Flip it around: Teaching in a blended learning approach

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The showcased course adopts a flipped classroom model for teaching complex scientific topics. The model integrates self-paced learning with motivating videos, structured discussions, and creative deliverables. The videos, produced with the EduMedia team, present the case studies and methods, and feature statements from content experts. The discussions, supported by learning journals, enhance deeper understanding and peer exchange. The deliverables, in the form of learning nuggets, enable students to apply and communicate their knowledge. The evaluation shows that the model improves student engagement, participation, understanding, and creativity.

In our course, we employ a range of methods and strategies to foster student engagement and learning success, deeply rooted in the flipped classroom approach. This method allows us to dedicate approximately 50% of our in-class time to discussions, significantly enhancing student participation and understanding.

To support this approach, we developed online resources that students could access between on-site classes. Among these resources are seven videos we co-designed with the EduMedia Team. Each video gives a short introduction into the research question, concept, and science discourse of the respective lecture. This allows the students to dive into each lectures’ topic in an engaging manner and provides the opportunity for them to “meet their instructors”: they are introduced to different content experts, see them doing field research and working in the laboratory. This enabled them to come to class ready for in-depth discussions, ensuring that class time was optimally utilized for interactive learning rather than passive content delivery.

Our discussion are not open-ended; they are structured with various activities designed to guide students through the conversation. This structure is crucial in addressing their questions and uncertainties, promoting a deeper exploration of the subject matter. One of the key tools we use is the learning journal, which helps students track their understanding and queries, further enriching the discussion sessions.

Recognizing the importance of a comfortable and encouraging learning environment, especially at the start of the semester, we implement specific activities like ‹think-pair-share.› This approach allows students to first discuss their thoughts in pairs or small groups, creating a safe space for initial expression and idea refinement. Only after this preliminary exchange they share their insights with the larger group.

Feedback Mechanisms

Students receive feedback through various channels. The online part contains different tasks and quizzes that students can do on a voluntary basis to check their learning (self-evaluation). The in-class discussions allow students to frequently check their progress and receive feedback from their peers and/or lecturers. The final grade is based on

1.      A Learning Journal that students write for each case study. Here, they reflect what they learned, what helped them to learn it and what didn’t work well for them. The Learning Journal is graded by the lecturers and students receive written feedback for it.

2.      Learning nuggets: In this first run of the blended learning course, we involved students into creating online resource in form of a “deliverable”, i.e., a learning nugget. They were free to choose the topic (within the realm of “Radionuclides as environmental tracers”) and the format (e.g., reading section, graphic, video, quiz, …). They received peer feedback for this deliverable (based on a form defining the grading criteria) and a grade through the lecturers. In the future, we will replace the “learning nugget” probably with some other type of project.

Innovative elements of the course

1.      Flipped Classroom Approach: By shifting the traditional lecture content to online resources, class time is primarily dedicated to interactive discussions, enhancing student engagement.

2.      Structured Discussions with Guided Activities: Utilizing tools like learning journals and structured activities, such as ‹think-pair-share,› encourage deeper, more focused discussions and fostered a supportive learning environment.

3.      Integration of Technology: The use of online resources, including the videos created by the EduMedia team and the creation of further learning resources by students embrace technology, providing an interactive approach to learning.

4.      Professional Media Co-Design: Co-creation of science animations with the EduMedia team to explain complex concepts engagingly and effectively.


Effects on student learning

1.      Enhanced engagement and participation: The flipped classroom model allows to increased student engagement. Students are actively involved during presence classes and can navigate their learning process according to their needs in the self-paced learning parts. Furthermore, the videos created with the EduMedia team greatly enhanced student motivation and participation by: i) sparking their interest in the case studies, ii) offering a variety of teaching materials, and iii) providing effective explanations and introductions to complex topics – thus offering a quickstart into deeper and more complex discussions.

2.      Deeper understanding through discussion: The structured discussions, guided by activities and tools like learning journals, help students delve deeper into complex topics. The exchange with their peers and the lecturers potentially allows a more thorough grasp of the material.

3.      Application and creativity: Creating a deliverable/learning nugget allowed students to apply their knowledge creatively. This not only reinforced their understanding but also promoted their skills in communicating complex scientific concepts.

4.      Enhanced understanding: The concept videos produced in collaboration with the EduMedia team significantly contributed to improving students’ comprehension. They achieved this by introducing the lecture topics and methods while also establishing connections between the case studies and the borader context. Factors that facilitated comprehension included science animations, the “meet-your-instructor” framework featuring statements from relevant content experts, and the explanatory voiceover.

Working with the EduMedia Team has been a wonderful experience. It broadened our horizon and taught us a lot about teaching videos but also science communication.
Project lead

Course Description

Radionuclides as Environmental Tracers
This blended learning course will provide an overview of cosmogenic and anthropogenic radionuclides, powerful tools for understanding a wide range of environmental processes. Students will learn about the measurements of long-lived radionuclides using Accelerator Mass Spectrometers, and explore their applications as tracers in the environment.
1. Students will be able to explain the properties and characteristics of different types of radionuclides. They will describe how these radionuclides are utilized as environmental tracers through real-life case studies, covering topics such as understanding past climate changes, ocean currents, and other environmental processes.
2. Students will be able to quantify environmental processes using radionuclides, and critically evaluate the validity and reliability of their research outcomes. They will apply critical thinking to analyze and interpret data, ensuring a thorough understanding of the studied phenomena.
3. Students will be able to create informative explanatory videos about radionuclides as environmental tracers. They will demonstrate their understanding by effectively presenting complex concepts in a visually engaging and accessible manner, enabling them to communicate the importance and applications of radionuclide tracers to a broader audience.
Master students and Doctoral students
blended learning
15 students
Teaching Power:
two teachers
learning journal, project

ETH Competence Framework