High level of student satisfaction and better exam results
Ulm study examines fully digitalised teaching format in the medical programme

Ulm University

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly accelerated the digitalisation of university instruction. At Ulm University, researchers took a closer look at a biochemistry seminar in the medical programme to see whether or not fully digitalised courses can be a good substitute for face-to-face teaching in terms of student satisfaction and learning success. To do so, they converted an “inverted classroom” setup into a fully online-based teaching format within a very short period of time. The comparison showed that while the level of student satisfaction remained constant, the students actually performed better on the exam following the fully digitalised seminar than after the original seminar in the “inverted classroom” format.

“Inverted” approaches turn the traditional university teaching style upside down, so to speak. Instead of the traditional lecturing style approach familiar from the classroom,  an “inverted classroom” approach utilises a preparatory self-study phase. “The students teach themselves the basic material, and this knowledge is then practised or deepened through dialogue with other students and the instructors during the classroom phase. In this way, the students have more time during the classroom phase to consolidate what they’ve learned”, explains PD Dr Susanne Kühl, team leader at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Ulm University. In the study she conducted, her team assessed how a fully digitalised teaching format compares to an “inverted classroom” approach.

The subject of the investigation, which was conducted within the scope of Lena Dahmen’s medical dissertation, was a second-semester biochemistry seminar for students of human medicine. In the study, the “inverted classroom” design from the 2019 summer semester was compared with the subsequent fully digitalised seminar in the summer 2020 semester, which was held completely online due to the coronavirus pandemic. The seminar, entitled “From Gene to Protein”, focused on teaching both the basics of protein biochemistry and communication skills. Students learn how to understand basic biochemical processes and link them to corresponding diseases. They also practise conducting scientific discussions and physician-relative consultations.

The teaching material that was used in both formats was diverse. It included educational films, introductory book chapters, worksheets and quizzes. In the 2019 summer semester, it was possible to expand on the material on campus at Ulm University while practicing oral exams and medical discussions in a face-to-face classroom setting and working in groups. A year later, all of the seminar content had to be digitalised and the physician-relative consultations had to be simulated in tele-format.

A direct comparison between the two digital teaching formats showed that student satisfaction, which was already very high in the “inverted classroom” setting, was by no means lower in the subsequent fully digitalised version. This was determined using the conventional feedback forms for teaching evaluation within the Medical Faculty, which were expanded for the online semesters to include specific questions concerning online teaching. What surprised the instructor and her team were the results in the area of learning success, which were even better in the pandemic semester. With identical prior knowledge, the students performed significantly better on the written exam in the 2020 summer. “This result is consistent with the results of other studies on online teaching at other universities, but also at schools. It shows that digital classes can, indeed, be a good substitute”, says Susanne Kühl. It should not be forgotten, however, that face-to-face teaching is extremely important in terms of social contact and personality development, she notes. Dr Susanne Kühl, who has attained both a Baden-Württemberg University Didactics Certificate and a Master of Medical Education degree, was a recipient of the Ulm University Teaching Award in 2018. She has also received multiple awards from the Medical Department and the Medical Faculty’s Education Research Team for her dedication and research in the area of teaching. Her results show that well-designed teaching approaches containing alternating face-to-face and digital formats can be a viable alternative to pure face-to-face teaching.

Dahmen L, Schneider A, Keis O, Straßer P, Kühl M, Kühl SJ (2022): From the inverted classroom to the online lecture hall: effects on students’ satisfaction and exam results, Biochemisty and Molecular Biology Education, 16 July 2022

Text and mediacontact: Andrea Weber-Tuckermann
Translation: Kate Gaugler

Inverted Classroom
Comparison of the traditional teaching format (left) with the “inverted classroom” approach (right) (Illustration: Susanne Kühl)
Team Dr. Kühl
PD Dr Susanne Kühl (centre) with first author of the study, Lena Dahmen (left) and a co-author, Patrick Straßer (right) (Photo: private)