Taking one for the team – Jane Holbrook

Slide1Last week CTE had our annual professional development day and Mary Power, Samar Mohamed and I facilitated a short exercise with our CTE staff on team-based learning that introduced our group to the use of IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) cards. We simulated a typical team-based learning activity (where group work is a critical part of the learning process) by having our participants take a multiple-choice test individually and then as a group. Known as RATs (Readiness Assurance Tests), the individual test encourages students to prepare for class, through a reading or other homework, and assesses their level of understanding of the concepts  addressed  in that pre-class work.  A group of 5-7 students then take the same test again together, and in the process they discuss the questions and their answers and then come to a collective decision on the best answer to each question.  If they select a wrong answer the IF-AT cards will indicate that and they can discuss and answer the question again … and again until they are correct. By using the IF-AT cards the group gets immediate feedback on their answers, see IF-AT First You Don’t Succeed…. Mary Power’s blog post about an activity using  IF-AT cards  and students’ reactions to this activity in a Pharmacy class.

Our CTE teams were carefully handpicked for diversity (longstanding CTE staff and new people mixed together) and we assigned them tricky questions on a range of topics (copyright, Canadian history, a math-based brain teaser) hoping that we could prove a key point about this type of team-based activity – that the score of the group is always better than the same test taken by an individual, rather than being dependent on the knowledge of the most competent group member.  And even with our tricky questions this was true, people were learning from each other and not just being led by one strong group member. Larry Michaelsen, who has championed team-based learning for many years has tested group decision making in post-secondary courses and has found that when teams are engaged in “contextually relevant and consequential problem-solving” that the group will outperform the most competent individual (Michaelsen, Watson & Black, 1989).

Team-based learning activities using IF-AT cards are most effective when students are applying concepts to solve problems, analyze situations or data, or make diagnoses; when there may be many different approaches to answering the question but where there is one best, defensible answer.  Teams should be thoughtfully assembled to include students with diverse backgrounds or skill levels and ideally they work together for a whole term on a series of these activities. The activities can also be used as a springboard to deeper class discussions and/or a preamble to more in depth group projects. The groups in a class should be working on the same problems so that after the RAT is completed, the groups can share their reasoning and conclusions with each other. There’s an aspect of competitiveness in the activities too, with groups vying to do better than each other on the tests. Another important aspect of the RAT process is that groups can challenge the instructor on the correctness of an answer – and that was certainly what happened during our PD day (we’re a fairly argumentative bunch).

See http://www.teambasedlearning.org/   for more information on team-based learning and some convincing testimonials about its effectiveness in large classes. Instructors report higher attendance and participation levels in these classes and importantly students are engaged and motivated.

If you would like to try an activity like this in your class, we have a good supply of IF-AT cards at the Centre to get you started, so please be in touch!  Designing some team-based learning opportunities in your course can be a great way to flip some classes in your course too. See Course Design: Planning a Flipped Class.

Michaelsen, L. K., Watson, W. E. & Black, R. H. (1989). A realistic test of individual versus group consensus decision making. Journal of Applied Psychology. 74(5), 834-839.



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Jane Holbrook

As Senior Instructional Developer (Blended Learning), Jane Holbrook helps to develop faculty programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with Faculty Liaisons, CEL (Centre for Extended Learning) and ITMS (Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. She received her BSc and MSc from Dalhousie University but has also studied Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.