An Interview with Prof. Garikipati: How a Flipped Classroom in Ann Arbor Can Reach a Global Audience

Krishna Garikipati is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Mathematics at the University of Michigan. His work draws from nonlinear mechanics, materials physics, applied mathematics, and numerical methods. He is particularly interested in problems of mathematical biology, biophysics, and materials physics.

Professor Garikipati has recorded over 250 video lectures related to two of his on campus courses: Introduction to Finite Element Methods and Continuum Physics. Professor Garikipati has used the videos in the Intro Finite Element Methods class to bring a flipped learning experience to his students. In addition to their use as course material, both series of lectures are being viewed by students, post-docs, faculty colleagues, and researchers within and outside U-M to enter new research areas. Each video focuses on a single topic, such as the “Pythagorean Theorem” for Intro to Finite Element Methods or the “Lagrangian description of motion” for the Continuum Physics lecture series. The videos are generally between 5 – 20 minutes long and are presented in a style similar to U-M MOOC and Khan Academy lecture videos. The videos were created with the support of the Office of the Provost’s Digital Education and Innovation initiative, and the Division of Integrative Systems Design in the College of Engineering.

Professor Garikipati has graciously agreed to share some of his flipped learning insights with us and his motivations for sharing the lectures as open education resources.

Screen capture from Boundary Conditions (01.03) video by Krishna Garikipati. CC BY NC

Why did you decide to flip these classes?

Even with advanced classes, I would hazard that upward of 90% of the lecture time is used to cover the same material each time the class is taught. This prevents us from delving deeply into the most interesting and challenging questions, and also from embarking on new subject matter over the years. With the flipped classroom, students can get to this foundational, and repetitive, material on their own time, while we use actual class time for the really deep/novel ideas.

How has the flipped learning approach changed your time with students in the classroom, and how have your students responded?

I still use nearly all the time available to me in the classroom. However, it is used to quickly summarize and integrate the lectures that the students have watched most recently, or to take some ideas and work them out in much greater detail than I could do before. I have found, while lecturing, that the students’ preparation is significantly better. The classroom lecture turns out to be much more sophisticated. By and large the students appreciate the ability to watch the foundational material at their own pace. For some this is faster, for others slower than the pace that I would previously set in class. Most notably, they like being able to replay very short segments as many times as necessary to grasp a particularly nettlesome idea. This is the sort of thing that one cannot do in class: How many times will you ask the instructor to explain the notion of mathematical consistency under the glare of your fellow students?

Screen capture from Consistency of the Finite Element Method (05.03) video by Krishna Garikipati. CC BY NC

What advice do you have for faculty members who are interested in flipping their classrooms?

It is a lot of work. Recording lectures takes about 1 ½ times the length of the actual lectures–when all goes well. The format requires you to leave behind your classroom persona and make the camera “your friend.” Until that happened, I felt really quite at sea. In my case, it helped that some of my graduate students, post-docs, and others who worked in closely allied groups had an interest in watching the recordings as a live audience. Google Hangouts allowed us to do that. They would flag me down (literally) when they had a question, and that created an alternate environment to replace the classroom feel. Finally, it now takes me more preparation to enter a live classroom in which the students have just watched some of my recorded lectures. I need to remind myself of what they saw, what notation I used for certain quantities, and what remarks I made. Previously, I could think through the mathematical treatment and physical arguments just before class, and allow the mathematics and physics to guide me through the actual lecture. Now I watch the entire lecture material that they have watched. Speeding up the video by a factor of two helps, but not much more. The payback, however, is tremendous. In my case it allowed the class to rise to a level of sophistication that I had not expected. I would do it again, and intend to!

Why did you decide to select a Creative Commons license for the videos?

Both my series of lectures are now available via Open.Michigan and YouTube. The Creative Commons-Attribution-NonCommercial license allows anybody to use it for instruction or to gain entry to a new area of research. The reach that this provides to one’s scholarly work is actually unparalleled by any other means that we would have employed previously. This is what academics is about.

What excites you the most about sharing the videos openly on Open.Michigan, YouTube, and beyond?

These are advanced topics–especially Continuum Physics. It is very fulfilling to be able to reach advanced graduate students, post-docs, established researchers, and even professors the world over in these topics. I know of some who have used these lectures as preparation as they have entered new areas of research. This is the most exciting aspect to sharing the lectures via these forums. I would not have been able to reach this wide of an audience otherwise.

Screen capture of YouTube playlist for Lectures on Continuum Physics

From Flipped Learning to Open Sharing

Open.Michigan is thrilled to share Professor Garikipati’s recordings because of their high quality, comprehensiveness, and because this emerging pedagogical approach has been shown to improve student learning. If faculty members and staff involved in the production of flipped learning experiences address copyright issues and licensing in their pre-production processes, then they will have the opportunity to maximize the educational impact of their flipped learning resources by publishing those resources on platforms like Open.Michigan, YouTube, and iTunes U. It’s really exciting to have Professor Garikipati’s courses illustrate this idea, and it will be very interesting to see how the growing demand and infrastructure for flipped learning at U-M influences the University’s culture of sharing.

View Professor Garikipati’s courses on Open.Michigan: