Grundlagen der Biologie IA

Flipped Classroom

550 students, 4 study programes, 2 lecture halls with video projection – is flipped classroom at all possible in such a lecture? Professor Markus Aebi and professor Ernst Hafen, together with Dr. Katja Köhler, changed the lecture „Fundamentals of Biology IA“ to allow more time for interactions with students in group work and discussions.


The lecture "Fundamentals of Biology IA" is attended by Biology, Pharmacy, Health Sciences and Interdisciplinary Sciences students in the first semester. Despite the heterogeneity and size of the group, it has been challenging to motivate students to actively engage with the topics, especially since the curriculum does not include exercises for this lecture. In 2014, we transformed the lecture into a "Flipped classroom" format where self-study modules help harmonizing the knowledge heterogeneity and liberate time for interactions in the lecture.
Approximately 15% of the total lecture time is dedicated to self-study where students use learning material on Moodle (videos, interactive lessons and exercises) to prepare for the lectures and evaluate their acquired knowledge. Every 2 weeks, 1-hour group work sessions take place in the lecture hall that are supervised by assistants and lecturers. The remaining lessons are held as frontal lectures that build on the self-study lessons to deepen fundamental concepts and discuss examples. Students are actively involved in the lectures by EduApp questions or in-class group assignments, followed by plenary discussions. Each of the three lecture blocks ends with a discussion session where open questions can be clarified.
The student’s reaction to this lecture format, especially to the self-study part, is very positive: about 80% of the students prepare more regularly for the lecture thanks to the online learning environment and would like to have such online learning activities for other lectures in their curriculum as well.
This project was initiated with financial support from Innovedum, and the full realization was possible with the establishment of the Center for Active learning at D-BIOL.

This introduction of the Flipped classroom approach in this lecture has stimulated the transformation of other lectures in the biology curriculum. For example, the lecture „Genetics, genomics, bioinformatics“, introduced as a new lecture in 2015, follows a Flipped classroom approach, as well as a lecture in the new Medical curriculum „Molecular Genetics and Cell biology“. Furthermore, the experiences and technical expertise gained from developing „Fundamentals of Biology IA“ helped re-designing other lectures that are now taught (at least in parts) as a Flipped classroom course („Fundamentals of Biology II:Cell Biology“, „Methods of Biological Analytics“, „Concepts in Modern Genetics“). The feedback of both lecturers and students involved in these lectures is very positive. Students report that the self-study parts have prepared them well for the lectures and helped them to better understand the fundamental concepts. Students adapt very quickly to the new teaching format: in the second year, after 3 biology lectures in a flipped classroom approach, over 90% of the students state that they use the preparation material regularly and wish to have self-study material also for other courses.
More information on the lecture „Fundamentals of Biology IA“ and other courses can be found on the web http://www.cal.biol.ethz.ch/lecture-portfolio/fund-bio-ia.html or by mailing to koehler@imsb.biol.ethz.ch

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