“We can go much deeper”

Inverted Classroom Models for Digital Teaching


Dr. Felicitas Rädel and Professor Jörg Lange teach steel construction at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The two scientists turned their teaching concept upside down in a Master's module back in 2015, when they realised that students wanted more exercises and more intensive exchanges with teachers – instead of 90 minutes of "chalk and talk". In 2017, their implementation of the "Inverted Classroom Model" won them the main prize of the Best E-Teaching Award from the Carlo and Karin Giersch Foundation at the TU. Today, many teachers at the TU use this model, which is also proving itself in the digital summer semester.

Dr. Felicitas Rädel studied the model of the Inverted Classroom during her habilitation.

Felicitas Rädel is well aware that only a fraction of students can concentrate intensively on a lecture for an hour and a half, whether in a classroom or in digital seminars. At some point, their concentration starts to decline and the content rushes past them. So the civil engineer warns about keeping the teaching formats varied for the students during the digital summer semester as well, and offering flexibly accessible exercises or study materials as well as live conferences. “No one can spend hours at a time staring at a laptop screen,” she says.

Lessons learnt from dissatisfaction

Felicitas Rädel and Jörg Lange were pioneers for new teaching models as early as 2015. Their seminar “Selected chapters from composite and lightweight construction” in the Master's degree programme in Civil Engineering was rated well in the evaluation, but students regularly complained about the large quantities of material they had to cope with. They wanted more exercises and more intensive communication with teaching staff. “We wanted to change this state of dissatisfaction among the students as well as among the teachers,” she says.

During her habilitation, Felicitas Rädel studied the model of the Inverted – the upside-down, or flipped – Classroom. This has students preparing for the seminar with texts and materials that are provided in advance on a learning platform. In the actual lecture, they can discuss the material with the teachers, ask questions or work through the content in groups. According to Rädel, the advantage of this shift in learning activities is that students acquire the material at their own pace and at the time and intensity they choose. The subsequent live lecture is used for a much more intensive deepening and application of the material.

Rädel and Lange have developed their own Inverted Classroom Model (ICM). They provide the learning content in the form of texts, images, graphics, lecture recordings or videos on Wiki pages on the Internet. There is one such page for each of their ICM seminars, and comprehension questions are asked at the end so students can check their own knowledge. Open questions are clarified during the actual lecture and the material deepened through exercises, coordination tools or group work. As a thesis during the semester that is included in their grade, students have to create their own Wiki page on a topic of their choice that is evaluated by fellow students and then serves as the preparatory material for an ICM lecture. This promotes the students' expertise as well as their media literacy, says Rädel.

More initiative required

ICM seminars require students to be more proactive, says Felicitas Rädel, but “it also makes them feel more involved and enables them to invest more in what they are doing”. Communication is more intense, and the understanding of the content grows. “We can see this quite clearly,” emphasises the expert in steel construction. Feedback is consistently positive and the learning success is tangible. “We're able to present entirely different questions and tasks in the oral exams, and they are answered better than before. We can go much deeper,” Rädel notes with pleasure.

"The method […] is as I personally had imagined studying to be. I feel I've got far more out of it than I would have from a lecture." (Student in the context of the evaluation)

Overall, students rated the event as better in all areas than before the changeover, the lecturer reports. Another positive effect is also due to the variety of teaching methods, which is why the department has deliberately not switched all the courses to ICM since 2015. As well as “Selected chapters from composite and lightweight construction”, Professor Lange has also been teaching the module “Corrosion and fire protection” as an ICM since 2017.

Since the start of the semester and the switch to purely digital formats, the actual lecture has now been held in the form of a live video conference via Zoom. Around 20 participants gather for the group work and ask their questions on the whiteboard for all to see. “So far it's worked very well,” says Felicitas Rädel. “The feedback from the students is extremely positive.”