Improving Quality in TBL Application Activities

Team-based learning (TBL) seeks to flip the classroom, freeing up class time for “application activities (AAs)” where teams solve the kinds of problems they will face in the future. But what makes an AA high quality, resulting in the learning outcomes we need?  In this post, we describe a scholarly, collaborative effort between the University of Minnesota, and Regis University, which was funded by the TBL Collaborative (TBLC) and aims to answer this question.

TBLC_logo_full-titleWhat is the gap in the teaching/learning knowledge base that this project addresses?

TBL related scholarship has focused largely on knowledge acquisition. Yet, a primary goal in TBL is to move beyond content coverage and ensure that students gain experience tackling relevant pharmacy-related challenges. As a result, one of the biggest difficulties for TBL teachers is creating effective group assignments that promote deep thinking and engaged, content-focused discussion. Not all AAs are created equal and some meet with more success than others. To optimize class time, more information is needed on the indicators of quality AAs. Isolating quality indicators and examining the prevalence of those indicators in a sample of activities is a logical step forward in improving this important component of TBL.

What strategies have been used to create rigor in this research?

The project proposed two phases of work. In Phase 1, we worked to examine quality. In this phase, one strategy to promote rigor was the strength of the criteria used to identify expert participants. Criteria for inclusion included: having at least four years of TBL experience, designing at least eight TBL sessions, training others to use TBL, and authoring a peer-reviewed TBL pharmacy paper. This process resulted in inviting participation from 23 pharmacy faculty from around the U.S. Another strategy to promote rigor was in the choice of study design. The Delphi process is a methodological technique that requests and refines the collective thoughts and opinions of a panel of experts with the goal of reaching consensus on the topic being studied. The findings go beyond “X% agreed” by reporting the variables that met consensus and those that didn’t; this allows for clear interpretation and use of the results. Finally, as a form of verification and validation, the results are examined relative to education related literature, including TBL literature and higher education theories and models that align with the indicators identified. This type of validation is an optional strategy that doesn’t occur in every Delphi project, but was specifically added to promote rigor. In Phase 2, the quality indicators identified from Phase 1 will be applied to a sample of AAs from the U of M and Regis to determine the extent of their use.

What are the implications of this work locally and nationally?

At the national level, findings from both phases will be useful in focusing attention on the importance of AAs within TBL and broadening the conversation in pharmacy to include AAs. Locally, it is anticipated that the discussion of quality and participation in the peer review process (Phase 2) will have an immediate, local effect on the quality of AAs in the two participating schools. In particular, reviewing other instructor’s work will likely inspire refinements in participant’s courses, resulting in improved student learning. Lastly, this research should inspire further investigations. Once quality indicators are identified, interventions that aim to increase quality, such as the effects of training, checklists, and peer review, can be better examined to determine their successfulness. Additionally, knowing the quality indicators for AAs is a prerequisite for conducting controlled studies on the impact of the application phase on the success of TBL methodology as a whole.

Contacts:  Dr. Kristin Janke, Dr. Gardner Lepp, and graduate student Bob Bechtol have been the University of Minnesota’s investigators in Phase 1. Additional MN faculty will be involved in Phase 2, which is due to launch in May 2017.

Stayed tuned for the Phase 2 results in the coming months!