Team Based Learning Conference

Tampa, Florida, 13-15 March 2019

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the annual gathering of the Team Based Learning (TBL)  Collaborative. In summary, the themes including leading educational change (not just TBL) in an institution, trends including TBL online and extended reality, the relevance to current issues including accreditation, work readiness, student inclusion and wellbeing.

This was the first time that I had met the international TBL community and it was a great experience. Although TBL is relatively new in the UK (including @UniOfBath), it is in fact 40 years old (this year! There was a birthday cake at the conference). The conference contained a great mix of the hands on workshops on implementing TBL (of which more below), strategic issues (particularly leading change) and emerging trends (online and extended reality). But as ever the real value (at least for me) was connecting with the community who between them have a vast store of accumulated wisdom on TBL. They are also very friendly and welcoming.

 Theme 1: leading strategic change

This was a core theme of the conference, with a keynote by Sheila Chauvin and some workshops led by various change leaders including Julie Estis who led a very impressive change programme at the University of South Alabama. Although I do know a bit about organisational change management, it was great to see some of these models in action and challenge my thinking. For me the key insights included:

  • Identify your ‘early adopters’ and others on the Rogers diffusion curve. Then figure out how you will engage them (different methods at different stages of adoption). Putting actual names of key stakeholders in each of these segments was very useful and something I hadn’t done yet.
  • Students are also key adopters of change. We normally co-design educational changes with the students, and gather their feedback, but we (or at least I) haven’t really allowed students to exercise their full potential as organisational change agents.
  • Communication from leadership is a clear signal that ‘it will happen’ and therefore builds credibility for the ‘late majority’. This is not the same thing as a directive which can backfire.
  • You can build training and support into career development. One institution has a question on the annual appraisal asking staff what innovative teaching they had introduced this year.
  • We also explored various ways to engage or interest other staff including the ‘one legged conference’ to get at key concerns, sharing of frustrations (and celebrations of success), invitations to observe a session, listening to the student voice (new Unit Evaluation question? “solving problems in teams is an effective way to learn”) and even the use of prospect theory (potential avoidance of risk/pain/workload rather than potential benefit/reward).

Theme 2: emerging trends

I hadn’t come across the term ‘extended reality’ before – this includes VR, AR and ‘mixed’ reality. This technology is in an early stage and then educational benefits are unclear. But then if you consider the state of robotics 20 years ago you get a sense of how quickly things will move. I won’t be using extended reality this year (or next) but I could see it becoming a key tool in 5-10 years.

Also, noting the obvious but often not explicitly acknowledged

online is not going away

we were invited to consider how to maintain engagement in an online session. It’s fair to say this is a work in progress, but some great approaches were shown, with impressive peer interaction results – certainly better than traditional online learning.

Theme 3: TBL basics

The conference has a whole track on the basic ingredients of TBL. I didn’t go to them all but I picked up great tips on writing effective multiple choice questions (a real art!) and facilitation. On that last point it was really valuable to sit in the sessions (of course run in TBL style) and get the tacit learning from watching experienced TBL educators employ these skills seemingly effortlessly.

I left with a whole raft of ideas and actions including

  • I am now on the committee of the European arm of TBLC.
  • I am looking at how TBL ties in with strategic directions @UniOfBath such as student inclusion
  • I have some ideas for pedagogic research in TBL
  • And of course my not-so-secret agenda is to get TBL firmly established at the University and beyond. Of course TBL is not the answer to everything, and there are many occasions (such as small group seminars) where other approaches are superior, but it’s a valuable tool and I would like to see it more widespread. I have been inspired by other TBL change initiatives that we explored at the conference so will be following their lead. 

Roll on TBLC 2020 (Portland).   

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