Exemplar: Dr Bert de Groef - AGR1AAS

At La Trobe there are some excellent practices of teaching and learning using flexible, online and blended approaches. This exemplar has been chosen to develop awareness and knowledge of how subjects and courses can use learning technologies to engage students and increase learning outcomes.

A flipped curriculum: Introduction to Animal & Agricultural Sciences

Dr Bert de Groef
Coordinator, AGR1AAS

This first-year, first-semester subject is taken by Agricultural Science and Animal & Veterinary Bioscience students in the School of Life Sciences in FSTE. It introduces key concepts in animal science, including animal breeding, biotechnology, nutrition, growth, reproduction, lactation, animal health, and animal welfare; all students study this material for the first eight weeks and then they part into two streams to study course-specific approaches.

Students come to the task of mastering this foundational material with different kinds of background knowledge, with different learning approaches, and with different discipline and career futures in mind. Some have studied Biology at school and already know the names of bodily parts and processes; some find it very easy to grasp complex physiological concepts; some are already planning to work with cows and sheep or with domestic pets.

The Challenge

In these circumstances, Bert recognised that lecturing students about basic facts & concepts doesn't use their capacities efficiently – nor his. He decided that the basics could be put in front of students at least as efficiently via the subject LMS, where students study materials including textbook chapters, videos, charts and diagrams, and he would then be able to use contact time, previously spent on lecturing, in question and answer sessions to help students actively work though material they had problems mastering.


Bert planned his subject's teaching and learning activities to make students engage deeply with the material. He based his approach on the 'flipped' method for active learning, illustrated with this diagram adapted from the University of Texas.

  Traditional teaching Flip teaching
Before class Students assigned something to read Students guided through learning module that asks and collects question
  Lecture prepares lecture Lecturer prepares learning opportunities
Beginning of class Students have limited information about what to expect Students have specific questions in mind to guide their learning
  Lecturer makes general assumption about what is helpful Lecturer can anticipate where students need the most help
During class Students try to follow along Students practice performing the skills they are expected to learn
After class Students attempt the homework, usually with delayed feedback Students continue applying their knowledge skills after clarification and feedback
  Lecturer grades past work Lecturer posts any additional explanations and resources necessary and grades higher-quality work
Office hours Students want confirmation about what to study Students are equipped to seek help where they know they need it
  Lecturer often repeats what was in lecture Lecturer continues guiding students toward deeper understanding

See: What is the Flipped Classroom? Center for Teaching & Learning, The University of Texas at Austin 

In Bert's version of flipped teaching has students go through a four step active learning process each fortnight (three times in total):

  1. Study Students study subject resources – textbook chapters, collections of videos, images, readings, etc. More advanced material is available for those who easily master the fundamentals; in later weeks students get only basic information and must do their own research to develop an acceptable level of understanding.
  2. Concept check A very simple and small multiple choice exercise on LMS allows students to identify how well they have understood the core concept in the study material and where they need to do further work. The deadline is well before the Q&A session, and the exercise allows multiple attempts.
  3. Q & A After the concept check, students are encouraged to post questions to LMS and Bert then uses these in the Q & A session – ideally the entire content of the Q & A session comes from what students identify as difficulties, but Bert has a backup of material he anticipates will be problematic, just in case.
  4. Quiz after the Q & A students do an LMS quiz, this time worth 10% of the final mark, which assesses their learning in that module of the subject.

The complete assessment breakdown in the subject is as follows:

One 2-hour examination 24%
3 online quizzes (10% each) 30%
Concept check exercises (x 6 at 1% each) 6%
Laboratory-related assignments 40%

Critical success factors

  • Well-designed alignment of assessment and learning activities: a judicious mixture of marks allocated to small tasks like quizzes, to pracs, and to larger more complex projects.
  • Consistently reminding students to meet deadlines and prepare for classes, many of which are organized in ways that are unfamiliar to them – for e.g., the Q & A sessions are fortnightly not weekly so students need to adjust their habit of showing up each week.
  • Likewise, Bert made a steady and consistent effort to engage student active learning by being actively engaged himself – keeping a presence in LMS, prodding students to prepare, and to discuss, both online and face to face. This takes time and organization.

Plans for the future

Bert's own assessment of the way he teaches this subject is that it's not 100% there yet, but definitely promising enough to pursue and invest further time and thought in. One issue he will address is how to elicit a full complement of genuine questions & problems from students.

More information

Bert's teaching methods in AGR1AAS, and those of a colleague in Life Sciences, Peter Sale's AGR3CS, have been the topic of presentations and seminars discussing the benefits and the mechanics of teaching with a flipped curriculum. These recordings are available online in the Moodle site "TL Hub": all La Trobe staff have access.

To find the presentations, log in to Moodle and enter the TL Hub subject, then visit the EchoCentre via the box in the right-hand sidebar. The relevant Echo recordings are as follows:

  • "The Power of the Personal: Replacing the Lecture", 22 May 2013: Bert and Peter talk about their teaching
  • "The Power of the Personal: Student Interviews", 22 May 2013: Students in Peter's 3rd year flipped case study subject discuss the learning experience
  • "Powering the Personal: Adventures in Moodle-Making", 25 September 2013: Emma Yench, FSTE Educational Designer, discusses the use of Moodle in these flipped classroom subjects.

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