Dr Giordano Scarciotti has won a President’s Award for Excellence for his contributions to innovation in teaching and learning.
"The use of recordings in teaching is a revolution as disruptive as the invention of the printing press ...the availability of lectures online will bring a paradigm shift in teaching." Giordano Scarciotti
Senior Lecturer Giordano joined outstanding members of staff from the Imperial community at a presentation ceremony on Monday. The award celebrates his use of teaching and learning methods that have been highly successful and well-received by our students.
Flipping the focus
Since 2017 Giordano has been experimenting with group problem-solving sessions and the Flipped Classroom — where students watch pre-recorded lectures before the scheduled class time.
“The main reason why years ago I started to use recordings in my teaching is because I find repeating the same information every year boring and a waste of time. I believe that the use of recordings in teaching is a revolution as disruptive as the invention of the printing press. Like the printing press allowed the spread of knowledge at a level beyond any previous imagination, recordings and the availability of lectures online will bring a paradigm shift in teaching.”
“It is important that a modern university realises that its value is not in frontal lectures — a professor speaks for two hours to a sleepy audience — but in the interaction that students have with peers and lecturers. What should remain fundamental is the rigour. Fundamental knowledge is still the same. The use of recordings is simply an added value that allows us to provide a better and more effective teaching.”
With students arriving in class prepared, team-based learning (TBL) comes into its own. “The point of Flipped Classroom is exactly to allow us to dedicate 100% of contact hours to interactive teaching, so the class time becomes 100% problem solving.”
“What I enjoy the most about my teaching is the sound of groups of students chatting while trying to tackle a complex problem together.”
“I always tell my students at the beginning of my modules that I do not understand why one would invest so much money in coming to London to listen to me reciting a lecture, when they could get the same information from home on YouTube, and that I believe time at Imperial is much better spent interacting with professors and like-minded colleagues solving problems together.”
Postitive feedback from satisfied students:
“The flipped classroom approach is the future of education: having pre-recorded lectures is not only convenient, it allows for material to be digested better because you can pause the video, or rewatch for enhanced note-taking. Having interactive sessions where problems are discussed and solved enables students to keep up with the content and reduces exam preparation stress.”
“The continuous assessment incentivises participation and teamwork. I think this module should be a template for how to structure a course. It’s especially important to include continuous assessment and graded practical problems because it allows students to assess what they don’t understand much earlier and reinforces the learning.”
During the pandemic Giordano took the opportunity to test these methods further, developing a modification which allowed successful use of TBL completely online, with team assessments involving complex problems which could be solved only if the team worked together.
“This remote version of TBL worked much better than expected, even better than the original physical version. I was very happy to give students the opportunity to create a sense of community, and allow students to work together and get to know their peers. I can proudly say that every single student attended every single class — also those without assessments — which was amazing and rewarding.”
Giordano aims to innovate his teaching continuously. This year he has developed Smart Handouts — editable web pages integrating video recordings, text, runnable computer code, and exercises. Smart handouts are completely editable by students who can add their notes, modify the code to test different scenarios and complete the exercises.
“In my teaching modules I use the Smart Handouts in conjunction with a Flipped Classroom in two-hour sessions. The teaching style is a post-pandemic enhancement of the original TBL style. Every week, I release a chapter of the smart handouts and an online readiness assessment to be completed before the next meeting. In class, students work in groups on practical problems for the first hour. After 15-minutes of class discussion, the groups work on a 30-minute team test.”
The methods have been very popular — Giordano reports full attendance throughout the term, the only exception being occasional self-isolating students, but with his experience of TBL online he has also been able to adapt these methods for hybrid sessions, ensuring everyone is able to participate by preparing breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams that include the self-isolating student.
Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr Christos Bouganis, said:
“Dr Scarciotti’s dedication on enhancing the teaching and learning of our students is admirable. Continuously investigating ways to improve the teaching experience of our students, he was one of the early adopters of flipped classroom teaching and TBL in our department, resulting in high student satisfaction. He analyses his teaching approach’s impact on students’ understanding and on their workload, and has introduced evidence-based changes to strengthen his approach. His findings have been presented in various College-level teaching workshops, and over the years he has made significant contributions to our programme.”
These teaching advances will require staff to contribute significant time and effort creating high quality videos and material, as well as additional funding for equipment.
“A lot of this teaching, especially that of the last year, has been developed with good equipment. I need to thank my Group Head Alessandro Astolfi for supporting my expense requests. The College can support the development of teaching by allowing staff to buy teaching equipment more easily.”
"As well as my colleagues, I would also like to thank student representatives Arijit, Jason and Bharat for collecting feedback and preparing a supporting statement. Also our former Director of Undergraduate Studies, Kristel Fobelets, who some years ago basically gave me free reign over my teaching. In the name of experimentation, I was allowed to try any methods I wanted, and that was crucial to developing the experience that led to this award."
"Preparing this material takes a huge amount of time, beyond working hours, so I want to thank my wife, as she has always been supportive."
"Time is always an issue, but if I have the time I would like to write a couple of papers on education reporting my experience. I also dream of opening a YouTube channel to reach a wider audience.”
Our congratulations to Giordano, and to all of the 2022 President's Awards winners helping make Imperial a better place to work and study.
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