Getting Ready to Learn
In this phase you need to:
- Plan your first day of class
- Get yourself in an experimental and playful mood
- First Day Orientation Activity by Gary Smith
Getting Students Ready
Beginning the Course Well
How you start — specifically, the tone you set and how you orient your students — can determine student acceptance and satisfaction with TBL. Before getting to the classroom, you should spend some time getting your own rationales and understanding of TBL well organized. Make sure you can answer the deceptively simple student question, “Why are you using TBL?” When you truly understand your own reasons, you are in a much better position to communicate to your students how the TBL classroom works and how TBL will greatly benefit them and their learning. If you fail to properly orient your students or fail to convince them of the value of using TBL, then you are at risk of increased student resistance.
To get students started well, there are three goals you must achieve:
- Students must be convinced of the educational value of TBL.
- Students must be convinced that the structure of TBL addresses many of their legitimate concerns about group/team work.
- Students must be introduced to the specific TBL processes
Task 1: Sell TBL
Plan the first class carefully. Practice your approach. Speak with passion about the learning possibilities that TBL offers and how it relates to professional practice and the workplace.
You need to be very clear in your own understanding, convictions, and beliefs about why you are using TBL. Students can quickly see through teachers that are not absolutely convinced of the underlying rationales for using any teaching approach strays from the usual passive lecture model. You need to spend time with the TBL literature to gain a sufficient understanding of how the various components of TBL work both on their own and together, and what each step of the TBL process is designed to achieve educationally. If you don’t have clarity in your own mind, the students will sense it. This can lead to unhappy students gaining motivational fuel to voice their arguments for maintaining the status quo and resisting change.
Task 2: Respond to Student Concerns
Some students will not be happy when you announce that your course will be using teams extensively. Missteps in the first days of class can be costly, giving unhappy or skeptical students cause to complain. Some pre-planning and introductory activities can help ensure that students will support, or at least tolerate, the switch to TBL. You should acknowledge that most of us, student and teachers, have had bad team experiences, and make sure to explain that Team-Based Learning, by design, reduces or eliminates many of those difficulties.
Task 3: Let Students Try TBL
On the first day, we also want to form teams and introduce students to the mechanics of TBL. Since this may be their first TBL experience, we need to show them that TBL is going to be truly different. We should not only describe how the process works, but also the educational value of each stage. It is good to point out how the entire TBL process feeds the main course objective of helping students learn how to use course content to solve relevant problems. It is often helpful to make a case for problem-solving as an essential workplace skill, and that the TBL classroom is a chance to acquire that skill in a more supportive setting. Many teachers include a mock Readiness Assurance Process and Application Activity on the first day. The mock RAP is sometimes based on the course syllabus, a short handout about Team-Based Learning, or a short course-related article. Using a course-related article gets students to dive straight into the course material.
Try this mock 4S Team Task
You can introduce students to TBL with this mock Application Activity based on Gary Smith’s activity from the National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter article First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom (NTLF newsletter, 2008).
The article asks the reader: “Thinking of what you want to get out of your college education and this course, which of the following is most important to you?”
- Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)
- Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations
- Developing life-long learning skills
The teachers will give time for intra-team discussion leading to a team decision. Then the teacher will pass out the TBL voting cards and ask the teams to simultaneously report by holding up the card that corresponds to their team’s decision. Then you can facilitate a full class discussion contrasting the various team decisions. This activity both shows the students the mechanics of the Application Activity process and clearly surfaces differing student beliefs on what good classroom learning should look like. There is a wonderful way to extend this activity (Smith, 2013). At the end of the activity students are asked to revisit the items on the list and consider which of the items would be better achieved in class and which items could be achieved through individual study. They will quickly zero in on “acquiring information” as something they could do on their own. You can then revisit the format of TBL and show them that is exactly how TBL is structured, you acquire some information on your own and then come to class where we can work on higher order goals like application and life long learning skills.
Smith, G. (2008). First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.ntlf.com/ Smith, G. (2013, November)
Selling Active Learning to Faculty Requires a Student Purchase, Too. Session presented at 38th Annual POD Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA.
Getting yourself Ready
Getting yourself ready is a VERY important part of being ready for TBL.
Your role changes from the authoritative dispenser of knowledge and truths to the designer of high quality learning experiences. This can be disconcerting. When you switch to these kinds of learner centered activities, it can be uncomfortable for you and your students at first. With the students more in control of their learning, you have less control of exactly how the learning progresses. The hard part for you at the beginning is to stay out of it – learning is messy – it is supposed to be. Getting yourself in an experimental, playful mood is essential. Some activities will soar and other may not. You need to role model for students risk taking, learning from failures and perseverance in the face of difficulties.
The other piece is to get ready for some student resistance – the question isn’t will there be student resistance, rather when, how much, and how will you respond. Students may not want instructor formed teams, they may insist they learn better from lectures, or not be interested in talking to their less capable peers. You need to be ready to listen, respond, and STAY the course.