Monday, July 27, 2015

Team-Based Learning: Motivating Students with Little Coaching Involved

I love teamwork. I love the idea of everyone rallying together to help me win. 
Jarod Kitz

From sports clubs, to theater troupes, to competitive Rubik’s Cube solving squads, most students attending college have been a part of and functioned within the structure of a team countless of times. A common practice among teachers is to assign group projects or discussions that mimic this very structure. However, while short-term group projects/discussions undoubtedly require teamwork, they do not necessarily simulate the same experience of being on a team. What makes the idea of a ‘team’ really work is the loyalty that each member has to the success of the group: people are much more motivated to succeed as a team if they have been a part of it for a long time and know/trust the people that make up the group.

Team Based Learning takes the concept of a long-term commitment to a team and puts it into action. The process involves four major components:
  1. The instructor assigns each student to a team that will remain permanent throughout the semester. At the beginning of the course the instructor will pass out a survey in order to make groups as diverse as possible.
  2. The instructor assigns individual tests followed by team tests, where the members can discuss what they originally answered. The team test is in IF-AT format, so members can continue discussion if they initially answered wrong.
  3. The instructor then simultaneously collects responses from the entire classrooms (this can be done simply by using iClicker technology). This allows teams to interact with other teams and discuss right/wrong answers.
  4. The students will create peer evaluations at the midpoint and end of the semester to gauge each other’s contributions and effectiveness.

Faculty that have used this approach testify that:
  • Students feel more motivated to prepare for and attend class as not to let down their team.
  • Discussions are vibrant and fill up the classroom.
  • Working in a team is fun! Students feel like they have a stake in a group devoted to learning course material.
  • Friendly competition within the classroom can act as a motivator as well.

Tip provided by: Jon Pumper

Monday, July 20, 2015

Post-secondary, my dear Watson.

In a world where NCIS and CSI consistently make an appearance amongst the top 20 most-watched-television-shows, it is pretty safe to say people enjoy engaging in a good mystery. And I mean “engaging” in the fullest extent of the word: when BBC started up Sherlock, everyone I knew was suddenly talking in British accents, smoking calabash pipes, and inspecting things from table counters to bologna sandwiches. People love cracking a case, even if they have to make up the case themselves.

Consider feeding off that energy by introducing mystery to the classroom. You could have students gather clues to figure out why a hypothetical market crashed, or inspect properties of different bacteria to identify what killed the infected murder victim. By framing the lesson as a mystery, you get your students to engage in the material in a way many of them engage recreationally.

For ideas and templates of established ‘mystery lessons,’ visit Mystery Spot at 

Tip provided by: Jon Pumper

Monday, July 13, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Don Gaber, Information Systems

The efficacy of the active learning classroom lies on the principal that students learn while doing. There could not be a more appropriate demonstration of this then Don Gaber’s active learning activity depicted below:

Setting: 20-minute activity implemented in a 300-level course; 5 pods with 6 students per pod

Purpose of the activity: One of the course goals is to "apply procedural code and objects to solve business problems and meet business requirements." This activity has students identify multiple options available for a combo box programming object. Students must compare and contrast the options, and distinguish which option or options could provide a useful solution to a common business application problem, or meet programming project requirements.

Setup for the activity: Students complete a hands-on tutorial that includes a brief introduction to a "combo-box" control object, which you commonly see in software used to click and select various options.

When programming these objects, there are typically 20-30 properties to consider. Examples include color, size, style, autocomplete, sorting, etc.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: One student in each group logs on to the Pod PC, and I assign each group a range of properties that begin with the following letters:
  • Pod 1: a-b
  • Pod 2: c-d
  • Pod 3: e-i
  • Pod 4: l-s
  • Pod 5: s-v

The students then experiment with the options to see what purpose or effect they have on the combo-box object. After about 15 minutes, each team displays their screen to the class and demonstrates their findings. They must also explain how their findings may relate to building an effective programming application.

After the activity: Students demonstrate their findings to the class, and invariably someone remembers and uses at least one of the findings in a future project!

Additional comments from instructor: Students demonstrate what they have discovered instead of me demonstrating each property one-by-one –much more interesting and effective! This same method can work for nearly any software program that has options that should be explored (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, WinTab, etc.).

Tip provided by: Don Gaber

Monday, July 6, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Jean Pratt, Information Systems

Everyone knows that students learn at different paces. Not everyone knows how to effectively teach to this reality. Dr. Jean Pratt, Department of Information Systems, shares a technique she uses to make her activities relevant and engaging to all of her students, no matter what level of understanding they are currently on:

Setting: Regularly implemented in a 300-level course; 8 or 10 pods (depending on section) with 3-4 students per pod.

Purpose of the activity: Engage every student at whatever level of understanding he or she might be on the given learning objective.

Setup for the activity: Students are provided with "Your Turn" exercises based off instructional materials (usually a combination of PowerPoint slides with audio and supplemental lecture/explanation). The level of understanding in my courses tends to be bell curved, so the "Your Turn" exercises increased in difficulty level. One problem was that students on the upper level of the curve had already completed all the "Your Turn" exercises prior to class while students on the other end of the curve were still struggling with the basic exercises. One solution (from Cindy Albert) I had implemented was to have a repertoire of challenge exercises specific to the semester project so that upper-level students could apply directly to their project the learning from the lesson. That still works great, but students are all over the board with the content on which they're working and I lacked the ability to get a really good feel for students' level of understanding on each knowledge/skill. Don Gaber's suggestion: come to class prepared to tweak the existing "Your Turn" exercises. Provide a twist—something that wasn't covered in the PowerPoint slides or the lecture. For example, introduce a "yes, but what if…" scenario where the student has to think beyond the existing scenario and apply the knowledge/skills to a similar (but slightly different) scenario that extends current understanding.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom:
  • Students: Since the whole class is working on some version of the same problem, my informal perception is that students are more open to help—perhaps not as embarrassed at being so far behind in comparison to other students. The same PowerPoint slide is displayed on the big screens, but where students are related to their working with that exercise differs. More "Oh! I get it now!" comments and more demonstrated code/text/diagrams. I really believe that the underperforming students are more at ease now (or perhaps I am!). My perceptions of the upper performing students are that they are strengthening their independent learning skills as they have to search for the answers and they are more engaged, since the tweaked exercise is something they could only get by being in class.
  • Instructor: The whole class flows better now as students work through regular, tweaked and/or project challenge questions. As I kneel down between 2-3 students to work Socratically through either the regular or tweaked exercises, I am able to meet students where they are better than I was when students were all on different exercises. The upper performing students are challenged with the extensions while the underperforming students are grasping the basics. Once the upper performing students complete the tweaked exercises, they move on to the project-specific challenge questions but then come back and rejoin the class on the next regular/tweaked exercise.

After the activity: Are they [students] demonstrating an increased (relative to previous) understanding of knowledge skills? Demonstrated understanding is either through verbal explanation of what and why or physical illustration of code, text or diagram.

Additional comments from the instructor:
  • The activity is actually an "approach" and so was applied to each individual/group activity, where appropriate.
  • Credit for this goes to Don Gaber, who shared this approach during one of the Active Learning COP group discussions. I tried it the next day and have been incorporating it into as many activities as possible since then.
  • I absolutely love this approach.

Tip Provided by: Jean Pratt
Write-up by: Jon Pumper