Posted April 25th, 2016 by Tyler Irving

Flipping the classroom: How the CEIE will enrich engineering education

  • Technology enhanced active learning (TEAL) rooms like this prototype in the Sandford Fleming Building encourage students to learn from each other by working collaboratively on problems. (Photo: Neil Ta)

The learning spaces in the Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CEIE) — U of T Engineering’s newest building, opening in 2017 — are designed to turn traditional teaching methods upside down.

Micah Stickel, Chair of First Year for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, is an award-winning educator and an advocate of what’s known as the “flipped” or “inverted” classroom approach. “What we would normally have done in class — present new information to students — is done outside of class,” he says. “On the other hand, exercises that students traditionally would do outside of class are now done in class.”

Working collaboratively helps students engage more with the material. It also enables them to use their peers, professors, and TAs as resources, reducing the chance that they will get stuck on a particular concept or problem. Stickel sees the role of the professor as a facilitator of experiences, rather than simply a provider of information.

The inverted classroom experience will be part of the very fabric of the CEIE, built directly into its Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) rooms. TEAL rooms complement other CEIE facilities that enhance engineering experiential learning, including prototyping facilities, design/meet rooms and dedicated space for students clubs. This focus on immersive engineering design spans all years of the undergraduate curriculum, from first-year design courses Engineering Strategies & Practice and Praxis, to capstone courses and PEY internships with leading companies worldwide.

Rather than sitting in rows, students in the CEIE’s TEAL rooms face each other in groups of four to six people. Screens located throughout the room ensure that each student can see information presented by the professor. Screens also allow students to share individual or group work with the class at large. “Ultimately it’s designed to make lecture a more interactive, engaging experience,” says Stickel.

This motif of interactivity and participation is repeated on a larger scale in the CEIE’s state-of-the-art lecture theatre. There, students will be seated at tables fitted with microphones and audio-visual inputs that allow them to send content to the large screen and powerful speakers at the front of the room. Depending on the class, they could send anything from snippets of code to streaming online video.

This state-of-the-art auditorium in the Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship is designed to allow students to work collaboratively in groups and share their findings with the entire class. (Image: Montgomery Sisam Architects Inc. and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

This state-of-the-art auditorium in the Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship is designed to allow students to work collaboratively in groups and share their findings with the entire class. (Image: Montgomery Sisam Architects Inc. and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

The CEIE is also equipped to support engineering design courses as never before. On the fourth floor, design/meet rooms surround a light fabrication facility where students can build prototypes out of plastic, metal or wood. “I’m expecting we’ll see a really active flow of students from the design/meet spaces into the light fabrication space and back again,” says Stickel. “You’ll see them go through the process of coming up with an idea, building it, iterating it and then building it again.”

Even out of class, students will use the CEIE to enhance their educational experience, whether they are hitting the books in the study space on the fifth floor or participating in teams, clubs and music groups, which will have space on the lower level.

“Everything in here is about creating really amazing, dynamic experiences that will serve our graduates well during their degrees and afterward,” says Stickel. “It’s really a student-centric space.”