In an earlier post we described how we used an instructional strategy called Team-Based Learning (TBL) in one of the Instructional Design & Technology (IDT) graduate courses at Cerner Corporation. You can read about it here. Since then I have been improving a key component of the approach called the Readiness Assessment Test (RAT). It was a process we did not refer to in the original post but I thought it might prove to be an excellent way to prepare students for more advanced learning later in the course. So I gave it a shot in the 2014 Fall term using OD-MG Leadership & Influence Processes. While this was not a controlled experiment, I was pleased with the response of the class and wanted to share this with you here.
Here is the basic design of the TBL approach I used in OD-MG 688. I repeated this process several times during the duration of the course.
Case study (individual assignment) at the end of the process
The end goal is for students to demonstrate a high-level understanding of leadership concepts and critical thinking through application. They demonstrate this in a final individual writing assignment where they apply the principles under study to a leadership situation (case study). The case study is the highest weighted assignment and there are three steps to prepare students for it.
Step 1: iRAT (individual assignment)
The first is the iRAT or individual readiness assessment test. The iRAT is an open-book multiple-choice quiz taken at the beginning of instruction in the classroom. Students know about this beforehand so they can prepare themselves through previous study. These are conceptual questions that have a high difficulty index.
The student’s anxiety level is typically high which is not bad since the experience feeds into the next step in the process; however, it is the lowest weighted graded item. We do not want to necessarily punish the students but we do want to hold them accountable for their individual preparation.
Students turn in the iRAT without knowing the results. Grades are not provided until after the tRAT (step 2) and usually later in the week. Through this initial activity students have a basis or opinion on what they believe the answer is as they go into the next step of the process and this is where the learning starts to take off.
Step 2: tRAT (group assignment)
Students are divided into groups. Faculty more experienced in TBL recommend keeping the same groups throughout the course and carefully selecting students into these groups (see Team Formation for TBL).
Immediately following the iRAT, each group retakes the quiz but this version is designed as a tRAT. The construction of the tRAT uses scratch-off stickers to hide the key for each response. Since each group member completed the previous assessment (the iRAT) they are in a position to describe what their thought processes were in the selection they made. But as a group they must come to consensus on an question.
Once the group has made a decision, one person scratches off the sticker. If the group missed the question, they must come to consensus on an alternative answer and try again. In this way the group is establishing a hypothesis and testing it by revealing the key. Through failure they examine their assumptions and try again. This is essentially a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) process. All group members receive the same score and each incorrect scratch-off deprecates the points earned for the question.
As I observed the groups at work I was impressed with how long they discussed and debated each question before making their selection. If the group fails in the first attempt of a question, they are allowed to appeal it. Space is provided in the quiz where they advocate why they believe their answer is more correct than the key. They must explain their rational and support their conclusions with references to the text or other scholarly sources.
There are commercial answer sheets that can be purchased for the tRAT (see How Does IF-AT Work?) but since I was just piloting the idea, I used inexpensive scratch-off stickers that I purchased through Amazon. Later in the week I reviewed the appeals and conducted a test item analysis on the iRATs. I made adjustments as needed before finalizing individual and group grades. I found this to be really important in providing a level of fairness in the process.
Group Research Problem
Students are much better prepared to work on a problem or research activity once the readiness assessment tests are completed. I gave them lab time in the Learning Commons to organize their efforts and work on the problem. The expectation was that they complete their work during the week and share-out their findings with others in the course at the next class meeting. I believe the share-outs and discussions were better than simple group presentations I’ve used in the past. This is the area I will likely focus on the next time I try this. Would love to see this function along the lines of a Harvard Business Review panel of experts.
End of the Process
After the group problem is completed, students then take on the individual case study as a writing assignment. The process begins again with the next section of the course. I should mention that the final case study is my own add-on to the process. Just getting to the group problem is an excellent learning experience but I felt that the highest weighted graded item should be an individual applied assignment. So I use TBL to prepare students for it.
Here is a 11 minute video on how faculty use TBL in a graduate Pharmacy course. It is a really good summary of the all the components of the TBL process.
Be sure to also visit the Team-Based Learning Collaborative for more information on this instructional strategy.