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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Glutton for punishment

OK, someone really needs to save me from myself... Just to make life more interesting, I've decided that it would be cool to teach this new data course using team-based learning (TBL). For those not familiar with TBL, the basic idea is that students are organized into 5-7 person teams that stay together through the entire semester and then as much of the course as possible is built around team activities. So now, on top of trying to figure out the basic content and topics for a course I've never taught before, I'm also trying to figure out how to structure assignments and assessments using a method I've never used before.* Fun!

Actually, it's not quite as crazy as it sort of seems (at least, that's what I keep telling myself) - designing a team-based learning course basically requires backward design, which I was doing anyway, and in a TBL course, the instructor doesn't really do traditional lectures, which I really don't want to do. Instead, students acquire a lot of the basic content knowledge outside of class and then classes are built around simple assessments of that basic knowledge (to make sure students are really prepared), followed by application exercises. Since this is a course where the students are supposed to have already acquired much of the basic knowledge previously anyway (i.e., a lower-division stats class is a prerequisite), and the point is for students to get experience using that knowledge in the ways that economists do, I think the TBL structure actually is a good fit. Instead of me talking, students will spend almost all of the class time doing. Plus, the teams will mean I can give more complex assignments without a corresponding increase in time spent grading (one section will have 70 students and the other will have 60 - yes, I know that's totally nuts). I've still got a ton of things to figure out, and I have serious concerns about how this is going to go over with the students, but as I have been thinking about the types of activities I want students to do and how these will work in groups, I have to say that I'm pretty excited!

* I blame Bill Goffe for this - he mentioned TBL to me in an email a few months ago and then recently posted this link on the tch-econ listserv, showing TBL in action in a large lecture. If you're not familiar with the technique, I highly recommend checking out the video and the website.


  1. How very exciting! I have just discovered Team-Based Learning (TBL) myself in the past year and I think there is something to it.

    I tried using TBL for an intro-level environmental economics and policy course this past year and I liked many aspects of it. Beware, some students think that the professor "isn't teaching" in TBL courses because they are so used to being lectured at, but I think it really creates a great learning environment.

    The assignments seem to be of the highest import: good assignments will require teams to work together as a team and not just let one motivated student do it by herself. This can be a real challenge for a class like your data analysis course, as we are used to doing data analysis alone and not necessarily in teams of five.

    One of my favorite parts of TBL is that the assignments tend to ask teams to simultaneously report their specific answers to the same question. Teams cannot hide behind whatever answers are already offered, as everyone has to answer at the same time. Class discussion naturally follows when teams have different answers.

    I want to try teaching my Principles of Micro course this fall using TBL. I look forward to following along with your TBL adventures!

  2. TBL is a great approach and it sounds like it's particularly appropriate for this course. It also works well with clickers--one per student for individual quizzes, one per team for group quizzes!

  3. @Aaron: Thanks for the encouragement! I do think that my principles students would be incredibly resistant to TBL (though that video about the large class gives me hope). With the upper-division class, I'm a little less worried because I think it will be easier to convince students that this is not a course where I should be talking at them anyway - they need to DO stuff. If it goes well, I may try TBL with Principles at some point so let me know how your class goes!
    @Derek: Yes, definitely going to use clickers! Since the TBL approach really emphasizes that in the application exercises, students should make a *specific* choice, I'm thinking that in addition the quizzes, it will be cool to use clickers to have students register their own opinion about the 'right' choice before beginning discussion with their groups. Should be interesting to see how those opinions change specifically after the group discussions!


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