Felix Liao

Felix Haifeng Liao

Geography/College of Social and Behavioral Science


GIS Pedagogy, Flipped Courses and Student Achievements

Faculty Mentor: Steven Farber - Geography/College of Social and Behavioral Science


GIS is a new and dynamic technology and a popular course on campus. However, given the diversity of GIS students and their different learning goals, teaching GIS has become a big challenge for instructors in geography departments. Recent research on GIS pedagogy has proved that using new pedagogical approaches would be helpful for instructors to fit particular needs of GIS students. Among these newly developed teaching methods, flipping courses has been found as an effective approach, which would facilitate the engagement of students in GIS courses and also fulfill the demand of individuality in teaching GIS (Clark et al, 2007).

Basically, flipped courses are different from courses that rely on the traditional lecture-homework paradigm. In the flipped course, the instructor would devote the in-class time to discussing, problem solving, processing and dealing with students’ questions. However, a flipped course is different from a hybrid course, which would devote 30-79% of class time for online activities and results in a reduction in face-to-face (F2F) meeting.

There are a number of benefits of flipping courses. First, learning begins with experiences in the classroom related to the content. Second, it gives students more flexibility. Students can view the lectures multiple times and pause if they want. Third, in the context of GIS pedagogy, the flipped course has its unique advantages. Students who registered in the GIS course are characterized as coming from diverse academic disciplines. For example, in the GEOG 5140 GIS Methods class, my students come from a variety of disciplines like urban planning, public health and engineering. They are also divided by different levels of GIS background. It is hard to apply a one-size-fits-all approach in teaching GIS labs to such a diverse learner group.

Against the above backdrop, this TA scholar project aims to develop a flipped GIS lab for the course of GEOG 5140: Methods in GIS. It will compare the lab grades of students in both flipped labs and traditional labs. Furthermore, the existing literature on flipping teaching in GIS is limited. Most of the previous studies are focused on the attitude of students towards flipping or web-based teaching (Clark et al, 2007). However, few efforts have been made to examine effectiveness of using a flipping method although investigating learning outcomes in relation to flipped approaches to course design is an emerging interest (Jain and Getis 2003). In this sense, this project would also shed light on the real-world influence of flipped courses on students’ achievement in GIS classes.


This ongoing project will be comparing flipped courses and traditional labs in two sections of GEOG 5140 Methods in GIS. The lab section will begin in spring 2013. The project will conduct two surveys in the beginning of the spring semester and before the midterm 2 exam respectively.

In the first survey, we will ask questions related to students’ majors, their backgrounds, gender and why they are interested in GIS courses. It will also include some questions about the attitude towards flipping teaching such as:

Q1: Did you take a flipped course/lab before?

Q2: Would you like a flipped course/lab?

After the initial survey, we will apply both flipped and non-flipped approaches to the two sections in the lab of GEOG 5140. In the first section, there are no lectures in the labs and students need to watch the videos by themselves and class time will be devoted to problem solving and discussions. In contrast, in the second section, the instructor will use the traditional lecture-style teaching in the lab while the tutorial videos will be put on the web after the classes. This approach would offer a fair opportunity for the exposure to tutorial videos.

After the first five labs, we will conduct a survey to understand which method is better. The questionnaire survey will look like:

Q1: What did you like most about the lab?

Q2: What did you like least about the lab?

Q3: Did you like the lab format? (1-6 Likert scale)

Q4: What did you like the most about the flipped lab?

Q5: What did you like least about the flipped lab?

Q6: What are your suggestions?

Based on the grades in both sections, an independent t-sample test will be used to estimate the different achievements of students. Moreover, both gender and background effect will be analyzed using cross-tabulation and ANOVAs tests.


We expect the students who take the flipped labs would have higher grades than those students in traditional labs. However, we also hypothesize that the effect of flipped labs on students’ performance will be mediated by their backgrounds and gender. Therefore, this project will advance our understanding about the effectiveness of a flipped course or lab. We can also know more about which groups of students favor this teaching method. Also, there has been a new MS program in GIS in the department of geography. The results will also help the geography department decide if flipping is useful in future GIS labs.


Felix Liao Poster