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.


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.


Collaborative Writing

The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) includes a Special Interest Group for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). In 2016, the SoTL Canada SIG offered the opportunity for members to take part in a set of collaborative writing groups on a set of selected SoTL topics. I was selected to be a member of the writing group on the topic of leadership in SoTL.

The writing group had a couple of meetings over Skype during the weeks leading up to the STLHE Annual meeting in June, to discuss members’ interests and refine our topic. We then spent the weekend after the STLHE meeting together, reading, writing, and discussing our paper. We left the weekend with a set of assigned tasks that each of us would contribute to the paper.

This was my first experience collaborating with scholars whom I hadn’t know before. It was challenging in many ways, as we worked to discover each other’s strengths and negotiated our several responsibilities. In the final weeks before the paper was due, I spent a good deal of time weaving my colleagues’ various contributions into a coherent whole, which the team recognized by designating me co-first author with our group’s facilitator, Janice Miller-Young.

Miller-Young, J. E., Anderson, C., Kiceniuk, D., Mooney, J., Riddell, J., Schmidt Hanbidge, A., Ward, V., Wideman, M. A., & Chick, N. (2017). Leading Up in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8 (2).