Student Portal News Letter Archive
For the Love of Design
Bimonthly Academic Newsletter
Vol 2. No. 2 // MAR 2016
Frank Brault, Industry Product Specialist at Vectorworks, Inc.

Frankly Speaking:
The Flipped Future of Design Education

By Frank Brault, Industry Product Specialist at Vectorworks, Inc.

I’m invested in the future of design technology as part of my job at Vectorworks, but my investment in future designers may be even more important to me, which is why I also teach Special Topics in Theatre: Vectorworks at Towson University in Maryland. Part of being an educator, at least for me, is to be constantly looking for better ways to train and inspire the next generation of creative professionals. That’s why I’m a supporter of Flipped Learning, a movement in education that I think can have a big impact on the design industry.

“Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”–The Flipped Learning Network

Wait. Let’s backtrack a bit. I came across the Flipped Learning concept in a roundabout way. You see, I was trying to find a way to save myself time. Whenever students missed class, they would end up asking me to go over what I had already covered in the previous lecture. While I’m always happy to help out my students, having to repeat the same content takes away from time that I could spend teaching new, more advanced concepts. So, I really needed to find a way to spend my office hours helping students grow instead of just helping them to catch up.

I eventually started recording the lessons that people missed and posting them online, making it easier for students who couldn’t be there in person to understand the key points of my lectures. And after reading more about the benefits of providing lectures online to solve my own problems, I discovered that having students watch lectures at home is part of the Flipped Learning concept. This idea really comes down to doing activities typically associated with classwork at home and working on things you’d normally do as homework in class. Simple enough, right?

Here is an example of an online lecture from my own class.

I’ve found that flipping the teaching process like this has a lot of benefits. For example, if all of my lectures are online, then students can learn at their own pace and in the environment in which they’re most comfortable. And by doing homework in the classroom, students can put the things they’ve learned into practice in an interactive group setting, receiving feedback from their peers and me in real time. This form of education is also great because when one student asks a question, everyone can benefit, so every individual problem propels the class forward.

This style of teaching is also perfect for design students because it encourages them to take bigger risks with their projects, rather than just going with the safest bet because they want to get a good grade on their homework (and wrap up their work and go hang out with their friends). They can also dive deeper into the concepts we’re practicing because I’m there to answer any questions they have as they’re executing on their ideas. As an educator, I think it’s incredibly valuable to be there for the moment when a student doesn’t know what to do next.

Students working with design software can also benefit from physically flipping a classroom. Instead of lecturing from the front of the room, instructors guide students from the back of the classroom or arrange the desks to face the sides of the room. In a technical design class, everyone is on their computer. If I’m in the front lecturing, I can’t even see what people are working on, if they’re having problems, or if they’re even paying attention. By flipping my location, people don’t have the chance to get lost. This classroom layout is crucial for beginning designers who are just learning the concepts of design software. They get to practice a hands-on workflow with their instructor in an engaging way, all while executing on a concept they’ve already learned because they watched the lecture on their own before class.

teaching from different positions in a classroom
Here are some images I created to show the benefits of teaching from different positions in a classroom.

“So what’s the hold up?” you ask. Well, the simple answer is that running a “flipped” class in this way takes time. Instead of lecturing during class, educators have to record every lecture up front on their own time. And, instead of just following a regimented lesson plan every class, the teacher will have to adapt what they’re doing to fit what the students need during each session. For professors who have been comfortably lecturing at students for most of their career, the idea of changing it up like this may seem like more work than it’s worth.

And the pressure isn’t just on the professor, either. Students have to be willing to commit to watching each of the lectures in a timely way. This could be tricky for those who procrastinate on their homework and try to do everything at the last minute. However, it’s less challenging than being asked to write a paper every week. You’re just turning on a computer and watching something. So who knows, maybe this will help procrastinators since all of the challenging parts of your coursework will be done in class.

If you can get past the initial uncertainty, Flipped Learning is a great idea for students and professors. I’m already working to implement the concepts of a flipped classroom in my own teaching. And if you think that you could benefit from learning in this way, tell your professors to look up the Flipped Learning ideology, and feel free to share this article with them!

P.S. — Do you have your own ideas about the future of education and design? Want a professor’s perspective on school, careers, or the design industry? Then reach out to me. I’m always open to input about new topics for this column, and I want to write about what you want to read about!