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2014 Harvey Spangler Award
for Technology-enhanced Instruction

 

Barry VanVeen.

Barry Van Veen
Electrical and Computer Engineering

“My job as a teacher is to engage the students in a way that enables them to perform at a high level,” says Barry Van Veen, the Lynn H. Matthias professor of electrical and computer engineering.

After years of noticing the difficulties students had understanding signal-processing concepts, Van Veen decided to explore a "flipped" classroom format. Starting in fall 2012, VanVeen piloted this format in two signal-processing courses (ECE 431 and 630) in WisCEL, an innovative, technology-rich learning space in Wendt Commons. To his knowledge, those courses were the first flipped signal-processing classes in the United States.

Van Veen previously experimented with videotaping and posting his traditional lectures, but found that the flipped classroom sparked incredible learning gains. Instead of standard classroom lectures, Van Veen records online videos that students watch before class. During class the students work hands-on exercises involving theory, code, and real world examples while VanVeen circulates as a coach. “It was his innovative and inspired use of technology to turn the standard pedagogical format on its head that vaulted the course into a league of its own,” says former student David Mummy.

Hoping to share his innovative approach to signal-processing education, VanVeen wrote an article that was published in IEEE Signal Processing Magazine —the flagship publication of the IEEE Signal Processing Society.

John Booske, Duane H. and Dorothy M. Bluemke professor electrical and computer engineering, emphasizes the importance of VanVeen’s willingness to share his process. “His innovations have greatly improved the learning of the students, reached many outside the department, and have created a model for teaching the subject that is highly regarded both across campus and beyond the university,” he says.

Signal processing is used in many disciplines in science and engineering, yet it is still almost exclusively taught within electrical engineering. As such, VanVeen labored to ensure that the material was accessible for those without a traditional electrical engineering background.

To ensure the flipped classroom format was effective, VanVeen also asked his students to provide comments and suggestions. “I was struck by Professor VanVeen’s continuous reflection on his teaching, solicitation of student feedback, and teaching-research he conducted for his course and student outcomes,” says Sarah Mason, WisCEL associate director.

“Flipping the classes has been the most transformative experience of my career,” says VanVeen. “I doubt that I will ever be able to go back to teaching in the conventional paradigm,” he says.