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Team-Based Learning- More of the same or is there something in it?

Dr Clare Killingback, Senior Lecturer in Physiotherapy

I’m sure my students were no different to everyone else’s in that learning online was a challenge. Many didn’t want to turn their cameras on (or didn’t have the internet capability to do so), speaking out in a large group was intimidating, they were new to university so didn’t know each other let alone the lecturers, and it was sometimes difficult to motivate themselves when working alone at home. But I feel like I hit upon gold with using Team-Based Learning. Let me back up a bit and give some context.

I lead the undergraduate Physiotherapy programme at the University. In the first trimester of the programme, we need to make sure students get their foundational learning not just in anatomy and physiology, but also in core skills such communication, person-centred practice, professional standards, resilience, self-care, and evidence-informed practice.

It was the evidence-informed practice module that I decided to teach using a Team-Based Learning approach. Evidence-informed practice is about making sure that student physiotherapists are able to explore and critique the research evidence base which underpins physiotherapy practice. Who wants to be treated by a physiotherapist who isn’t able to practice by using the best available evidence? Ultimately, it’s a research methods module, hardly the ‘cool kid’ of physiotherapy education which is why I knew I needed to find a way to teach using an engaging pedagogy.

Team-Based Learning is a specific pedagogic approach. It uses a flipped classroom where students work in fixed, diverse teams and has a number of essential components:

  1. Individual pre-work: Students engage with preparatory materials such as reading, video lectures, workbooks, etc.
  2. An individual quiz which consists of 10-20 multiple choice questions based on pre-work.
  3. Team quiz: Students repeat the same quiz in their teams.
  4. Clarification session: After the quiz, lecturers clarify any areas that the students were finding challenging.
  5. Application Exercises: Students work in their teams on activities which allow them to apply and expand learning. The lecturer then facilitates a discussion among the teams about the possible solutions.
  6. Peer evaluation.

Now you might read that list and think to yourself, “but hang on Clare, I already do flipped classroom, use quizzes, and active learning methods.” And I agree, I too draw on all those approaches. But I found that Team-Based Learning brings all of these components together every week and in doing so did seem to engage students in deeper levels of learning. Plus, the regular fixed teams they worked in provided strong peer-support; something we all need in these Covid times.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the students had to say about it:

"This has been a really helpful module in helping to understand research, especially for someone who finds it difficult and doesn't enjoy it. The way it has been set out has been perfect for learning."

"Weekly quizzes motivated me to get things done. The quizzes also pushed me to want to do better every week."

"We have the opportunity to work in teams, I think this really helped as this is a difficult subject, as we could find out and from each other if we were understanding it and help each other to understand things more clearly."

"I have absolutely loved the team I have worked with. As a more mature student I feel it has been a really fantastic opportunity to work with a group of people that are younger than me as it has helped if they have done a topic at college and I have not explored it. Also, I feel I have had a really engaged, lovely group, who I hope I get to work with in the future. I respect everyone in my team massively and think they all brought something special to the group, I like the organisation of the topic even when we struggled with understanding a few things, Clare would pop up in our team chat and was always great at explaining things to us."

Now I’m not going to lie, it was an epic amount of work to set up this module in this way. However, the work is done now and so next year all it will take is some minor tweaks and I should be good to go again.

University of Hull staff can find out more about how I use team-based learning, by joining my workshop on Tuesday 13 April, 14.00-16.00 and visiting the associated Teaching Essentials page.

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