Flipped classes and other teaching methods prepare students for the work force


unchlines abound about Silicon Valley culture with its company-hosted sushi bars, nap chambers and Lego stations. But truth be told, some of the tenets of the tech-world lifestyle are making their way into the work world of the 10s. The cubicles that favor individualism are coming down in favor of open workspaces that spark teamwork. Top-down, discipline-specific approaches are being replaced by all-hands-on-deck group problem-solving.

At Sac State, professors are re-engineering their courses to prepare students for the work world they will graduate into.

Turning classwork on its head

Biological sciences professor Jennifer Lundmark, pictured below, has been teaching her systemic physiology course for 35 semesters. And no two have been the same.

Lundmark uses a “flipped classroom” curriculum design, where practices traditionally held in a face-to-face setting of a classroom and after-class activities are switched. For example, a professor gives his or her lecture online, allowing them to spend class time facilitating the problem-solving usually done as homework.

“It used to be ‘Come to class and I’m going to give you the basics. Then I’m going to give you homework with complicated problems to do on your own’,” says Lundmark. “This flips it. I’ll provide the material you can do individually, then come to class and we can work on the problems together.”

"Today's business environment requires tackling problems with a design-thinking approach—bringing individuals with diverse experiences and skills together to solve a problem."

 – Kate Renwick-Espinosa, MBA '98, president of VSP Global Vision Care

Lundmark says using class time to work in groups allows students to develop and strengthen vital skills that can’t be taught through lecture but are crucial to possess as a graduate entering the workforce. In fact, a report by the World Economic Forum says complex problem-saving, critical thinking and coordinating with others are among the top 10 skills employers will be looking for in the year 2020.

“Today’s business environment requires tackling problems with a design-thinking approach—bringing individuals with diverse experiences and skills together to solve a problem,” says Kate Renwick-Espinosa, MBA ’98, president of VSP Global Vision Care. “Design thinking leverages skills such as teamwork, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution and critical thinking. These are all qualities we look for in recent graduates.”

VSP is a frequent mention among model employers, including cracking the top 10 in Fortune Magazine’s “Best 100 Companies to Work for.” Renwick-Espinosa points to the creative and agile work environment they promote at VSP and believes the future of their business lies in fresh ideas from anywhere in the company.

“Most of our employees work closely in teams so we look for graduates who can work well in group settings, which will help improve the odds of team’s success,” she says.

Hands-on learning

Sac State students who enroll in Brian Baldus’ Marketing 101 course get a head start on acquiring those desirable skills.

“I think the team component is critical because the business world is getting so complex. There are so many tools and technologies, no one can really know it all.”

Baldus groups students into teams of five to seven and tasks them with developing a marketing plan for an existing local business.

“Students have to understand how to work well as a group because they will face that in the real world,” Baldus says.

Lundmark adds “This type of classroom would not have been tolerated 40 years ago, but I think it’s important for students to have a voice in how they’re understanding the material. They are more likely to think internally, ask questions and offer opinions on the subject when they have a role.”

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