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NSF grant to ‘flip’ classroom, online teaching approaches at Tuskegee

September 05, 2017

Contact: Michael Tullier, APR
Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

Dr. Chadia Affane Aji and Dr. M. Javed Khan
Aji and Khan

A National Science Foundation grant valued at nearly $300,000 promises to help advance Tuskegee University’s strategic priorities to enhance student success in STEM programs, increase student retention, improve long-term graduation rates and expand the university’s online education offerings.

This project, entitled “Strategies for Effective Engagement (SEE),” is under the direction of Dr. Chadia Affane Aji and Dr. M. Javed Khan, who together represent one of the university’s earliest cross-disciplinary teaching teams. It is centered on designing “flipped,” introductory-level mathematics and engineering courses that leverage face-to-face classroom instruction and online learning environments to engage students better and increase their proficiency with online learning.

The “flipped classroom” model differs from traditional teaching in that students first gain exposure to new material outside of class — in this case, through online lecture videos. This then allows students to focus class time on the more challenging task of assimilating that knowledge through problem-solving, discussion or hands-on strategies, according to Khan and Aji.

“Students will be expected to view lecture videos in advance of class meetings,” said Khan, who serves as a professor and head of the Department of Aerospace Science Engineering. “Without the time and engagement limitations associated with delivering textbook material during class, faculty can then focus on creating ‘active learning’ efforts that that offer richer discussion and hands-on activities.”

“The real challenge of this multifaceted approach is in its balance — creating engaging classroom activities, integrating online lecture content and mentoring underperforming students,” added Aji, a professor in the university’s Mathematics Department.

This “active learning” model will allow faculty to better know their students and intervene for those not actively participating in class.

“Our model will give instructors the ability to identify and engage less-engaged and struggling students in their classes,” Aji said, noting that the grant also will fund additional undergraduate teaching assistants to assist course instructors in doing so, and reduce current class sizes for these courses from as many as 40 to between 25 and 30 students.

The infusion of online learning strategies and technologies in these courses also will help students develop important life skills they will carry into other academic coursework and their professional careers.

“Working in this multifaceted environment will require students to better manage deadlines and expectations,” Aji said. “That, and the hands-on, collaborative nature of these courses will prepare our students to work in the global marketplace, where they have to be just as comfortable working with team members at a distance as they are working with colleagues in the neighboring office.”

Another component of the grant will enhance the university’s online education infrastructure by providing faculty in STEM and other academic disciplines with workshops where they can learn cutting-edge techniques and approaches to online course design and delivery. Through these workshops, Aji, Khan and others will share online teaching and technology best practices, as well as tactics to improve both in-class and online student engagement.

“We expect these workshops will elevate the comfort level of faculty across campus to create and offer online courses in their respective disciplines,” Aji said. “This certainly will increase Tuskegee’s overall capacity to offer its students e-learning options well past the conclusion of this grant.”

The flipped course delivery approach is slated to begin in the spring 2018 semester, with efforts this fall focused on training faculty and developing courses — one in mathematics and one in aerospace engineering. After initial implementation in the spring, the research team will continue to increase course offerings by one new course each fall and spring semester throughout the life of the grant.

© 2017 Tuskegee University