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Team Based Learning Column 3: Students' Viewpoints on TBL

Describe the TBL experience compared to a typical lecture.
With TBL the class period is devoted to team activities. During TBL the students are required to become familiar with the material on an individual basis and then become better acquainted with it through group work.

At Drake, the TBL experience from both Therapeutics and Over the Counter Medications follows this pattern: a reading is assigned that covers several chapters or articles that may or may not have been taught or reviewed in a previous class. This reading assignment may range from a short chapter covering one subject such as anti- histamines; or a long chapter covering a longer subject such as diabetes; or multiple subjects such as women’s health (contraception, menopause, and osteoporosis). Students are assigned to read and come to class prepared to take a quiz individually to show that they each understand the material, and then again with their assigned groups to encourage discussion. The next class period involves “application exercises” where cases are passed out by the instructor and the students answer multiple choice questions about each case. The cycle repeats for the next set of subjects.

Compared to a lecture, there is minimal guided instruction in TBL. During TBL the professor does not lecture but instead acts as a mentor, working with each team when they need assistance.

What are the advantages of TBL?
TBL encourages active learning and engagement in the classroom, while allowing students to really apply the material they are learning through cases. Application exercises give students the chance to work through real-life scenarios, and help students focus on the bigger picture and retain knowledge. The readiness assessment tests and exercises force students to be held accountable for their learning, and encourages them to come to class prepared. TBL also involves all students in group discussion, reinforcing concepts and bringing together the viewpoints of different students. Some students may understand a concept better or remember a particular treatment option that was discussed, and they can help the rest of the team with that material.

Students get to learn how to work with teams in a new way. This type of learning prepares them for future work environments in which they will be part of a health care team.

What challenges accompanied this new learning style?
The biggest challenge for students is adjusting to a new learning style. As students who were used to a lecture format, where all important information is presented in class, the switch was hard to adjust to. TBL places a lot of responsibility on the student to identify what points of a topic are relevant without really having any background or exposure to the topic. Since TBL requires more independent learning, it becomes difficult for students to know exactly what to study or remember.

Another challenge for students is amount of time it takes to learn the material prior to the IRAT or GRAT. TBL is not as clear cut as lecture therefore at times students struggle to decipher what information is the most important out of all of the resources presented to them., and it takes more time to read all of the material and determine the important parts.

How is studying for a TBL style course different than a lecture?
Studying for a TBL style class is a lot less directed than for a lecture based class. Also, there are a lot fewer faculty-provided materials to study from. Every student is responsible for their own study materials, and everyone is probably studying somewhat different information. Students need to focus on the main points or examples that professors provide so not to get lost in the abundance of information.

Describe how working in a group has impacted students.
For some students, being in a group does not impact their learning style. Some students learn by studying independently. These students “work well in groups to complete a job,” but do not change their study style that they have developed throughout their academic career. However, most students find that working in groups teaches patience, understanding and how to face challenges. Group work requires individuals to be open to new ideas, as well as the ability to explain or defend their own ideas. Students learn from each other, including how to look at topics from a variety of angles and how to challenge their own views. Also, each team members’ ideas can come together like puzzle pieces and form a great theory.

What tips do you have for students who are studying for TBL style course?

  • Do assigned reading and study guides far enough in advance that you can ask the instructor any questions you have about the concepts or objectives before taking the Readiness Assessment Tests.
  • Don’t be afraid to say what you think about a subject, even if you might be wrong. The group can learn just as much from figuring out why a choice might not be the best option as from picking out the correct answer.
  • Take notes in class. You may not be able to keep the handouts, but you should definitely write down the main points from the discussions.
  • Stay organized and focus on the topics that the professors suggest are the most important. If the guidance is vague, ask questions and determine the difference between the “need to know” information and the “good to know” information.
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