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Team Based Learning

  1. Mar 31, 2008 #1


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    Well, since someone just asked about Problem Based Learning, I thought I'd introduce a topic on Team Based Learning. This is something the faculty in my department are discussing to supplement some of the larger lectures in pharmacology. I hadn't heard the term prior the faculty meeting talking about it, or rather, I'd heard it, but didn't realize it was something more than group learning.

    Here's a site from the University of Oklahoma that offers some "primer" material on this teaching approach.


    I'd be curious to learn more about it from people with experience with it. For example, what sort of classes is it best used in? How do you assign students initially to the teams? If I understand it right, the teams are formed within a larger classroom setting, so do not necessarily each have their own facilitator to keep them running smoothly, as one would in a problem-based learning or small groups type class, so how does one teach the groups to work as a cohesive team without several facilitators to monitor individual group progress?

    I'm also not quite clear if this is really something novel, or just applying to a lecture course setting the same type of learning we already apply in lab courses where students work in small lab groups and are responsible for presenting their group consensus of answers to questions based on the lab at the end of each class.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 11, 2008 #2
    Moonbear: prepare for a huge-long post! :eek:

    While not familar with the site you show, I've been using my own form of "team-based learning" in my conceptual physics classes for about 9 months now. In my case, I've been making use of the University Of Colorado PhET simulations and laptops (both student-provided laptops and one set of ~20 department laptops to supplement). The students complete worksheets in class that I typically write up, although I sometimes steal or adapt small bits from other sources and reference them.

    Small class size experiences (~40):
    The first time I applied this teaching style was in my "102: How Things Work II" conceptual physics course with an enrollment of about 40. Loved it. I also found it good for a "Modern Physics for Engineers Course" that followed a standard introductory calc-based E&M course (enrollment of about 35 and they could master the online math-based assignments well, which were pretty much algebra-based). They really loved it. Mixed feeling on using it in the calc-based E&M class (enrollment 45). Ended up lecturing or doing sample problems 1/2 time, since students found the mathematical aspects of the course difficult.

    This class size is easy... it's like a slightly larger high school class. No problem, I taught high school for a few years.

    Scale-up (to 120):
    This term I scaled up the project for my "101: How Things Work I" course with an enrollment of about 120. I think it is working well (their first test is Tuesday, so I'll know more then). I presently have an undergrad with me in the class to facilitate things (students check out computers in exchange for their student ID or driver's license and check them in at the end of the class), and my undergrad is also analyzing some data I've taken using attitude assessment surveys and students tests. We want to write a grant for this, as well as at least present a poster on it... sometime in spring, I'm hoping just at the APS meeting in Denver, which isn't the ideal meeting, but I want to network with the Colorado folks again (I went there for grad school, but did condensed matter not physics education research).

    I'd like to scale up further for a higher N, better stats and controls. Anyone interested? Can't get other faculty here to give a darn.

    Group organization:
    While contrary to all the research on group learning, I allow students to self-organize into groups of 2-4 (here at UT Knoxville the drop/add period is pretty long and it takes a while for the class to stabilize, and if the weather is rainy half of them aren't there and someone is all by themselves etc., so groups are flexible). Generally I've found that they organize according to where they sit, which works surprisingly well, since you get all the overacheivers together in the front and all the rambunctious folks together in the back, and there are different ways I can get them to stay on task by dropping by the groups. While not ideal to the research done with group learning, it works for me and my smaller groups.

    Individual reponsibility:
    All members must sign the paper to receive credit. I have observed cases where an individual is not contributing or leaves early, and when I ask the group, they do show me that his/her name is not on the sheet. I give credit/no credit based on completion in in class activities. I do online MC/TF pre-testing on the reading first, so they should individually be prepared with the vocab and with some more difficult questions (some questions in pretesting I give full or part credit just based on a response). Average scores on these are in the 80's-90's. Grades on the in-class activities are averaged with grades on pre-class work.

    The activities are USUALLY simulations-based, but I've had students make small electromagnets, or do ray tracing experiments with pins, and do practice ray-tracing with protractors for all the important cases in optics with mirrors and lenses. My 101 class will be going outside on the big green lawn in front of the building to spin water in cups next week or the following week, and develop how variables effect the water staying in the cup. (The department should notice that one.)

    I am putting together a web-site on these: www.sites.google.com/site/phiclephun is in very preliminary stages and mostly for self organization. Please email me at the given email in the site if you want to use any of these materials. Most are in their first draft.

    What I love:
    I know my students by name pretty quickly, even 120 of them. Student engagement is high, maybe because I know their names or maybe just because they have to be involved (I DO try to make sure everyone is at least watching and talking a bit in their groups). Every term I cover content not in the text (for example ray-testing or graphical analysis of motion), and I do hold the students accountable for the extra stuff (they haven't complained). Students do often make brilliant observations in the hands-on activities that have "real world" problems (for instance observing the core of the electromagnet became permanently magnetized, allowing me to draw up hysteresis curves and discuss the Curie Law better, as well as ferromagnetism, diamagnetism and paramagnetism). They do ask great questions: I had students this past week (when we discussed friction dispersing energy as heat) get into a great discussion with me about entropy... and they even asked about endothermic reactions... in a 101 course for non-science students! (They were particularly pleased with my answer about the possiblity that the reaction created more entropy by producing more particles.. and looking forward to later in the term when we cover thermo).

    Minimal lecturing:
    I generally have a 5-10 minute review at the beginning of each class (they are free to go once they finish the activity since some students have had physics before and work through things quickly) and I do have one full class session review, a lecture right before the tests, or I have made available a practice test (with separate solutions) and let students ask questions from those materials. During the review lecture or session, I generally have demos that I didn't squeeze in before, I refer the main points to the activities they've been using, and I cover everything I really want to emphasize -- in one class! This appeases the tradiational learners somewhat (There's always 1-2 per course that wants only lectures but still doesn't drop the first week).

    I do make my tests pretty applications-based (even in multiple choice sections)... otherwise I emphasize they'd be taking a 4th-grade science test with my stepson (for example "friction" is on the Tennessee Dept of Ed. 4th grade science word list, and while they may not be smarter than a 5th grader...). Typical 16-20 MC, 8-12 TF, and 2-3 short response questions. They are adminstered to students individually... no group testing.

    Other blab:
    What's probably most novel is that with the PhET simulations (and some other stuff ex. self-programmed senerios in fun Phun -- www. phunland.com, or hands-on stuff that can be passed out in a ziplock) I'm able to do a form of Studio Physics with a class of general ed students that has no lab, and I can defeat the traditional limits of the lecture hall. They are more engaged than that group of students has EVER been.

    I also go by other classes held in the hall and students look bored and passive (and I just hear the professor talking) and professors walk into my class and get all :bugeye: at the student engagement (I have yet to catch a student using my computers for "Myspace" -- they're always on my activity!).

    Some students do think they aren't learning and are playing games, but then they are astonished when they ask a question that does contain the right answer in it already (I think [this] is going on here... is that true?). Most of my times is spent confirming that they are getting the right idea, then adding bits on top of that to get them thinking more. It's SO much more fun for me.

    Ok. Blabbed enough. I'm doing outreach tomorrow with a teacher group. It's just been so long since I've been online here... and I really like what I'm doing with the class. Perfect timing. o:)
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2008
  4. Sep 12, 2008 #3


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    That sounds like a wonderful experience! I'm also excited to hear it's working with a variety of group sizes. Right now, the class that most needs a change is our nursing course (sorry, I don't teach physics, so can't help increase your N, as much as that would interest me otherwise). I sit in the back of their lectures to observe them and familiarize myself with the level of material covered in lecture. There are some in the front few rows paying careful attention, taking notes, responding to questions, but too many are staring into space, texting on their cell phones, reading the newspaper, eating lunch, etc. I think they have a lot more potential than they are displaying, and are just understimulated by the lecture (for those with a decent biology background, a lot of it is probably redundant with things they've learned prior to entering the nursing program).

    Anyway, that's a class of 120 or so students, and yes, attendance is highly variable, so your adaptations to the approach make sense to me.

    From your description, it sounds like one critical aspect is that you have an online resource that students can use as a guide for their work so they still are getting the information without a traditional lecture format.

    It also sounds like a LOT has to be organized and ready to go before the course begins so it doesn't turn into chaos. If you can give an estimate, how much time did it take to get things organized/planned for the first use of this approach for a course? When/if I have full responsibility for a course, I can put the time in, but if it's a lot, that might limit my ability to persuade other faculty currently involved in the course to participate in a new structure.

    I'd also have to find out from our IT people what's available for "loaner" laptops for the classroom. I do teach in a classroom that's fully outfitted for laptop use...every seat has an ethernet jack and power outlet to connect to the internet. I know they have some loaner laptops, because when we do testing on computers for our medical courses, they can provide loaners if a student's laptop acts up on the day of an exam, but I don't know if they'd have enough to supply an entire course like that.

    Oh, and I totally understand the long posts and gushing on about something that excites you with teaching. Afterall, us educators are rather known for being able to talk on and on about things that excite us. :biggrin:
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