Brown’s first large-scale, flipped course for undergraduates, this course incorporated online ‘microlectures’ and weekly collaborative problem-solving sessions to facilitate learning of difficult economics concepts.
To assess the impact of blended learning on students’ experience in Intermediate Microeconomics with Professor Pedro Dal Bó , the course was divided into two sections: an experimental “flipped” section and a control section. Students in the flipped section attended normal lectures twice a week as well as weekly collaborative peer learning sessions facilitated by undergraduate Teaching Assistants. Students in the control group also attended lectures, but did not participate in the collaborative problem-solving sessions.
Brief online videos (“microlectures”) created by Professor Pedro Dal Bó during the summer and previous semester provided highly focused instruction and were integrated with the problems presented to students in the experimental section of the course. In many cases, microlectures worked through specific problems or scenarios, but also often paused to prompt students to solve or think about more challenging problems on their own. These formed the instructional and conceptual basis for the collaborative problem solving efforts of each student team during the weekly two-hour section.
A hallmark of this approach to “flipped“ courses is the extensive training received by the team of Undergraduate Teaching Assistants who facilitated the peer learning sessions. Over the course of a semester, the initial cohort of TAs participated in weekly training sessions designed to help them become skilled classroom facilitators. Through observation, role-playing exercises, and practice sessions with actual students enrolled in the course during the preceding semester, the TAs developed a deep understanding of how to facilitate collaborative learning and intervene productively in shaping peer team dynamics.
Students who participated in the collaborative peer learning sessions have shown significant learning gains. Although less complex than a fully online course, preparing a blended course involves a variety of activities that range from the creation of short videos to facilitator training for Teaching Assistants. For instructors, the time involved in creating a blended course ranges between three and six months. A key element behind the success of this particular example was the close collaboration among the instructor, graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants, and staff at the Sheridan Center.