Learning in the flipped classroom

Published: 30 Oct 2015

Brian O'Dwyer - WW 20151027

Brian O’Dwyer, adjunct professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Asia campus in Singapore and entrepreneur-in-residence at a US graduate school, believes a more direct method of teaching gets results.

Where are you from?

Originally from Seattle, and I grew up three miles from Sea-Tac airport. My father used to be an accountant at Alaska Airlines and my mother was a flight attendant. When I was young, Boeing was the big employer in Seattle.

Where did you train?

I nearly attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University after high school but was worried about the airline industry’s financial state amid the mergers of the 1980s. Instead I opted for a BSc in industrial engineering at Columbia University in New York. When I was 25, I started flying lessons at Chicago Executive airport.

I picked up private, instrument, commercial, multi-engine and seaplane licences and ratings from various flight schools, and have an MBA in finance from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, North Carolina.

What was your first aviation job?

Between Columbia and Duke, I worked at management consulting firm AT Kearney and only two of my 20 projects were aviationrelated. When I graduated from business school in 2005, the airline industry was still distressed. I then joined the airlines investment banking team at Credit Suisse and worked on more than 15 aviation-related deals, which included mergers and acquisitions, equity deals such as initial public offerings and, mostly, debt financings to fund aircraft purchases.

I was based in New York, Chicago and, latterly, Singapore. I left Credit Suisse to become group chief financial officer of Skywest Airlines, the Singapore holding company for an Australian regional and charter airline. Skywest was listed on Australia and London’s stock exchanges until the company was sold to Virgin Australia in 2013.

After the sale of Skywest, I assisted the former chief executive with the acquisition of a small passenger-service software company that was being divested by Emirates. Following some reflection, I shifted to education because at Skywest, one of our biggest challenges was attracting and retaining talent. In Asia, education will be critical as the industry doubles in the coming decade. I have also appeared on Channel NewsAsia as an aviation analyst on 15 occasions regarding aircraft incidents in Southeast Asia. 

What are your current duties?

Currently, I have two main positions. I teach three courses at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Asia campus in Singapore – management for aeronautical science, airport administration and finance, and airline management. I’m also entrepreneur-inresidence at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. I am focused on commercialising learning technologies and methods for blended and team-based learning – sometimes called the ‘flipped classroom’. 

What are your most and least favourite parts of the job?

I believe in what I am doing. Dr Geoff Murray – an Embry-Riddle graduate and former AT Kearney consultant – was my first certified flight instructor and taught me to fly using a form of flipped classroom. He required me to pass the FAA written exam before we got in the airplane. He wanted me to learn as much as I could on my own before coming to him with questions and wasting money in the expensive airplane classroom.

Too many students and teachers waste too much time on inefficient and wasteful learning. Blended learning can help equip the industry in Asia to manage its growth safely and sustainably.

I have had a lot of unexpected headwinds, tailwinds and turbulence on my aviation career path. I am grateful for the opportunities have had, the people I have worked with and the patience to keep my aviation dreams alive. 

There is a lot of uncertainty and volatility in innovative and entrepreneurial endeavours. It can be a hard rollercoaster to ride while keeping professional and personal relationships intact.

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