Student Driven Technologies for Team Based Learning

Aruna Ramesh and Rumpa Ganguly, faculty at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, reflect on team based learning strategies and technologies to enhance class interactions.

Aruna Ramesh and Rumpa Ganguly, faculty at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine
Aruna Ramesh and Rumpa Ganguly, faculty at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine

You recently attended a faculty development event that focused on catalyzing student engagement using technology. What insights did you gain from this presentation?

The guest speaker, Brian Lukoff, talked in-depth about Learning Catalytics and its application of focusing on student learning in the classroom. The tool is not necessarily faculty-driven but more student-driven and helps you to create more interactive learning environments. Instead of just lecturing, the tool assists faculty members in creating opportunities for discussion and the ability of checking in on the students’ comprehension that clarifies the process of student understanding. The two main takeaways for us were hearing that students don’t know what they don’t know and students don’t understand the fundamental concepts. We know this is very true but hearing it presented really drove it home and made us motivated to want to address these two issues in our courses this year. We also learned that students learn best through interaction instead of just lecturing to them. It is important to break down the class time into short question-answer sessions which are interactive to build on the concepts instead of asking all of those questions only in a quiz. Interspersing more formative assessments throughout the lecture to check in with students, instead of waiting until the end to find out if students are learning through a summative assessment is fruitful.

What have you done so far, and what are some innovative tips and tactics one needs to consider when designing team based learning (TBL) ?

We included TBL in one of our courses for post-graduate residents by creating multi-disciplinary teams. This created a good learning environment and engaged the students in enhanced discussions because of the different perspectives. The fact that we assigned the teams, created opportunities for students to interact with those that would not have normally interacted and gently “forced” them to interact. We had 10 teams that were assigned a case presentation that they had to collaborate on outside of class using their own presentation and meeting tools. We provided an iPad for student accessibility to the technology tools. The students had to do a presentation. They met outside of class and put together a presentation that was presented to the other groups in class. (See for more detail.)

One of the challenges in the course was how we had to get the class to buy-in to the TBL strategy. It was surprisingly difficult. The second factor was the technology tool that we chose, the iPad, the students didn’t want to use it; they wanted “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD). One student even commented in the course evaluations that they just wanted to listen to lectures and did not want to interact with each other.

One innovative tip for facilitators of TBL is to preplan the content in a manner to provide enough opportunities for this kind of interaction to take place. These opportunities force students to interact instead of just leaving it up to the students to make it happen. Another way we got the students to interact is by delivering quizzes that they took individually as well as a team. We felt that we could not just leave it up to the students to make the collaboration happen. The associated grading also motivated them to interact.

Another tip is to ensure that every team member contributes was peer assessment that contributed towards the grade. We had both a team assessment and a self-assessment. In the team assessment, they rated each other which forced them to not only evaluate others but get used to being evaluated themselves.

Buy-in is important for creating a successful learning module. We also broke down the whole class time where we as faculty facilitators lectured for part of the time and then did the team presentations. Student mindset challenge is on-going and a future challenge. It is easier to get the faculty on board with TBL because they want to engage the students.

What opportunities are you exploring for your next steps?

Next steps are to use Learning Catalytics more extensively in larger undergraduate class setting. We have used it for quizzes beforehand but now we are going to use it for discussion and feedback during class to monitor the learning. We want to build it as more of a formative assessment tool. We will continue to do the quizzes through Learning Catalytics and possibly do TBL with smaller class sizes.