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Shawn Benner, Geosciences


The following case study describes the experiences of Shawn Benner, Associate Dean and Professor, College of Innovation & Design, as he experimented with flipping the classroom while teaching in the Department of Geosciences.


Professor Benner says, “I have often felt that lecturing at my students, even with an interactive approach, was perhaps not the most effective way to help my students grasp difficult concepts. In many cases the rubber hits the road, so to speak, when the students tackle homework assignments. For the student, that often occurs in isolation. Over the last few years, I have inverted the process by delivering the lecture material before class and spending class time working on the homework, allowing me to interact with the students as they struggle with the material.”

Implementation: GEOS/GEOG 212, Water in the West

Professor Benner created online lectures by adding audio commentary to a set of Microsoft PowerPoint slides. These narrated slides were then assigned as ‘homework’ and classroom time was spent doing the exercises that normally would have been assigned as homework; thus the ‘flipping the classroom’ moniker.  To help reinforce the material and ensure the students actually watched the online lectures, each lecture had an associated quiz that had to be completed prior to class. At first he made this quiz quite short, but later expanded it, using it as a substantive second form of information reinforcement.

The majority of the class time was spent problem-solving in small groups. He mixed things up by asking students to work in pairs or large groups, present to the class, pair and share, etc. He did occasionally ‘break into lecture’ when it seemed like a key point needed to be made.


  • This approach opens up lots of opportunities for interactive learning with students.
  • There is a much better sense of where the students are at, with fewer surprises from the ‘silent majority’ at test time.
  • Students really like the online lectures.
  • Student-to-student interaction is phenomenal. The students really become team members, teaching each other and actively debating the solutions to the exercises.

Potential Issues or Challenges

  • Online lectures are, at least without any other components, not as effective as face-to-face lectures, and there is definitely a need to reinforce key concepts in class.
  • The dynamic class structure can be a bit challenging for the students, especially at the beginning.
  • Integration with online content (especially timing when lectures should be watched) is challenging. It seems easiest to make all lectures available but to guide students as to when they should view them.
  • Having a ‘non-traditional’ classroom with small tables rather than lecture hall-style desks is important.
  • It seems this approach would be difficult with more than 30 students per section.
  • Because of the need for the online lecture to ‘stand alone,’ lecture slides had to be revamped to provide more context and explanation. In the end, Professor Brenner opted for fewer slides containing more detail and description.
  • Because the homework assignments are effectively group projects, all the students perform about the same on the in-class assignments, making exams the primary differentiator of grades.