Engineering Students Flip for Learning

How Turnitin Helped One Professor Turn His Course on its Head

Dr. Dale Cope’s love for learning is contagious. As an Associate Professor of Practice in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University—and a former Aggie himself—Dr. Cope’s enthusiasm for all things STEM has made him a dynamic instructor on the College Station campus.

Texas A&M University (TAMU) in College Station enrolls over 68,000, 25% of whom are first-generation college students. TAMU instructors work hard to engage and support their diverse student body, using the best materials and resources possible. When Dr. Cope started in the Engineering department in 2015, he realized quickly that the teaching pedagogy had changed from when he was a student. “Because I'm from the training and school of, ‘You sit there in a classroom, you listen to the instructors, you take the notes, and then you will figure it out later,’ to actively participate in the class was something brand new to me when I came on board with the [Mechanical Engineering] department.”

Upon joining the College Station faculty, Dr. Cope sought to implement technology in a meaningful way. In fact, Dr. Cope frequented Instructional Technology Services (ITS) so often his first year that Isabel Elizalde, a Senior IT Consultant at TAMU, joked, “We thought Dale worked here for a little while!” An eager lifelong learner himself, Dr. Cope absorbed everything he could about the latest and greatest digital tools available to him, which was how he discovered Turnitin.

A Paperless System that Packs a Punch

Since 2005, Texas A&M University has utilized Turnitin as a way to protect their institution’s academic integrity. When Dr. Cope began teaching at TAMU, he was drawn to Turnitin’s Feedback Studio in his Mechanical Engineering courses for a different reason. “I know Turnitin was founded based primarily on checking for plagiarism, but in my engineering class I [used] it to go to a paperless system for submitting solutions. I [needed] something to reduce [grading] time but still give [students] decent feedback. Turnitin fit for that.

“Probably my biggest thing that attracted me to Turnitin was the feedback form [where] I can pull up the rubric right there with the file and I can put QuickMarks on it. My classrooms are typically about 70 - 90 students and I have four classes each semester, so the grading is heavy.”

Ready, Set, Flip

Dr. Cope’s next move was to develop a curriculum that excited and absorbed students from the get-go. The concept of a flipped classroom piqued his interest, so he decided to attend Texas A&M’s “Flipping your Course” Institute. A flipped classroom offers a blended-learning format that delivers instructional content online and outside of the class so that when students arrive at the classroom, they can focus on collaborative work and interactive discussions.

“[I realized that] the traditional lecture style of me up there in front of the classroom talking way doesn’t really help [students] learn it as well as they could. You have to have your students engaged.” Dr. Cope is not alone in wanting to change the way he teaches: a recent survey by Campus Technology revealed that three in five teachers on college campuses across the country have already flipped their classrooms or are planning to do so.

Engaged Students = Excited Learners

With the support of Isabel, other ITS specialists, and his fellow instructors, Dr. Cope developed a flipped curriculum for his entry-level mechanical engineering class, a course enrolling over 400 students every year. In September of 2017, he launched the new course and the positive feedback was immediate. Students and colleagues alike saw the real value in trading lecture time for valuable, in-person, problem-solving time. “I [took] lecture material out of the classroom [and] let the students do that on their own [with online videos]. Then we use the classroom for group work. Everything is about problem-solving, so we get in there and work together.”

Turnitin Feedback Studio was central to the success of his flipped classroom. With it, Dr. Cope crafted specific rubrics, QuickMarks, online assessments, and paperless assignments for his blended learning environment. He then utilized his teaching time more efficiently while providing formative feedback for his students as they embraced new challenges in the classroom.

“I love seeing the fact that when I conduct my class, after [the students] get used to the fact that I'm not going to talk to them for 50 minutes, that we'll get started on the problem and I can just turn them loose. I’ll say, ‘Okay, you've got to figure out what the answer is. You can talk to your neighbors and work with your classmates to figure that out.’ And to see them [ask each other], ‘Well, what did you get? How did you solve that?’ [The joy is] really to see their engagement.”

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