Issues to Consider: What Do You Want Students to Do?
How should I design my course to maximize incentives and opportunities for positive interaction within and between teams?
Team-Based Learning (TBL) engages students by requiring that they make active use of course material in specific ways. As a result, you as the instructor must have a clear and detailed vision of what exactly you want students to be able to do with the course material, so you can design and assess activities requiring it.
This has always been good educational practice, but in TBL it is absolutely essential. In fact, if you don’t know what you want students to do with your material, you shouldn’t even consider using TBL.
When designing your course, start by asking yourself “What handful of specific problems will this course equip students to solve?” Then design your course around the choices students must learn to make in order to solve those problems. Some call this “backwards design” and—while it can be difficult at first—it can also breathe a refreshing air of vividness and creativity into how you think about teaching.
Do students ever resist TBL?
Traditional “chalk-n-talk” college lectures have trained students to expect a passive classroom experience. Unless students clearly understand why they are being tested on their understanding before the material is discussed in class, they can feel this is unfair.
As a result, you should make sure that: (1) from the very beginning, students understand why you are using TBL and why they will benefit in the long run; (2) your reading materials are high quality with a thorough coverage of the key issues but, an absolute minimum of “fluff;” (3) you help students develop good self-study skills by doing such things as providing ‘reading guides’ to help focus their preparation; and (4) you reinforce, throughout the class, the fact that students are developing conceptual and interaction skills that will be critical to their future success.
Is TBL right for every teacher?
Unintuitive as this may sound, a typical TBL classroom full of bright, curious, and energized young people can be, for some, a very threatening place. As a litmus test, imagine a bright student in front of the whole class asking you a content-related question that you have no idea how to answer. If this vision triggers discomfort, then you may need to develop more experience teaching your subject before you are ready to engage students in the way that TBL requires. If, however, this vision energizes and delights you, then you are probably ready to lead your students to a new level of instructional power and fun by implementing TBL.