OHSU classroom gets “flipped”

December 17, 2013


Faculty develop graduate studies course utilizing online lectures and active learning

OHSU graduate students enrolling in the CELL/CANB 613 Tissue Biology course will be participants in a grand experiment, happening not just at OHSU, but in education settings across the nation and the world. The course is one of the first at OHSU to employ the "flipped classroom" model – online lectures which can be viewed at a convenient time by students, and class time which involves active student learning and conversations with faculty teachers. This model, and other education innovations, is being considered in the M.D. Curriculum Transformation Initiative.

Bruce Schnapp, Ph.D., professor of cell and developmental biology and course director, is aware of the M.D. curriculum initiative and trends to transform higher education, (such as massive open online courses, or MOOCs) but said "this course was a perfectly natural evolution."

Histology is a regular part of medical student curriculum. Graduate students don't traditionally study the structure of tissues; instead, their courses emphasize molecular and cell biology. With fields such as cancer biology, developmental biology and stem cell research now converging around a need for greater understanding of tissue structure, function and physiology, Dr. Schnapp and his department colleagues – with enthusiastic support from department Chair Lisa Coussens – identified a need to update this grad student course.

The course, which begins in January, is described as "a union of basic histology and the most cutting edge questions, methods and concepts in biomedical science." Read more in the course description.

Dr. Schnapp and course co-directors Alex Nechiporuk and Missy Wong, with input from Stephen Planck, brainstormed several different ways to structure the course. They decided the flipped classroom model would work well, given the rapid proliferation of information pertaining to this new area of biomedicine. "We challenged ourselves to find a way to convey the non-didactic aspects of tissue biology, which are changing all the time," said Dr. Schnapp. "The best courses are the ones where faculty are learning along with the students, so why not structure our time together with active learning and discussion?"

"The faculty members involved in this course have identified a unique need and are taking a creative approach to course design and instruction," said George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education. "As we strive to continually improve our education programs, it's critical that we consider different teaching methodologies and tools to accommodate learners."

"Members of the Graduate Council were very receptive to Dr. Schnapp's proposal for this course, and in particular his description of the flipped classroom," said Allison Fryer, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate studies. "This is one of the first courses in the basic sciences using this new approach to teaching." 

Cezary Wojcik, Gary Ciment and Drs. Planck and Schnapp provide video lectures covering the fundamentals of histology, a prerequisite for being able to critically read the literature encompassed by modern studies of tissue biology. The video lectures are recorded by OHSU EdCOMM in front of a green screen and will be shared with students online. Students can watch them before class – at home, on the bus, in the pub – and at their own pace. Students will receive a comprehensive, detailed guide and list of objectives with each lecture, as well as a copy of the slides presented in the video lecture. 

"We've found that the video approach is about four times more efficient than delivering a traditional lecture, given the redundancies and varied pace of public speaking," said Dr. Schnapp. "Video lectures are not only good for the students – it's been so much fun to do as a lecturer."

What do you think of this flipped classroom at OHSU? Have you had experience – either as a teacher or a student – in a flipped classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


  • Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Gary Ciment, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Alex Nechiporuk, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Stephen Planck, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Ophthalmology
  • Cezary Wojcik, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Department of Family Medicine
  • Missy Wong, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology (joint appointment in Dermatology)

M.D. Curriculum Transformation

Recent activities of M.D. Curriculum Transformation

  • Listening Tour #2: Education leaders logged 735 miles and met with 61 people in rural Oregon
  • Scholarly project and core clinical experiences work groups submit reports
  • New details in the draft curriculum template: Threads and block duration set for Fundamentals and Foundations
  • Weekly presentations to M.D. program applicants show enthusiasm, interest in Your M.D.; applications at all-time high!
  • Website created for prospective students: www.ohsu.edu/yourmd
  • Info sessions for faculty Jan. 7, Jan. 10 and Jan. 22; details on EdNews (OHSU login required)

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