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Team-based Learning: Can it help your students?

The ATE Principal Investigators conference each fall gathers together ATE project and center grantees for a “family reunion” to share resources and develop new collaborations. Staff and faculty from the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) attended the conference last month and participated on a number of panels and roundtable to disseminate best practices.  CTC staff also got to attend sessions run by other ATE grantees and to learn from them.  Among those was a workshop session on team-based learning.

The CTC’s National Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) has long urged IT curriculum to include group projects as a way to strengthen student soft skills. Group projects are a variation of team-based learning.  The presenters at this workshop – Bridgette Kirkpatrick and Carole Twichell from Collin College – demonstrated simple classroom strategies and tools to better engage students and foster better retention of the material.  A side benefit from working closely with one another, of course, is sharper interpersonal and collaboration skills.  Bridgette and Carole’s students spend the entire semester working in teams.  When asked why they do this, they pointed out that employees spend most of their entire professional lives working in teams.

Here are few highlights of that talk:

  • Students will resist the team-based approach at first, especially when it’s paired with a flipped model where students do the reading and reviewing at home and then participate in discussions and activities in the classroom. One common complaint: “You mean I have to teach myself?” The lecture format is very comfortable. Students may also struggle with overcoming social anxiety and shyness in working with classmates. But the presenters insist that, in the end, students embrace the team-based approach.
  • The IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) uses scratch-off cards to turn traditional multiple-choice review quizzes into interactive exercises as the teams work together to collectively decide which answer is correct. In another variation, the members of the team take turns being responsible for which answer to scratch off. In situations like this, there is no place for the freeloader to hide. Everyone must participate to earn high marks because of the way the class combined individual and team grades. Peer pressure and peer expectation tends to lift the performance of everyone. The presenters use the IF-AT cards for chapter reviews. If you didn’t do the assigned reading prior to class, these quizzes will be very hard to get right.
  • The presenters posit that giving a lecture isn’t teaching and that poorly done team-based learning can be more effective than good lecturing. They presented the image below of a brain scan that suggests the least amount of brain activity often happens during a traditional lecture class.

Courtesy of Eric Mazur’s Research at Havard

  • The “gallery walk” allows teams to write answers on a whiteboard (or easel), then circulate to correct and check other teams’ work. Because of the desire to avoid correction, teams work hard to be accurate.
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