Monday, March 23, 2015

Conference report: team-based learning #sheftess15

Last Thursday I attended the University of Sheffield Faculty Social Sciences learning and teaching conference (this is the Faculty the iSchool is in). I presented a paper in a session about distance education, and I will blog that separately. In this post I will talk about a session on Team Based Learning (TBL), and in another post I will give a few other snippets from the day. I meant to liveblog, but on the day I forgot to bring in my netbook...
The day started with a workshop on TBL (pictured, my coffee and some workshop clickers). This is a very structured approach to teaching large groups of students, and was developed by Larry Michaelsen in North America. There are numerous books and articles by him and others and a website at Our session was delivered by Rebecca McCarter and Simon Tweddell (University of Bradford), and most of it consisted of them treating us as a class working through a TBL session.
In TBL, students are put in teams that they stay with through the class. Learners firstly engage with a learning pack (readings, videos etc.), then in class the first part consists of each student taking a multiple choice test on the content they were supposed to have engaged with. The second part is for each team to tackle the same questions, decide what the answers should be, and record the team’s answers (and various studies have shown that the team does better than the individuals do). Done with clickers, there is immediate feedback on where students are having problems with these first two parts.
Thirdly, there is an appeals period, when students can appeal (e.g. argue against their answer being incorrect). Fourthly there is a short “corrective instruction” session, where the lecturer gives some quick revision on the questions that students had problems with. Fifthly, each team tackles the same “application activity” which is designed to apply the new learning to a relevant problem and reach a decision. Sixthly, there is debate between the teams about the decisions they made.

When I read about this beforehand I was thoroughly put off by some of the terminology (the aforementioned “corrective instruction”, and labels for the first processes i.e. “readiness assurance tests”): it sounded rather transmissive and positivist, which is not my idea of good pedagogy. There seemed to be an assumption that they way you were teaching already was via textbooks and long lectures, which is not my approach when I have any say in learning design (which, fortunately, is quite a lot of the time). Obviously some elements (like forming teams for classwork, focusing on problem application in class etc.) are familiar from other teaching approaches.
However, it was evident that the speakers, and also the Sheffield academic who’d invited them, had found the approach valuable and had positive feedback from students. Going through the process ourselves was very helpful, and a good way to get people thinking about the pros and cons of the approach. My colleague Pam McKinney highlighted that there had been a presentation at a previous LILAC conference about using this process for library/infolit sessions in the same University of Bradford course that one of the speakers led. I couldn’t find the LILAC presentation that Pam mentioned, but this is a powerpoint by the same speaker given at a different conference:
- Costigan, A. (2014). Team based learning and libraries: opportunities and challenges.

As I don’t coordinate a large class at the moment, just make contributions to large classes (e.g. to our research methods class) I probably won't be using the process myself. I think it is more suited to subjects where there is an uncontested knowledge base, otherwise developing multiple choice questions for the first two stages becomes problematic: it is difficult to avoid asking questions about the less-important elements where there are a right and wrong answers.

A quick google showed that there are a number of articles about TBL and information literacy e.g.
- Jacobson, T. (2011). Team based learning in an information literacy course. Communications in information literacy, 5 (2).[]=v5i2p82
- Metcalf, S. (2006) Will Team-Based Learning Mesh Well with Library Instruction? Loex quarterly, 33 , 6-8.
- Hosier, A. (2013). Using Team-Based Learning in an Online, Asynchronous Information Literacy Course. Library Innovation, 4 (2),

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