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Faculty Spotlight: Megan Frary, Materials Science & Engineering

Megan Frary, Engineering, studio portrait

An Associate Professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Boise State, Megan Frary has been teaching for over ten years and has progressively increased the level of active learning in her courses. After teaching MSE 308: Thermodynamics of Materials six times, Megan felt like it was time to make some bigger changes in her course design. Because Megan had taught the course multiple times, she felt confident in the course content and pace. In addition, she had already identified which activities really helped the students learn the concepts. For these reasons, Megan decided flipping the classroom would be the best approach. Instead of spending class time with Megan lecturing, students watched short videos outside of class and spent the class time working problems in groups.

Megan’s Approach

Using the Explain Everything app, Megan created a number of short videos for each day that covered the material that would have been presented during the “lecture” portion of the course. Students were required to watch the videos, complete assigned readings, and answer a series of questions prior to class. Megan developed her own set of questions in order to ensure all the pertinent concepts were addressed. In order to assess their preparedness, Megan had the students take a quiz (via clickers) at the beginning of each class. The rest of class time was spent on active learning activities in which students were provided the opportunity to ask questions, work with the concepts, and struggle through practice problems. Megan had already been using active learning techniques in her course, but when she flipped her classroom she had to increase the number of activities she had prepared for each lesson. In addition, she had to evaluate the activities to ensure they would sufficiently convey on their own, all the concepts, and help the students meet the learning outcomes. Students completed their in-class activities in teams engineered by Megan; students stayed in the same teams throughout the entire semester.

Some examples of the active learning strategies Megan used in her course include the following:

  • Asking students to sketch a plot
  • Having students set-up, but not solve a problem
  • Solving example problems
  • Making predictions about physical systems
  • Writing a letter to explain a concept to a particular audience
  • Interpreting data from a graph
  • Drawing a picture to represent a physical system

Some examples of the classroom assessment techniques (CATs) Megan used in her class include:

  • Concept maps
  • Muddiest points
  • Minute papers
  • Defining features matrix

Benefits and Impact

  • Megan was available to help her students while they were working through the practice problems; if students were struggling she could help them in that moment.
  • Students experienced high levels of engagement with the material.
  • Not only were the students more engaged, but Megan was more engaged with the students. It allowed Megan to be more responsive to what pieces of the content they were understanding.
  • In the end, the students seemed to really enjoy the approach and have more fun in the class.

Lessons Learned

  • Students were initially skeptical about the approach and concerned with the workload. Also, they were concerned that they would not learn if Megan was not “lecturing” to them.
  • Megan was careful to ensure that the videos, readings, and other tasks assigned outside of class did not exceed the estimated time students spent on similar tasks before the flip. This helped gain student buy-in.
  • It’s important to have a range of activities rom easy to hard when planning each class.
  • The activities need to be developed in a way that they incorporate the same level of understanding previously associated with the course’s homework assignments.