TBLC Annual Meeting 2023

Some notes on the Team Based Learning Collaborative (TBLC) Annual Meeting 2023 – mostly of interest to the TBL community.

The Team-Based Learning Collaborative Annual Meeting was held this year in Lake Nona, Orlando, in the lovely College of Pharmacy building at the University of Florida Research and Academic Center. Lake Nona is apparently a very up and coming area, with plans to ‘move in’ by Disney and other large companies.

The conference started with pre workshops; a full run through of the TBLC fundamentals course, during which time I explored Orlando and its environs. I was excited to see an alligator paddling up to the quayside while I was eating Sunday lunch at Lakefront Park, St Cloud. The Florideans seem pretty unfazed by alligators, they were swimming and splashing about in the beach about 100 yards away. After the conference, I took a kayak up Shingle Creek which was great, our guide managed to find us a bald eagle, osprey, limpkin, raccoons, a turtle and another (baby) alligator.

The main conference kicked off on Sunday night with a keynote from Holly Bender on deliberative practice. The session was run in true TBL style, including team formation.

The basic theme was using deliberative practice to make pre learning more successful. The 4 tenets were (and I probably paraphrase here):

  1. Clearly defined tasks at an appropriate level
  2. Ramp up the level gradually (keep it challenging but not overwhelming)
  3. Couple with helpful and timely feedback.
  4. Repeated multiple times with correction of mistakes.

Holly’s experience with case based learning was that it requires a guiding process to stop students jumping to a conclusion and then falling prey to confirmation bias. Holly implemented guided pre-work, where the initial hypotheses are gently guided by a process of self assessment questions with instantaneous feedback. This sounds very useful and there is in fact an open source platform Allele which I am planning to investigate.

Holly also noted that students love to be challenged – if done properly. So the challenge needs to be at their level – experienced practitioners will ‘chunk’ lower level concepts, much as a competent reader will chunk letters (and even words) allowing much more to be kept in working memory. Memorable quote

“Learning is fun – but it can have the fun squeezed out of it”.

“Sharing is a powerful accelerator for meaningful change”.

Monday started with an excellent choice by the steering committee – a provocative presentation from TBL sceptic Changiz Mohigddini. This was great – rather than making this conference an ‘echo chamber’ with everyone praising TBL, the committee chose a keynote that forced a critical look at our practice – and in particular our scholarship. Changiz challenged a number of key tenets

  • He questioned if TBL is really team based – without formal roles and training for interpersonal skills for example. I think there is a response for this – that TBL encourages the emergence of these through its structure. That said, many practitioners (including myself) do sometimes explicitly include these elements in our practice.
  • He also challenged the evidence based for TBL, whether it is as powerful as we sometimes like to think. For example, is the TBL gain partial and temporary? This is an interesting challenge and I would like to read some of the papers he cited.  In particular, Changiz talked about transfer of knowledge from one domain to another – this may well be something that TBL has yet to crack (along with pretty much all other learning methods) – and could be a fruitful area of further development.
    • A good example of knowledge transfer is students who have learnt to interpret EEGs being able to use the same sort of data when presented in a different form.
  • Another area is whether TBL is a bit optimistic on team dynamics – assuming that students have a positive attitude to team work. Another great quote “A dog will not fly if you call it w bird”.
    • I think that can be true if done naively – generally TBL practitioners often address this with proactive facilitation – I augment this with formal training.
  • Changiz gave a useful framework for this which is useful to bear in mind for all group work – students will look for perceived respect, perceived fairness, perceived justice and perceived inclusion. Without that there is a risk that students will disengage, or, worse, sabotage the teamwork (if they perceive it as unfair, for example).
  • There is a whole other area of TBL for skills development which Changiz deliberately did not focus on (out of scope for the talk) – maybe a follow up, which would be interesting and welcome.

The most contentious challenge is whether learners who do not like TBL (and perhaps those for whom it does not work – ‘loners’) should be given an alternative or even an opt out. There may be socio-cultural factors here. Typically we would not do this for any other type of learning approach, but it is an interesting idea. The claim assumes that there are students for whom TBL cannot work, which I am not sure I would agree with. There is also the phenomenon of students who hate TBL to start with but grow to love it, including those that are (perhaps lazily) assumed to be ill suited to team work (often applied to some forms of neurodiversity).  Still, something to reflect on.

Credit to Changiz for ‘going into the lions den’ and engaging critically and constructively with the TBL community. In particular, we had a good discussion on the sort of research study that would add rigour to the TBL evidence base. I hope this will inform at least a few studies over the coming years.

Most of the rest of Monday was taken up with workshops, all highly interactive as one would expect. I went to a workshop on peer evaluation, where we discussed ways to get past inauthentic, inflated peer evaluation. We explore a way to include metacognition into the process. A simple process which I think I will implement is – evaluate yourself, then evaluate the team, then evaluate your peers. Each evaluation exercise (ideally more than 1) builds on the previous. By giving feedback to ourselves we are prepare for feedback from others and also know how to give feedback sensitively. There is a list of verbs in Bloom’s affective taxonomy (not the cognitive one that we are all familiar with) which can be helpful.

I also went to a workshop on Hyflex – a topic close to my heart. A number of TBL practitioners are experimenting with a variety of hybrid approaches (including Hyflex) and we swapped stories. Most had separated out in person and remote students – sometimes enforcing this for a whole semester. However in one case there were true hybrid teams (using earbuds in class to communicate with their team mates).  I’ve never got this to work properly, so it was encouraging that it could be possible. Whether I will try this in my upcoming Zero Carbon Futures MSc remains to be seen. A simple approach was to use padlet (or similar) to assist with asynchronous reporting out. Diana Langworthy reported on some work about the usefulness of asynchronous iRATs, which I found reassuring.

Monday rounded off with some research presentations. Stella Darby talked about the TALENT project, Neal Carter had done some interesting research on confidence based testing (some students point split, even if they are confident of their answer, and vice versa). Richard Plunkett talked about the SCALE survey – which measures social interaction between students, instructors and peers. This could potentially be used to measure the Hyflex experience, and I will investigate this.

Tuesday – the last day of the conference! Started with a workshop – in my case using the Inclusive ADDIE model to help build in inclusiveness to the whole course lifecycle including design. An easy thing to do is to ask students (and instructors) to ‘find something you like outside your own culture’. The importance of doing this was outlined by a powerful quote – “If they can see genius in someone like me, they can pull genius out of me”. Not surprisingly, we discussed the hidden curriculum – for example, how we engage, give feedback, but also the models and case studies we choose. We also discussed the importance of providing an environment where students are welcomed to make suggestions about how to enhance inclusiveness. 

In the last set of research presentations, we heard about collaboration skills and their link to knowledge working (Drucker’s framework). I liked the BYU Idaho definition of skilled collaboration; working effectively with others to accomplish a shared vision. I also liked the idea of individual responsibility – at the top level – extending to helping others achieve their obligations.  Jonny Branney presented some work on turning a summative exam into TBL format – ie a 2 stage exam, an online mixture of MCQs, short questions and longer questions, but none more than around 4 minutes. The individual (90 minutes) was based on 6 scenarios; the team based (30 minutes) was on a single one of those scenarios. It appeared to increase engagement in the (formative) TBL RATs and application activities. This is a really interesting idea that I will consider.

The conference concluded with a panel (on which I sat), chaired by Larry Michaelson. We had prepared some questions ‘in case the audience were slow to come up with questions’ – we need not have worried! There was a wide range of discussion covering grading applications, hybrid TBL, use of technology vs scratchcards, and much else besides. I learnt a lot.

The European TBLC and Larry Michaelson

This has been a partial summary in both senses of the work – partial because there was much else going on in the conference that I did not attend, and partial because I have noted above the things that particularly struck me. Overall, I am proud to be part of such a dynamic, supportive and innovative community.

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