Traditional lecture-driven courses are at the core of most American educational institutions. Typically, a teacher in a classroom gives a monologue to students and presents PowerPoint slides. Students may often fall asleep while trying to pay attention during this traditional learning method. There is a new style of teaching, which I am a fan of, that combats this problem: it is called team-based learning (TBL). Simply put, TBL heavily emphasizes team collaboration to teach each other and solve problems covering key concepts. Faculty spend much of the time in the classroom facilitating discussions amongst and between teams, rather than telling students how to solve problems.
I have been in traditional, lecture-driven courses all of my life. My educational experiences have been pleasurable in topics that I found interesting and where I was self-motivated to learn. Laboratory classes were my favorite because I was able to actively apply the concepts we read about. These classes were the closest classes I have encountered comparable to TBL.
At first, I imagined TBL to be similar to my past group experiences, where I was forced to pick up the slack of noncontributing teammates. Upon reading more about California Northstate University’s curriculum, I realized there is an individual component that makes up 70% of a student’s grade. Although the style of learning inherently uses a team, there is a large individual component. This sparked an interest because although it’s a team approach, the individual component is key.
There are two main portions in TBL: individual preparation and application of key concepts. Our classes are split up into groups of five or six students who are given material to read with a guideline to understand the material but not to master it. There is an individual readiness assessment test (iRAT) given, which covers the material read prior to class. The iRAT is similar to a pre-class quiz. Immediately after the iRAT, teams take a team version of the quiz, called a tRAT. Teams discuss tRAT questions and collaborate to form the team’s ultimate answer. Students thus learn and teach one another the key concepts.
At this point, classes vary between having a mini-lecture or directly starting the application exercises, which is what we call problem sets. During the application exercises, teams are given access to the Internet, books, and handouts. This learning method is more intricate and requires much more preparation from the professor than the conventional lecture-driven method. Rather than just giving teams the answer, faculty must be ready to address questions and help students learn to formulate and understand the correct answer.
I initially found TBL to be stressful, but rewarding. I was not used to entering class without a lecture to help me solve application exercises on complex subjects. Team application execises are constantly challenging what I learned from the reading and how to apply it.
TBL forces engagement with a set of colleagues who will agree or disagree with your opinion. There is a required skill to communicate effectively, or effectively enough, to convince five other people to agree on an answer. For example, I explained to my group why certain compounds are more lipophilic than others. By explaining this to others, I learned to see the subject in different ways than before. Understanding how others think allows me to think more creatively so that I can present concepts in a way that others will understand.
All of these experiences have a greater effect on the students because it allows them to practice the interpersonal skills needed to become a proficient health professional. This is important because becoming a pharmacist entails working in a team of other health professionals and patients. I am glad I chose to learn using TBL and that I am placed in an environment where I am constantly practicing the skills needed to become a competent pharmacist.