03/03/11 Slide 5: Team-Based Learning: Internal and External Environments Team-based learning for its own sake is no better than lecture-based learning, small section learning, or any other learning, for that matter, for their own sake. To make TBL effective we must understand the environment in which we are instituting it, and what the consequences would be for that environment. For me, it’s convenient to identify an internal and an external environment. At Empire one of our core values is student-centered learning. Without going into a great amount of detail, it refers to the instructor and student(s) embarking together on the path to discovery and learning. There are many ways to do this, ranging from one-on-one meetings, to study groups, to team-based learning projects, for example. These three approaches can take place either in a face-to-face environment or at a distance. In either mode, they are part of the internal environment in which learning happens in the college. Faculty and students in the college also function in an external environment. Students have jobs, or perhaps aspire to new positions, and they certainly work in a range of professions, each with its own (overlapping) expectations. Faculty also have a stake in that environment as they endeavor to impart knowledge and skills to students to help them become valued members of their professions. In this external environment it is useful to think in terms of (outcomes or) core competencies that students will develop from participating in team-based learning; those core competencies form part of the professional expectations that students will face. It is one of our obligations to help students recognize and develop those competencies.
03/03/11 Slide 6: Strategy These next three slides are focused on what I want to say to my students about team-based learning, as distinct from the subject matter of the course proper. FYI, the context here is a graduate-level course In policy implementation. Setting forth clarity of expectations is not unique to team-based learning of course, but if we are trying to help students learn how to function in teams it is important to be fairly explicit in connecting the learning mechanism to professional expectations (external environment). I call this slide &quot;strategy&quot; because it takes a fairly high-level look at the learning mechanism. The heart of this slide is the attachment of meaning to the listed competencies (the competencies are the same as in the previous slide). To be honest, this part was new for me. Like most of us, I was used to articulating competencies, and maybe answering a question or two about them. Providing the meaning for the competencies was an initial step, I think, in helping students learn concretely the value of team-based learning: that they will know how to do the things that team members are supposed to do be successful in a project. While this particular course is mainly distance-based, there is a face-to-face component that we call a residency (learning activities for several courses over a three-day period in Saratoga Springs). In one of my face-to-face sessions (see below for more specifics) I spent time discussing with them the competencies and their meanings. I believe that the discussion helped to motivate their understanding of why team-based learning is important. It may even have helped them figure out what to do in their teams.
03/03/11 Slide 7: Tactics This slide brings the objectives and strategy down one more level. The activities that I have delineated here can and do take place both at a distance and face-to-face in the residencies. I use the term &quot;commitments&quot; here because Empire uses learning contracts rather than syllabi. The LC is the one of the components of student-centered learning, and does truly articulate the commitments that the instructor and the students make to each other. Early on I tell students that I will be guiding them through the subject matter, rather than lecturing on it. I also explain the benefits of team-based learning (as I showed earlier). I also share my expectations of students and what I want them to commit to: efforts to understand the subject matter, and efforts to help their classmates by undertaking shared approaches to discovery. Some of these tactics play out even before I meet the students in our residency. Of course, these commitments will be reinforced several times -- before, during, and after the residency (see the next slide).
03/03/11 Slide 8: Operations My focus here is not so much on the course subject matter, but rather on the team-based learning activities. Prior to the residency I lay out three distinct tasks. They are to work together to construct a wiki that highlights what they learned in the previous policy course. They post a blog AND must respond to others' posts on the nature of street-level bureaucracy. They start to home in on a topic for their group project. They struggle with all three &quot;team&quot; tasks, and typically do not understand what I am after. Their work in the tasks does have substance, but is more in the nature of &quot;parallel play.“ In the residency, I spend time explaining what I hope will happen in the team-based projects (there are also individual assignments that are part of the course). I then introduce some light exercises designed to show the value of working in teams -- and also to get them to relax. The overall objectives of the exercises are to show that a team solution to a problem will almost always be better than any of the individual solutions. Importantly, I have them spend time further refining their project topic and making some initial commitments to each other about what they will do. Most often the students do indeed have specific contributions that they plan to make to help their team's efforts. We close out the session by talking through the project and the proposed commitments team by team. I wrap up by revisiting the desired competencies. I remind them that by this point they have pretty well figured out how to work as team members, which is what I wanted to happen. After the residency, they go back into distance learning mode, but primed to work in teams. There is a second blog assignment, and of course the preparation for, and execution of the projects. In the current term, in which I have paid much more attention to how to help them work in teams, I can see those competencies emerging in a post-residency blog assignment and in the team project discussions. They have moved from parallel play to a much more interactive mode of discussion.
Teaching Students How to Work in Teams Presented at the CDL Conference In Saratoga Springs, NY On 30 April 2011 by Al Lawrence and Jim Savitt