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Team based learning

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As part of the eLearning team’s approach in supporting technology enhanced learning I attended the Active learning conference at the University of Sussex June 5th. This blog will be part of a series of write-ups about different aspects of Active learning, starting with Team based learning (TBL).

Team based learning is not new; Larry Michaelson, a Professor of Business Management, who helped to establish the TBL approach in the 1970’s, explains what it is:

‘The primary learning objective in TBL is to go beyond simply covering content and focus on ensuring that students have the opportunity to practice using course concepts to solve problems. Thus, TBL is designed to provide students with both conceptual and procedural knowledge’. – Larry Michaelsen (2008)

 

It started within business teaching yet works across different disciplines and seems to be popular in life sciences. Indeed the workshop I attended was led by Dr Geeta Hitch; Dr Shihab Khogali and Professor Danny Mclaughlin, all lecturers in life sciences and enthusiastic TBL advocates.

TBL relies on a flipped learning approach so this could be through video and audio podcasts or literature. The subsequent face to face sessions are made up of various stages. The first one being the Readiness Assurance Process. Students are asked to complete a multiple choice test individually to assess understanding of content. Then the same test is repeated, only this time in carefully formed small teams. The teams have a scratch card (specially ordered from epsteineducation.com) and if they get the right answer in the first go they get full marks but if they have to take more turns they get partial credit only. 

 

Throughout the workshop we were made to think about how we would facilitate this stage,particularly around the teacher clarification. We were asked to think about what questioning and feedback strategies would work; for example being careful not to close off the learning process by intervening too quickly or going straight for the team that has the right answer or even not standing too close to the team you are worried about. Interestingly, we touched on the power of silence. This reminded me when I did my teacher training years ago where our trainer asked us not to be scared when students seemed to sit in silence. As new teachers we might panic and rush in to help them but really the silence probably meant that students were processing ideas and concepts.

The next stage is one that tends not to get used much and that is the appeal stage. Teams have the right to challenge the marks they get and argue their case. This apparently does not happen often though one of our workshops leads did say that in her experience when students discover that they can do this  they will do so more frequently,particularly with summative results.

Once the RAP has been done the following session is the application exercises – this builds on prior learning as teams work out solutions to complex problems through a series of exercises.

Finally, the last stage is the peer evolution review. This is where a lot of work is needed in getting students to appreciate the value of this exercise. When it does work students realise that they are not only accountable to themselves with their learning but also to their peers- and therefore a lot of training on how to give constructive peer feedback is needed. Nonetheless, these are vital skills in the workplace so worth doing.

There are lots of different digital tools that can help particularly with the assessment side of things. These are some, including recommendations by Sussex University:

For forming teams it is important to have a balance and mix of skills. An online survey tool can help with this so it could be a Moodle quiz or any other online quiz tool. For the Rap process  Kahoot is suggested as it is specifically designed for live-classroom use and includes a team-quiz mode. For the Application tests: student response systems such as Poll Everywhere or the more low-tech clickers; other tools such Padlet or Answer Garden offer lots of options for facilitating collaboration, evidencing and recording the teams’ decision making processes. For Peer Evaluation which can involve a lot of planning such as evaluation forms and collating responses, Teammates is a free tool which is specifically designed to manage this.

The conclusion is that this way of teaching is certainly not an easy option. Initially the workload increases though once you have frontloaded all the planning it gets easier and the technology can really help. Overall though, it was strongly felt that student engagement as well as outcomes were very positive and therefore TBL was worth doing.

 

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