A tale of a tired lecture course. Flip it.

It dawned on me that no one cared. The proteins that I found so fascinating just didn’t seem to intrigue them as much as they did me. I thought the video of water molecules flipping as they passed through the channel of aquaporin was marvellous. But it hardly gleaned a reaction from the sea of faces staring blankly out at me. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 14.42.33

I left the lecture theatre and trudged back to my office. Wondering what was to be done with the course I’d tinkered with for years and never been happy with. Maybe it was time to just stop tinkering, throw it all away and start afresh?

The thought drifted away as I flicked through the, not insignificant, pile of emails that had dropped into my mail box during my brief absence from my desk. Top of the list was request to review a grant proposal.

And then inspiration struck, I could get my students to write grant proposals! That way they could explore the ideas and material that they are interested in without having my predilection for Major Intrinsic Proteins foisted on them.

So I set about a total revamping of the course.

  • The lectures slides went in the bin.

Well actually they got turned into screencasts. But they might as well have gone in the bin, because the students don’t watch them.

  • I gave the students examples of grant proposals that I’d written (ones that had got good reviews, even if they hadn’t been funded 🙁 ).
  • I supplied them with a load of references to papers that contained neat ideas.
  • And I gave a lecture with avenues of research that I thought were intriguing.
  • Then I provided them with a slightly altered version of a research council’s form and told them to complete it i.e they had to write a case for support, lay summary, justification for resources etc.
  • They worked in groups of 6-7 and set about their tasks.
  • The rest of the lectures I turned up to check on how things were going, guide the projects, tell them what I thought might work or not etc.
  • And come the end of the course I marked the proposals based on genuine research council criteria AND each group peer reviewed 3 other proposals using the same criteria. Group members also gave an effort mark to each other (so free loaders didn’t get an easy ride). And the final mark was made up from an amalgamation of my mark, the peer review and the inter-group mark.

The results were great. Some really fabulous ideas sprung up. I’ve had students ask me if they can actually work on their research projects during their final year dissertations, and I bet some of proposals would have made the quality cut off in real funding rounds.

Right, enough from me, I’ve just come across a great idea for a project I need to get into the next funding round. 😉


  1. Mike Casey says:

    What a great idea!

    I have loads of questions. How many in your class? Was it difficult to generate some ideas to get their creative juices flowing? What were your criteria for assigning students to teams? Did yo have any concerns about ‘covering’ the curriculum? Etc, etc. I hope you will write a paper on this.

    One minor suggestion – I would describe this as project-based learning, rather than flipping the course, because you dispensed with the previous lecture material almost entirely. Just my tuppence worth; the plethora of newer T&L methods and strategies can lead to confusion and differences of opinion about what the various ‘labels’ mean.

    This is really interesting work.

    • About 100 in the class.

      I gave a lecture which included some things that I thought were good ideas, a groups picked up on them, but most came up with their own novel plans. Often based on material that they ported from other courses. It took a few weeks for the ideas to crystallise. But in most cases coming up with the ideas wasn’t a problem.

      I allowed students to form their own teams.

      This was part of a final year course on biological macromolecules. My part covers membrane proteins, so the only stipulation was that the proposal had to include them. I felt that the background that the students needed to cover to write a proposal covered the learning outcomes well.

      Good point about flipping vs project based learning. I was just being lazy with the headline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *