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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2015


A Matter of Size: Flipping Library Instruction in Various Engineering Classrooms

Tasha Maddison
Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Saskatoon, Saskachewan


This case study explores the use of flipped teaching in three different undergraduate engineering courses, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of class size and how it affects the delivery of information literacy instruction as observed through student engagement and the perceived helpfulness of the instruction. A flipped classroom was used in three separate engineering design classes during the 2014-15 academic school calendar. Two of these classes were offered in a computer lab to less than 30 students (one class was divided into sections for ease of instructional delivery) and one was offered to a large class in a lecture format without the availability of computers for each student. The flipped components relied on online video tutorials that were posted on YouTube and then embedded in the library guides for the discipline. This paper provides the results from an analysis of page views alongside usage statistics from YouTube. Both of these sources of information along with post-test results provided useful data in determining the effectiveness of flipped teaching in both a large lecture format and a smaller computer lab setting. The highest engagement scores were seen from the classes taught in a computer lab.


Flipped teaching is gaining momentum in library instruction as indicated by a prolific increase in the scholarly output in library literature, as seen through a literature search in EBSCO Library Literature & Information Science for flip* (class* or teach*). Limiting the date range to the period between Jan 2013-Dec 2013 revealed only eight articles. The same search for the period between Jan 2014-Dec 2014 retrieved 17 articles and finally from Jan 2015-July 2015, 11 articles have already been published to date (verified on June 24, 2015). All results include both periodicals and academic journals. This increase demonstrates that more librarians are exploring and experimenting with this technique in their library information instruction and detailing the results of their individual case studies. Datig and Ruswick (2013) define the technique in their paper, stating that "in a flipped classroom much of the instruction takes place outside of class time ... Actual class time consists of active learning activities in which students practice and develop what they've learned" (pg. 249). Sales (2013) makes an important distinction between flipped classrooms and other teaching methods when she notes that

It is important to remember that the flipped classroom does not replace face to face training. It is not an online course where individuals study in isolation, nor is it where face to face training time is used to study learning content via a computer whilst a trainer circulates the training room offering support. Flipping the classroom is a blended learning approach. The face to face training element is a vital component as contact time is used to build on knowledge gained during preparation (pg. 232).

Class size, location of the class, preparation time, and the ability to collaborate with the course professor all factor in the overall success of a flipped classroom. Librarians, who wish to explore this technique, should be willing to expand the reach of their classroom through the experimentation with online and distributed teaching environments. Librarians should also be well versed in the use of active learning techniques which can be integrated into the classroom session.


Information literacy instruction was first offered using this method in Geological Engineering 498 (Drill, Blast and Excavate) in January 2014 for 13 students in the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. The librarian had another opportunity to teach this class in September 2014 for 14 students. In both iterations of this class, the video component demonstrated searching for information on slime and underground mines using USearch (discovery layer), Engineering Village, and Google Scholar, while the in-class instruction portion reviewed the critical details of the video tutorial and then moved on to further develop advanced literature searching strategies. Eager to further explore the use of flipped classrooms during the 2014-2015 academic year, the librarian approached the instructors of both Civil Engineering 295 (Design Project) and Civil Engineering/Environmental Engineering/Geological Engineering 495 (Design Capstone) to see if this technique would be an appropriate choice for either or both of these classes. Both professors agreed to the pilot project, and work began planning, exploring and implementing a flipped classroom for these courses. The 14 students from GEOE 498 (September 2014) were also in CE/ENVE/GEOE 495, so great care was taken that the information that was covered in the online tutorial and the in-class session would not be repetitive. The focus of the video component for CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 was on the literature review process; from generating search terms to evaluating the materials. A sample search on culvert design was used for the purposes of demonstration which was suggested by the professor for the course. The course material for CE 295 focused on grey literature and the use of the advanced search options in Google when looking for feasibility reports.

Among the three classes, the librarian was able to make observations based on class size and on the delivery of the instruction as well as compare use data of the online tutorials and the results from a post-test. In GeoE 498 the class size in both semesters was less than 20 students, whereas the class size for CE 295 was 124 students and CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 was 109 students. For both GEOE 498 and CE 295, the classroom portion of the instruction took place in a computer lab. Students in CE 295 where divided into four sections based on their assigned research topic and their project team, and taught over a series of two weeks. CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 was offered in the lecture hall where the class is normally held approximately one week following the dissemination of the video materials.

Literature Review

Arnold-Garza (2014) states that "quality, not necessarily the quantity, of student-teacher interaction is a compelling force in improving student performance and the flipped classroom provides this through active learning during class ... this benefit would not extend to the largest classes without additional teaching assistants" (pg. 9). This statement supports the use of flipped teaching in smaller classroom environments, or provides educators with the motivation to change activities when working with larger groups; for example, using group work or discussion instead of think-pair-shares. Group activities enable the librarian to hear from representatives instead of individual pairs, thus minimizing the time required for this activity. Librarians should inquire if there is an opportunity to change the organization of the class. Is it possible to make use of lab times for example, in order to break the students into smaller, more manageable groups? There is an expectation of participation in a flipped classroom and the smaller class size ensures that all students will have an opportunity to fully interact with the learning materials. Students "will be expected to know enough when they come to class to engage with each other and the instructor through activity. In class, discussion may allow for the possibility that some students will not participate; in-class activity means everyone will have work to do, and not participating is not an option" (Arnold-Garza 2014, pg. 12). In smaller classes, it is more obvious if students are not present and/or not engaged with the materials, so participation may increase simply by default.

Collaboration between the librarian and the faculty member is critical to the success of a flipped classroom as you are relying on the professor to disseminate your materials and also for instilling the value of the library session through their promotion of it in advance. Strong communication between both parties assists the librarian in tying the information literacy instruction directly to classroom activities and/or assignments. On the issue of collaboration, Arnold-Garza (2014) states that it is "clear that collaborating with faculty is essential to employing the flipped classroom for any course integrated library instruction …. this means that the faculty member holds a lot of power in making the flip successful because he/she must ensure that students come to class prepared to engage with the librarian" (pg. 15). When compared with the previous year's instruction, the professor for CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 in particular was very receptive to working more closely with the librarian and invested a significant amount of class-time for increased exposure to the librarian and library instruction, including: the pre- and post-tests, online video modules and also the time spent in class. In the past, the request for library instruction was made, topics were suggested and that was the end of the discussion between the professor and the librarian. Implementing a flipped classroom enabled a broad discussion of learning outcomes, assessment and teaching values to occur which increased the librarian's connection with the class and ultimately improved the effectiveness of the instruction.

Very few articles address classroom size and location as factors in the overall success of flipped teaching within the library literature which necessitated the need to look more broadly. The following articles were included in this literature review as they discuss the effects of class size along with the flipped classroom methods. Russell and Curtis (2013) compared students in an online language course with high enrolment on the main campus with a course from a satellite campus which had a significantly smaller student population. They concluded that "online language instruction should provide ample opportunities for student-student and, in particular, student-teacher interactions, as expert-novice interactions are essential for successful language learning to take place, something which may not be practical in large-scale courses (pg. 12). Their research addresses the urgent need to research the class size of online courses "as the growth rate for online enrollments in higher education is 21% per year" (pg. 11). Although the focus of the research looks specifically at language courses, the reader can extrapolate that class size can effect student engagement and overall satisfaction with the course.

O'Flaherty and Phillips (2015) provide a comprehensive review of the use of flipped classrooms in higher education focusing on five research questions. Of particular note for this paper is their evaluation of "indirect and direct educational outcomes from a flipped classroom" (O'Flaherty & Phillips 2015, pg. 89) where they concluded that there "were no reported differences in the short term outcomes to suggest a smaller cohort of students performed differently to a larger flipped class (>150 students)" (pg. 89). While performance on learning outcomes were seemingly unaffected by the class size, it would be interesting to understand the level of student engagement and satisfaction within those same studies. O'Flaherty and Phillips (2015) note that "the flipped class[room] approach should consider effective learning that facilitates critical thinking, and importantly improves student engagement, both within and outside the class" (pg. 95).

The evidence presented in this paper attempts to address the effect of class size on student engagement in an information literacy instruction session that utilized a flipped classroom.


Students in all three classes were provided with an online video tutorial in advance of their scheduled library instruction session. Typically the video was disseminated approximately 10 days in advance so that the students would have ample opportunity to review the information and so that viewing the video would not interfere with their other projects and/or assignments. Accompanying the video was a pre-test that assessed how much the student knew about advanced search techniques, the literature review process and any other pertinent questions regarding the upcoming library instruction session. The librarian monitored page views of the library guides and the usage statistics on YouTube in advance of the in-class session and if necessary prompted the professor to remind students about their 'homework'. Following the in-class session, a printed copy of a post-test was distributed to the students in the next class period. The librarian recorded all data from the post-tests in a spreadsheet to determine if there were any significant conclusions that could be made about how class size and location of the library instruction session affected student engagement. CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 had 101 students out of a possible 109 students submit a post-test or a 92.7% response rate. CE 295 had 112 students hand in a post-test out of 124 possible students or a 90.3% response rate. Finally, GEOE 498 had a 100% response rate, with all 14 students responding to the post-test. Anecdotally the librarian has found that print surveys typically have a higher response rate than online surveys and as such relies on this format for all in-class collection of statistics and other sources of information. Data from the post-test was compared with the usage statistics from the library guide and from YouTube.


Students were first asked to rank their library confidence on a scale from 1-7, with 1 being not confident and 7 being very confidence. Students in CE 295 had the lowest confidence rate at 4.5, CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 ranked slightly higher at 4.8 and finally GEOE 498 ranked themselves the highest at 5.0. The average across all three classes was 4.7, so students only felt moderately confidence about their library skills overall.

There were two questions that specifically looked at student engagement. First students were asked to rank between 1 [not engaging] -5 [engaging] whether they felt that the class format (pre-class videos combined with in-class discussion and activities) were engaging. Students in the two classes that were taught in the computer lab confirmed their engagement with the highest scores. CE 295 ranked their engagement at 3.7 and GEOE 498 ranked theirs at 3.7, while students in CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 ranked their engagement with the class format with the lowest score of 3.2. The next question that focused on engagement queried if the instructor held their attention? Again the highest engagement scores were seen from the two classes that were taught in a computer lab, CE 295 ranked their attention at 4.1 on a Likert scale from 1 [not engaging] – 5 [engaging] while close behind with a rating of 4.0 was GEOE 498. CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 showed the lowest score on this question with a rating of 3.5.

Three questions reviewed the activities both before class, as well as, in-class to determine if they were helpful to the student, using the scale of 1 [not helpful] -7 [helpful]. When asked if the pre-class reading/video helped the student to understand the course content, students in CE 295 averaged 4.9, students in GEOE 498 responded slightly higher with a score of 5.2 and CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 had the lowest score of 4.4. Students were then asked did the in-class discussion help you to understand the course content. Two classes of the three had responses that ranked higher than on the previous questions with CE 295 ranked at 5.4 and CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 at 4.9. GEOE 498 ranked the in-class activities as slightly less helpful than the pre-class work with a score of 4.6. Finally students were asked if the in-class activity helped them to understand the course content. CE 295 averaged 5.7 on this question, followed by GEOE 498 at 5.1 and CE/ENVE/GEOE at 4.8.

The last question asked students if they preferred this course format to a traditional lecture based course format (i.e. spoken lecture during class time). Students were asked to respond with a yes or a no. A resounding 100.0% of students in GEOE 498 responded that they did indeed prefer this course format over a more traditional lecture, whereas 84.3% of the students in CE 295 responded positively (n=91) and 73.1% (n=68) of the students in CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 answered yes for this question.

The post-test data was then compared with page views from the library guide along with how many times the video was viewed on YouTube. Results from GEOE 498 are not included in this section as the video content was posted by the instructor on Blackboard instead (for more information, please refer to the limitations section below). CE 295 had 129 students, 171 page views and 108 views of the online content via YouTube. CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 had 109 students, 152 page views of the library guide and a mere 35 views of the video tutorial. These statistics were gathered on the day of the in-class session, or in the case of CE 295 which was offered over two weeks to four different sections, on the last day of the library series. Students in all three classes were given the link to the library guide for Civil and Geological Engineering. This site contains information on specialized research resources that were utilized within the in-class session. Examples of searching were demonstrated in the pre-class module using these same resources. Video modules were embedded within the library guide for several purposes including the promotion of the guide, and the ease of access to the online module for students. Finally, embedding the video modules also provided the librarian with the opportunity to have an additional measure of usage statistics that could then be compared to the statistics gathered from YouTube. In both CE 295 and CE/ENVE/GEOE 495, a very high percentage of students went to the library guide, yet far fewer viewed the actual video module. Using the library guide statistics alone would have provided the librarian with a false sense of how many students were prepared for the in-class session.


A small portion of the data is missing for GEOE 498 as the video portion for this class was posted in Blackboard by the professor instead of on YouTube by the librarian. The librarian did not have access to the class shell for GEOE 498 in Blackboard, and as such the actual views of the videos are unknown. Also there was not a corresponding library guide for this particular class, so there is no data on page views of that content. Students in GEOE 498 self-reported how many times they watched the video, but seeing as this information may not be accurate it was excluded from the comprehensive chart that compares page views of the library guide and views of the video content. Results are not included from the pre- test as the questions were directed to the curriculum and/or assignment that the library instruction was addressing and therefore cannot be compared. The pre-tests were used to assess what the student already knew about library resources and the search process and informed the in-class instruction led by the librarian.

It is possible that the number of online page/video views is not entirely accurate, as students may not have watched the entire length of the video; however, anecdotal evidence suggests that the students from CE 295 were better prepared for the in-class session and showed increased engagement with the class materials. This is reflected in their use of the 'homework' materials before class. Students in this class were actively searching for information on the assigned topic as noted by the librarian upon circulating the class during the activity. A few students in CE/ENVE/GEOE 495 were not on task or more overtly chose not to participate at all. Finally, the success of the smaller classes may have been a more direct result of their engagement with the pre-class materials and not because of the in-class activities in the computer lab.


Students in the two fourth year classes noted a moderately higher level of library confidence than the students in the second year design project class. Students in their fourth year of the engineering program would have benefitted from library instruction in at least three of their four years of their program, so a somewhat increased level of confidence seems logical. With the exception of the question that was used to determine the usefulness of the in-class discussion, the two courses that were taught in the computer lab scored higher on all of the other questions. When we also compare the data collected from the post- test with the usage statistics from the library guide and YouTube, we see that the number of students in CE 295 more closely corresponds with the number of page views of the library guide, and the information that was gathered from YouTube. In other words, 87.0% of students watched the video component and viewed the library guide an average of 1.4 times. When we compared CE 295 with CE/ENVE/GEOE 495, students also viewed the library guide an average of 1.4 times, but only 32.0% of students actually watched the video component. O'Flaherty and Phillips (2015) note that "a lack of engagement with the pre-class activities results in variability of student preparedness, adding another level to the learning challenges" (pg. 94). The librarian observed that these students were not as eager to participate in the in-class activities as compared to the other two classes. This may have been the result of a lack of participation with the pre-class video module. The students in CE 295 were prepared to participate in the classroom activities as evidenced by their use of the 'homework' materials, and their engagement with both the materials and the librarian and as indicated by the post- test results. They also noted that the learning objects and in-class activities were helpful to them. While the results are not dramatically lower for the class that was taught in the lecture hall, they demonstrate the difficulty of engaging a large class with in-class activities, when almost no preparatory work was completed by the students, in advance of the class. It is somewhat surprising, however, that almost 75.0% of the students in CE/ENVE/ GEOE 495 preferred a flipped class over a more traditional one-shot lecture style library instruction session. Subjectively, the librarian felt that the use of a flipped classroom improved the relationship with the professor; connecting the library instruction session more completely with the learning objectives and the course content, when compared with other classes that the librarian had taught with the professor in the past. Overall, the smaller class size and the use of a computer lab seemed to enhance the instruction and its effectiveness. Larger classes enjoy this model, but special consideration should be given to the use of 'homework' and in-class activities in order to ensure a high level of engagement.


Several questions should be considered in advance of initiating a flipped classroom, including: is the class size appropriate for this type of teaching method and do you have enough time before the actual class to complete the individual components such as the video, the assessment piece and the preparation of useful and engaging in-class activities. Special considerations should also be given when determining the librarian's relationship with the professor for this particular class. Would the professor be willing to explore this type of pedagogy despite the fact that it will likely require more time on their part and on the part of their students? Also, do you believe that they would be willing to collaborate on the class content, and the creation of the instructional materials with you? Librarians benefit from the participation of a keen colleague who is willing to explore this teaching method, promote the library session to their students and set the ground rules and expectations for the class. For example, request that the professor state that students are expected to complete the 'homework' in advance of the class and are also expected to participate fully once in class. Typically a successful use of flipped teaching happens in classes where the key concepts can effectively be taught through the use of video instruction or in instances where you have used a lecture-style format in the past. Ask yourself if there is an opportunity to expand the content to discuss or evaluate library resources using higher level cognitive activities. If there is, you will likely have found a candidate for a flipped classroom.


This case study was researched, implemented and complied while the author worked at the University of Saskatchewan as a Science Liaison Librarian.


Arnold-Garza, S. 2014. The flipped classroom teaching model and its use for information literacy instruction. Communication in Information Literacy 8(1): 7-22.

Datig, I. & Ruswick, C. 2013. Four quick flips: Activities for the information literacy classroom. C&RL News 74(5): 249-257.

O'Flaherty, J. & Phillips, C. 2015. The use of flipped classrooms in higher education: A scoping review. Internet and Higher Education 25:85-95.

Russell, V. & Curtis, W. 2013. Comparing a large- and small-scale online language course: An examination of teacher and learner perceptions. Internet and Higher Education 16:1-13.

Sales, N. 2013. Flipping the classroom: Revolutionising legal research training. Legal Information Management 13(4): 231-235.

Appendix 1

CE 295 GEOE 498 CE/ ENVE/ GEOE 495 Average Scale

Library Confidence






Did you find the class format (pre-class videos combined with in-class discussion and activities) engaging?
1 [not engaging] – 5 [very engaging]






Did you prefer this course format to a traditional lecture based course format (i.e. spoken lecture during class time)? Y/N

91 Y, 17 N

14 Y

 68 Y, 25 N

Did the instructor hold your attention?
1 [not engaging] – 5 [very engaging]






How well did the pre-class reading/video help you to understand the course content?
1 [not helpful]  – 7 [helpful]






How well did the in-class discussion help you to understand the course content?
1 [not helpful ]– 7 [helpful]






How well did the in-class activity help you to understand the course content? [Scale 1 not helpful – 7 helpful]






Library Guide - page views





YouTube Video viewings









Computer Lab

Computer Lab

Lecture Theatre



Appendix 2

Post-Test Teaching Assessment (PDF)

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