fellow at the Biological Data Science Institute in the ANU College of Science. You can also find him @james_nichols on Twitter