Team-Based Learning Technique in General Chemistry Classroom - Catalyst or Anticatalyst?

By Liliya Vugmeyster, Assistant Professor

Chemistry Department, University of Alaska Anchorage

  • Title Page
  • Context
  • Focus
  • Course Design and Implementation
  • Findings
  • Reflections
  • Contact

Team-Based Learning Technique in General Chemistry Classroom - Catalyst or Anticatalyst?

Context of the Inquiry

General Chemistry I, CHEM A105.Introduction to Chemistry for Science and Engineering Majors

Description

·A quick coverage of multiple topics that require relatively advanced analytical and problem-solving skills.Formal prerequisites are College Algebra and two semesters of High School Chemistry.The prerequisites are rarely enforced, primarily due to the difficulties of keeping track of high school records.Thus, a very large percentage of students begin the class academically underprepared.

·Typically, a class is initially comprised of 100 students, and typical attrition rates are between 15 and 40%.Large attrition rates are often attributed to student preparedness and unrealistic expectations regarding the time commitment required for this class.Many students work full-time and do not realize that it is not enough to attend lectures twice a week.

Student Challenges

·Absorb and structure a large body of material

·Actively apply relatively advanced math and quantitative skills

·Understand how abstract topics are related to their future profession


Course Artifacts

Focus of the Inquiry

Introduction

One hundred-level classes in hard physical sciences face unique challenges in the modern world.These classes are required for many science and engineering fields, yet many students do not have sufficient levels of preparedness or the understanding of learning strategies and time commitments required to successfully master the content and pass the class.Many 'remedies' are offered to instructors, including online homework tools, recorded video presentation, and group oriented approaches focused on student engagement.How do we, as instructors, choose the tools that work best for us and our students?Within our busy academic lives we do not have either the capability or the luxury of time to conduct true randomized experiments and find the best possible solutions.In addition, it is difficult to rely on published studies that were performed with a different type of student body and different instructor personalities.Yet we all strive to improve the learning process for our students and want to find reasonable solutions that can help them.

For the purpose of this inquiry, I have decided to concentrate on Team-Based Learning (TBL)1, a specific technique that I introduce several times during the semester.Introducing novel techniques intermittingly in the classroom has its obvious advantages and drawbacks.For me, the advantages are that during these selected class sessions I can do my best to prepare for the new approach, while a 100% commitment would inevitably lead to a lower extent of preparation.There is also a benefit of safety involved – if everything fails, I have only failed a small percentage of the course and have not led my students to complete disaster.One of the drawbacks that I have observed is that it might disrupt an already established class structure and make it somewhat uncomfortable for students to restructure their classroom habits.They also may consider these sessions as unimportant if they are only a small addition to the class structure.

TBL is widely used in many professional schools in lieu of traditional lecturing.My interest in this technique was sparked after a CAFÉ workshop which highlighted its effectiveness in student engagement.

Goal of Inquiry

·Using TBL as an example, I would like to explore whether one can see a difference in one or more aspects of student performance and their subjective perception of learning by introducing new techniques for about 25% of class time.

·Specifically, I would like to test the hypothesis whether TBL sessions improve performance on test questions related to the topics taught via TBL, as opposed to non-TBL topics.

 

·The most important questions regarding student perception for me are the following:

i)Did students perceive TBL sessions as favorable in regards to understanding the concepts behind the material?

ii)Did the sessions help the students to be more engaged in the classroom?

iii)Did the sessions help students to find classmates to study with outside the class?

 

References

1.. New York: Praeger. Edited by Larry K. Michaelsen, Arletta Bauman Knight, and L. Dee Fink (2002).


 


Course Artifacts

Course Design and Implementation

General Course Elements

·       Power-point lectures with incorporation of multiple practice problems that are posted at least one week in advance of the class

·       Weekly or bi-Weekly online homework

·       Non-structured group assignments, in which the groups are chosen by the students.  These are brief 5-10 minute sessions with one relatively straightforward assignment.

·       Optional pre-test recitation sessions and workshops – four sessions per semester.

·       Six to seven TBL sessions, discussed in detail below.

Team-Based Learning Sessions

TBL relies on several key components: optimal group design, individual preparation and accountability, active group engagement, immediate feedback, and inter-group discussion.  These components were implemented in the following fashion:

·       All TBL sessions combined had a weight of 18% in the overall grading scheme, which was equivalent to the weight of each midterm and of online homework.

·       Initial groups were assigned randomly.  After the first midterm, slight adjustments were undertaken in order to evenly distribute "A" students over all of the groups.  Initial group sizes were 6-7 students with a total of 13 groups.  By the end of the semester, the group sizes decreased to 5-6 students with a total of about 12 groups.

·       Advanced reading assignments for each group session were posted on a Blackboard site at least one week in advance.  The assignment was announced in class and via email.  It was stressed that without completing the reading the students would not be able to perform the group activities.

·       In order to optimize class time, individual accountability for the advanced readings was quizzed as part of an on-line Blackboard-based homework assignment.

·       Group preparedness consisted of a group review of specific homework questions which were focused on the material to be covered by the main group exercise.

·       The main exercise was structured to elicit a deeper understanding of material compared with problems encountered on either on-line homework or the midterms.  The timing was structured in such a way that the exercise took no more than 40 minutes, allowing for some discussion time and review of the problems at the end of the class.

Testing of TBL session effectiveness

In order to have a quantitative measure of the effectiveness of TBL sessions, I have compared statistics for student scores in midterms and final exams for topics taught via TBL with topics taught by lecturing and non-TBL problem-solving sessions.  Additional comparison has been conducted between student scores in the current semester (Spring 2013) and scores from two sessions taught without any TBL component in Fall 2011.  All tests were conducted in multiple-choice formats using Scantron forms.

 

I have obtained permission from the Registrar's Office to use the scores from older sessions, as well as collecting consent forms from students in the Spring 2013 semester.  I have also explained to students the purpose of this study, and have emphasized that their involvement is voluntary and anonymous and that the results will be included only for those students who have signed the consent form.

Specific Comparison Included

·       Three midterms and the final exams in Spring 2013 contained 5-7 questions per exam related to TBL topics out of a total of 20-25 questions in each exam.  Only moderate-difficulty questions were included.  All questions included in the analysis were taken from Publisher Data Bank, which had difficulty ratings assigned to them.  This eliminated a bias in difficulty ratings.  Median grades for TBL questions in all four tests were compared with the average grades for non-TBL related questions in all tests.

·       Median grades for questions taught via TBL topics in the Spring 2013 semester were compared with grades for the SAME questions in the Fall 2011 semester (which was NOT taught via the TBL approach).

·       As a control, median grades for non-TBL questions in Spring 2013 were compared with the median grades for the same questions in the Fall 2011 semester.

             

Survey of Student Subjective Perceptions

A brief questionnaire was distributed at the end of the semester.  I explained to students that their answers will be used in my project and to improve my teaching techniques in future classes.  The students were reminded that participation is purely voluntary, the forms are anonymous, and the results will be analyzed only for those students who completed a consent form.  The following questions were asked:

1)           Which class aids have you found most useful for test preparation

Power point slides                           Online homework             Pre-test problem solving sessions

In-class Group Exercises                  Emails from Instructor or Office hours discussions

2)           Which class aids have you found least useful for test preparation

Power point slides                           Online homework             Pre-test problem solving sessions

In-class Group Exercises                  Emails from Instructor or Office hours discussions

3)          Did you feel that the group sessions            

i)            improved your  ability to solve problems? 

ii)           improved your mastery of class material?  

iii)          increased interactions with your classmates outside the classroom? 

iv)          increased  your engagement during class time?       

4)           Which class aids have you found most useful for understanding the material

 Power point slides                          Online homework             Pre-test problem solving sessions

In-class Group Exercises                  Emails from Instructor or Office hours discussions

 

Course Artifacts

Findings

Course Artifacts

Reflections

The main question which I have posed to myself during this inquiry process is whether I want to continue using the TBL technique in my General Chemistry classes.The answer is "probably."I think the inquiry exposed two conflicting issues: first, the intermittent introduction of TBL sessions introduced some kind of a disruption of regular class cycle and it took a while for the students to get used to the new routine.In this respect, it would have probably been more useful to commit to TBL 100% of the time in order to test its effectiveness.This issue could also explain why any real positive differences (if any) have been observed only for the third midterm.On the other hand, the survey of student perception revealed a very wide variety of views regarding which techniques are deemed useful by the students in terms of grasping class material and preparation for the tests.In addition, committing to TBL for every class session requires a great deal of class preparation and course development, which is best supported by an organized structure, such as those present in professional schools in which the whole curriculum is taught via one specific technique.

My personal impression is that the technique certainly has its advantages, particularly in regards to student engagement during the class sessions, but needs a network of support from other instructors in general science courses in order to make its introduction effective in the freshman introductory level classroom.Unlike professional school students, UAA freshmen are often limited in their knowledge of how to handle large bodies of information required for general science classes, and, hence, have to be guided carefully if a strong reliance on advanced reading outside the classroom is expected.

The main question which I have posed to myself during this inquiry process is whether I want to continue using the TBL technique in my General Chemistry classes.The answer is "probably."I think the inquiry exposed two conflicting issues: first, the intermittent introduction of TBL sessions introduced some kind of a disruption of regular class cycle and it took a while for the students to get used to the new routine.In this respect, it would have probably been more useful to commit to TBL 100% of the time in order to test its effectiveness.This issue could also explain why any real positive differences (if any) have been observed only for the third midterm.On the other hand, the survey of student perception revealed a very wide variety of views regarding which techniques are deemed useful by the students in terms of grasping class material and preparation for the tests.In addition, committing to TBL for every class session requires a great deal of class preparation and course development, which is best supported by an organized structure, such as those present in professional schools in which the whole curriculum is taught via one specific technique.

My personal impression is that the technique certainly has its advantages, particularly in regards to student engagement during the class sessions, but needs a network of support from other instructors in general science courses in order to make its introduction effective in the freshman introductory level classroom.Unlike professional school students, UAA freshmen are often limited in their knowledge of how to handle large bodies of information required for general science classes, and, hence, have to be guided carefully if a strong reliance on advanced reading outside the classroom is expected.

The main question which I have posed to myself during this inquiry process is whether I want to continue using the TBL technique in my General Chemistry classes.  The answer is “probably.”  I think the inquiry exposed two conflicting issues: first, the intermittent introduction of TBL sessions introduced some kind of a disruption of regular class cycle and it took a while for the students to get used to the new routine.  In this respect, it would have probably been more useful to commit to TBL 100% of the time in order to test its effectiveness.  This issue could also explain why any real positive differences (if any) have been observed only for the third midterm.  On the other hand, the survey of student perception revealed a very wide variety of views regarding which techniques are deemed useful by the students in terms of grasping class material and preparation for the tests.  In addition, committing to TBL for every class session requires a great deal of class preparation and course development, which is best supported by an organized structure, such as those present in professional schools in which the whole curriculum is taught via one specific technique.

My personal impression is that the technique certainly has its advantages, particularly in regards to student engagement during the class sessions, but needs a network of support from other instructors in general science courses in order to make its introduction effective in the freshman introductory level classroom.  Unlike professional school students, UAA freshmen are often limited in their knowledge of how to handle large bodies of information required for general science classes, and, hence, have to be guided carefully if a strong reliance on advanced reading outside the classroom is expected.

Course Artifacts

Faculty Contact

Liliya Vugmeyster, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Chemistry
University of Alaska Anchorage
Chemistry Department
CPSB 302B
3211 Providence Drive
Anchorage, AK  99508-4614
lvugmeyster@uaa.alaska.edu
907.786.4709