Flipping Data Workshops

John Little is the Data Science Librarian in Duke Libraries Center for Data and Visualizations Sciences. Contact him at askdata@duke.edu.

The Center for Data and Visualization Sciences is and has been open since March! We never closed. We’re answering questions, teaching workshops, have remote virtual machines available, and business is booming.  

What’s changed? Due to COVID-19, the CDVS staff are working remotely. While we love meeting with people face-to-face in our lab, that is not currently possible. Meanwhile, digital data wants to be analyzed and our patrons still want to learn. By late spring I began planning to flip my workshops for fall 2020. My main goal was to transform a workshop into something more rewarding than watching the video of a lecture, something that lets the learner engage at their pace, on their terms.  

How to flip

Flipping the workshop is a strategy to merge student engagement and active learning.  In traditional instruction, a teacher presents a topic and assigns work aimed at reinforcing the lesson. 

Background:  I offer discrete two-hour workshops that are open to the entire university. There are very few prerequisites and people come with their own level of experience.  Since the workshops attract a broad audience, I focus on skills and techniques using general examples that reliably convey information to all learners. In this environment, discipline specific examples risk losing large portions of the audience. As an instructor I must try to leave my expectations of students’ skills and background knowledge — at the door.  

In a flipped classroom, materials are assigned and made available in advance. In this way, group Zoom-time can be used for questions and examples. This instruction model allows students to learn at their own pace, pause and rewind videos, practice exercises, or speed up lectures. During the workshop, students can bring questions relevant to their particular point of confusion.  

The main instructor goal is to facilitate a topic for student engagement that puts the students in control. This approach has a democratizing effect that allows students to become more active and familiar with the materials.  With flipped workshops, student questions appear to be more thoughtful and relevant. When the student is invited to take charge of their learning, the process of investigation becomes their self-driven passion.  

For my flipped workshops materials, I offer basic videos to introduce and reinforce particular techniques. I try to keep each video short, less than 25 minutes.  At the same time I offer plenty of additional videos on different topical details. More in-depth videos can cover important details that may feel ancillary or even demotivating, even if those details improve task efficiency. Sometimes the details are easier to digest when the student is engaged. This means students start at their own level and gain background when they’re ready.  Students may not return to the background material for weeks, but the materials will be ready when they are.

Flipping a consultation?

The Center for Data & Visualization Sciences provides open workshops and Zoom-based consulting. The flipped workshop model aligns perfectly with our consulting services since students can engage with the flipped workshop materials (recordings, code, exercises) at any time. When the student is ready for more information, whether a general question or a specific research question, I can refer to targeted background materials during my consultations. With the background resources, I can keep my consultations relevant and brief while also reducing the risk of under-informing.  

For my flipped workshop on R, or other CDVS workshops, please see our workshop page.

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