Researching Team-Based Learning

Since 2017 was my first experience teaching in the Active Learning Classroom, I wanted to investigate students’ experiences in the class, so that I could make evidence-informed decisions about future versions of the course. I partnered with an Honours Thesis student, Nadia Bachar, to conduct a SoTL project on students’ experiences. Our research project was approved by the McMaster Research Ethics Board and I had no access to the identities of students who participated in the research.

At the beginning of the semester we conducted an anonymous survey to gather accounts of students’ experiences of teamwork in other courses. We learned that students enjoyed collaborating with each other, but resented it when team members didn’t pull their weight, and often struggled with the logistics of arranging team meetings around everyone’s course, work, and commuting schedules.

Late in the semester, Nadia conducted two focus groups to pursue her questions of interest. At the end of the semester, we administered a second anonymous survey to supplement the data from the standard course evaluations. Nadia used qualitative data analysis software to code and interpret the data from the two surveys, her focus group, and the course evaluations.

Nadia presented her findings in a poster at the department’s Student Research Day. Overall, she found that the ALC created the conditions for team activities, and that these team activities supported students’ learning. Students reported that they learned from each other in the team assignments and projects, and that they forged new friendships and learning communities that they carried over to other courses as well.


Team-Based Learning in Psycholinguistics

In 2017 I had the chance to teach Ling 2PS3 (Psycholinguistics) in one of the new Active Learning Classrooms (ALC) in the L.R. Wilson Building. I designed a course outline that consists of about one-half team-based assignments and projects, and one-half individual tests. In Fall 2017 the class was timetabled with a one-hour class on Tuesdays and a two-hour class on Fridays, so we used the Friday class period for the team assignments three times during the semester. Class periods that weren’t devoted to assignments usually consisted of brief lecture segments interspersed with group activities. This set of slides illustrates a typical class from early in the semester.

To ensure that every member of the team is prepared for full participation in the team’s work, each team assignment begins with an individual multiple-choice quiz worth 2%. The team then completes the same quiz together for an additional 2% using IF-AT response cards that give immediate feedback. Team members think through the quiz questions collectively and argue to persuade each other about the correct answers. For the rest of the class period, they work to complete an assignment worth 6% that they submit within an hour of the end of the class period.

Team Quizzes and Assignments

The semester also includes two individual take-home tests. I’ve found that a take-home test is a useful way of making space for many students’ accommodations: because they can write the test over a 48-hour period in their own chosen space, they don’t need to reserve testing space in SAS to meet their needs. A take-home test also alleviates testing anxiety for students who don’t have documented SAS accommodations. Furthermore, the looser time constraints on a take-home allow me to ask questions in which students extend and apply material they’ve learned, which take longer to answer than is practicable in an in-class test. I have few concerns about academic integrity with the take-home test: my experience is that program students take their learning seriously and are very careful to avoid any behaviour that might be considered cheating. I ask students to upload a signed statement declaring that the work is their own and I trust their declarations.

Individual Take-home Tests

The final project in the course asks teams to prepare an audio or video lesson that will teach their classmates about a finding in psycholinguistics. Teams have two weeks of class time to prepare their projects, and they deliver their presentations in the final week. Allowing class time for the collaboration alleviated many of the scheduling conflicts that can plague teamwork. The students in Fall 2017 genuinely enjoyed creating their projects, and produced some impressive videos!

Project Guidelines and Rubric

Team Oak’s Project: LinguEllen

Team Hawthorn’s Project: The Effects of Bilingualism

Because so much of the learning over the semester takes place in a team environment, creating a traditional, individual final exam seems incongruous. On the other hand, scheduling a team-based exam introduces many challenges around SAS accommodations and other needs. My compromise is to schedule an individual final exam but to provide students with the full exam one week ahead of time. They may work together to prepare their answers, but they need to write their exams individually, without notes, so they need to understand their prepared answers well enough to remember them. In the final exam, I ask questions about studies that we have not discussed in class — to answer the questions, students have to extend their knowledge to interpret data or make predictions based on the theories and results that we did deal with in class. Students have told me that having time to prepare these kinds of questions in advance of the exam allows them to consolidate their learning from the entire semester, which was exactly my goal.

Final Exam

I partnered with an Honours Thesis student to investigate students’ experience in this course; you may read about our research here: Researching Team-Based Learning.

Practicum Courses

Students in Linguistics and CogSciL are always eager to enrol in one of the practicum courses in their fourth year. In Ling 4SL3, students are placed with a Speech-Language Pathologist, and in Ling 4TE3, they’re matched with an ESL teacher. They spend at least 36 hours shadowing, assisting, learning, and reflecting on their practical experience in the clinic or in the classroom. Since the practicum courses began, students have always benefited from the practical experience, but when I took over the courses, I also wanted to construct a means for them to reflect on their experience in a structured way. The Learning Portfolio in PebblePad provided the perfect venue for students to complete weekly reflections and then pull their experience together into a final portfolio.

The home page for each course shows the core organization of the courses, with information for students and for supervisors:

SLP Practicum Home Page

TESL Practicum Home Page

While every student has a different experience, depending on their placement, each course is organized around the same basic structure:

  • Students complete weekly reflections guided by a template.
  • Twice during the semester, they exchange reflections with another student and comment on each others’ reflections.
  • Partway through the semester, they meet with their supervisor for a formative assessment that does not count towards their final grade. This assessment helps students to know how they’re progressing towards their goals, and offers an opportunity to refine or update some of their goals for the rest of the semester. The structured reflection for the week of the assessment uses a different template from the weekly reflections.
  • At the end of the semester, the supervisor completes a summative assessment (TESL Assessment | SLP Assessment) and each student completes a learning portfolio documenting their experience.


Mentoring Junior Colleagues

One of the responsibilities that I’ve welcomed in my role as Teaching Professor is that of mentoring colleagues who are at the beginning of their teaching careers. I’ve shared teaching materials and advice from my experience with sessional instructors Dr. Joanna Lustanski, Dr. Ivan Chow, and Dr. Deanna Friesen. The mentoring relationships that I invested more energy in were those with PhD students who were teaching courses for the first time. I worked hard to share with them what I had learned through my years of experience, while also empowering them to make their own independent pedagogical decisions. These two letters from Cassandra Chapman and Angela Harrison show their appreciation for our mentoring relationship:

Angela Harrison Mentoring Letter

Cassandra Chapman Mentoring Letter