Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Mara Harrell

“The idea is to make the students do more of the cognitive work. The instructor is more of a coach than a dispenser of information.”

Lessons Learned from "Flipping My Classroom"

Mara Harrell, Associate Teaching Professor
Philosophy, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Course: Environmental Ethics (200-level)
Students: 24 Sophomores

What happens during class?

What happens outside class?

Students primarily work in small groups on open-ended problems or case studies chosen to highlight major themes in environmental ethics (e.g., fracking, geoengineering to mitigate climate change). Students have the freedom and time to dive into the issues in a way that is not scripted or dictated.

As they work through the problems, students are practicing and getting feedback from instructors on key disciplinary skills, such as defining the nature of a problem, identifying the information they need to solve it, analyzing opposing views in terms of different ethical frameworks, generating alternative policy proposals, and explaining the ethical implications of each policy.

These group assignments prepare students for their individual capstone projects that require students to synthesize and apply these skills.

Students read about and/or watch a short video about the problem they will discuss in small groups during class. For the fracking case study, students read a short case study and also watched a video clip on YouTube about a family that had to agree on a gag order regarding a legal settlement they made with a fracking company.

Individual group members also work independently by completing tasks assigned by the team. This pre-class individual work fuels the iterative group process, peer teaching, and problem solving that occurs during class.

How did it impact students?

How did it impact you as an instructor?

What advice would you offer colleagues?