Teaching Digital Signal Processing by Partial Flipping

I taught the Digital Signal Processing (EE-4541) class in Fall 2013 in a different style than before. The class was taught in an Active Learning Classroom rather than a lecture hall. There were about 85 students in the class. Some were seniors and some were first-year graduate students. The class was partially “flipped.”

I provided PowerPoint slides at the beginning of the class. Typically I taught the easier parts from the PowerPoint slides. I taught by writing on a paper via overhead projector for the remaining two-thirds, with help from the PowerPoint slides for graphs and signal plots. Switching between PowerPoint and traditional writing provided a balance in teaching style. But every class I set aside 15-20 minutes out of 75 minutes for either a group activity, so students could apply what they were learning, or a group quiz, so they could assess their understanding and gain knowledge by working together. The students worked in groups of 2 or 3.

Some of the group activities and quizzes involved solving problems and others involved programming in MATLAB. One of the group members had to bring a laptop for the MATLAB activity. Sometimes I asked students to display their MATLAB output to the entire class. Other times, different groups simulated the same experiment with different parameters. The entire class could see differences in many possible results when the groups presented their work. Students (almost) unanimously preferred group activities and group quizzes to individual ones.

I argue that students in most science and engineering courses that contain lot of math can be engaged by class activities where students can work in groups. In a partially flipped class, the teacher can take the time to teach the difficult parts and students can benefit from the experience of learning from fellow students by working in groups.