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Flipped Classrooms Offer a New Learning Tool for Scientists

NIAID Researchers Use "Flip Camp" To Teach Next-Generation Sequencing

New technologies, while allowing for groundbreaking research, may seem daunting for scientists from different fields. Tutorials are widely available online and through workshops. However, when researchers apply new technologies in the lab, questions arise that likely were not addressed in a tutorial or lecture.

Flipped classrooms, an approach to teaching in which students first listen to lectures at home and then do their practice sets in the classroom, may offer a more effective and efficient way to learn emerging technologies. The benefit of the flipped format is the availability of a teacher who can help students as they apply their knowledge to real problems.

photo of conference attendees

Flip camp at the 2014 ABRF Conference
Credit: James VanEe

Class Design for Flipped Learning

NIAID scientists Dawei Lin, Ph.D., and Da-Wei Huang, M.D., along with their Stanford University colleague Francisco De La Vega, Ph.D., used this new approach at the 2014 Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF) conference to teach a course on next-generation sequencing (NGS) data analysis. Their "flip camp" required weeks of self-learning, conference calls, and pre-assessment questionnaires before the hands-on classroom course.

The flip camp was designed for scientists of varying backgrounds, with the expectation that each person review pre-selected online lectures and reading materials prior to the classroom. Questions that arose during self-learning were addressed during conference calls and a mailing list viewed by all participants. Questionnaires were given two weeks before the classroom course and allowed the instructors to gauge the level of understanding and to adjust the course as needed.

In the classroom, the instructors first offered basic hands-on activities in a cloud computing environment provided by Amazon Web Services. The goal was to help participants navigate the technical environment needed for NGS analysis. Afterwards, the instructors followed up with an advanced problem-solving activity showing how NGS is applied in research. The participants were broken into small groups and given raw data to analyze with no detailed instruction. The instructors were available to coach but did not participate in the data analysis. The independent group activity allowed participants to learn from and help each other. After the session, the groups gave short presentations to share their solutions and challenges to their peers as additional reinforcement of what they learned.

Broad Research Applications

Flip camp may be used to introduce a variety of new technologies to a broad range of scientists with diverse technical backgrounds. The positive outcomes of the course have shown that it is a promising teaching tool that can meet the needs of busy professionals. Scientists in other fields may want to consider designing their own flipped classrooms to share new tools and technologies with their peers.

Course Website: ABRF 2014 NGS Flip Camp
contact Dawei Lin, NIAID Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation
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Last Updated May 02, 2014