Day 11: John Gotwal's Learning as a Team

Johns photo


Name: John Gotwals

Area/Discipline: Psychology of Physical Activity

Associate prof, School of Kinesiology, wannabe xc-skier, tennis player, and ultimate Frisbee promoter!

The Technique

Lecturing was my main approach to teaching for many years. I got pretty good at it—incorporating videos, personal stories, and activities. But, no matter how good I got, I never got the student engagement that I wanted. I also got tired of always feeling like the sage on the stage. Together, this made me feel like an aging rock band playing to an empty bar of uninspired patrons.

Then, a friend told me about team-based learning (TBL). In TBL, the students—not the instructor—are on stage. The process fosters engagement through a series of innovative techniques that are simple, safe, meaningful, and fun.

In TBL, students are assigned to teams that they work in across the term, and the course is broken down into modules. Each module follows the same process. “Pre-work” (readings/videos/short lecture recordings) is assigned prior to the start of the module. On the first day of the module, the students (working individually and in teams) are quizzed on the fundamentals from that prework. This is where learners will Try, try, and try again. After that, the rest of the module is taken up by the teams solving and discussing application activities (i.e., meaningful real world problems). This is where the Four S’s come into play.

Below, I describe the very basics of TBL. Check out Getting Started with Team-Based Learning (Sibley & Ostafichuk, 2014) for a more in-depth guide to and description of the approach. That’s where everything below comes from. My experience using TBL has not been entirely smooth, but it is helping to create a classroom environment that much more closely reflects my ideal image of post-secondary learning. A bonus is that it fits really well with best practices of online course delivery.

How I Use It

This term I’m delivering my TBL course synchronously via Zoom (two 90 minute sessions/week). Modules span 4-6 sessions. The process can go over a couple of weeks, as the first session will focus primarily on Try, try, and try again, and the next 2-3 sessions will focus primarily on the Four S’s.

1st session: Try, try, and try again 

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The session starts with students individually taking a quiz on the fundamentals of the prework. Quizzes are 15-20 multi-choice questions.

try 2 iconI then put students into  breakout rooms with their teammates, and they take the exact same quiz as a team. Here, TBL recommends a technique where teams keep on choosing answers to every question until they choose the right one. Try, try, and try again.
try again iconOnce all the teams are done, we all come back to the main room. We discuss questions that teams struggled with or that they had concerns about. Instead of me telling them what the right answer was and why, I encourage teams to share the processes/approaches they used to narrow down the correct answer. Student-centred.

This process of individual & team quizzes, intra- and inter-team discussion, and Try, try, and try again not only tests but also augments their understanding of the learning. Altogether, it takes about 60-70 minutes.

Remaining Sessions: The Four S's

In the rest of the module sessions, the teams solve and discuss application activities. This is where the 4S’s come into play:

  1. Significant Problem: The application activities present problems that are meaningful, intriguing, relevant, and rich.
  2. Same Problem: Every team takes on the same problem at the same time. I use breakout rooms for this.
  3. Specific Choice: Each team solves the problem by choosing a specific answer (e.g. a multiple-choice option) or by producing a specific product.
  4. Simultaneous Report: We then come back to the main room, and the team’s answers are simultaneously presented to the whole class. No team can hide, but there’s no reason to because you’ve got the support of your teammates.

I then facilitate a discussion between the teams where they debate the pros and cons of the different answers/products (ideally using the prework as a foundation for their arguments). It’s great when you get a variety of answers because then you can get a rich discussion where different teams argue for different answers with me moderating, guiding, and facilitating the discussion. Depending on its complexity, a single application activity can take anywhere from 20-80m. Then, we move on to the next activity.

Feedback from Learners

"I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know other classmates through group conversations and class debates. Rarely are students required to analytically think and then express their opinions in class; however, in this class, the course provided students with an environment to learn how to respectfully argue one’s point of view and have it heard by others, which I believe is an essential skill not only in school but also the workplace."

A Short Task to Challenge You

Let's do a quick check on your TBL technique retention.

One Final Task

Is this something you can use in your classroom? How might you utilize it?  If you want to share your results on social media, please let us know by using the hashtag #12techLUDay11.