Published: 22-07-2015 10:00 | Updated: 24-07-2015 10:53

Active teaching in preparation for a career

Team-based learning (TBL) is a teaching method based on active learning and group work. The primary tool is discussion, which prepares the students for solving problems in their future careers.

Teachers Eva Hagel and Mesfin Tessma developed an interest in TBL when they went to extend the course in medical statistics for doctoral students. They wanted to take in more students without compromising on quality.

“We’d started to look for alternative teaching methods when it struck me that could shift the focus from passive lecture-based models to more active problem solving,” says Eva Hagel. “The main thing we want the students to get out of this is the ability to solve problems, not to listen to lecturers.”

The method was introduced into the Centre for Learning and Knowledge at KI, where the course is held, in the autumn of 2014.

On a TBL course, students work in teams of five or six, and the classes are based on problem-assignments that the students prepare at home and then discuss with the aim of reasoning their way to a solution. The group dynamic is quite an important aspect of TBL. The members of a group represent different qualities and backgrounds, and this, hopefully, stimulates cooperation and discussion. The teachers are visible in the classroom but are really meant to let the groups arrive at the answers unaided.

“It’s been a challenge for us teachers, since we’re more used to guiding the conversation, asking the questions and often answering them too,” says Ms Hagel. “Now when get asked something by a group, I try to throw it over to the next group and then we try to reach some kind of consensus together where everyone feels that they’ve been involved in the discussion and produced an answer.”

“Many students seem to be more motivated by this active teaching,” says course coordinator Mesfin Tessma. “They get immediate feedback which is very confidence-boosting – and educational. TBL is meant to be fun, and we constantly get something back from the students, which makes us feel energised and motivated too.”

I can always get support from the group if there’s something I don’t quite get

In the Strix room on the Solna campus, the students sit deep in discussion. They are on the foundation course in medical statistics for doctoral students that is being held along the lines of the team-based learning concept.

The course is the first at KI held exclusively as TBL. Similar methods are used at other Swedish universities, but for the students on this course it is a totally new experience.

“In Spain, we don’t have TBL as far as I’m aware, but I definitely think that this kind of teaching has its advantages,” says one of the exchange students Sandra Petrus-Reurer. “After all, it’s a very intensive method.”

“This is my first TBL course, but I’ve done problem-based learning (PBL) before, which is like TBL,” says David Forsberg, another student on the course.

Much thought has clearly gone into how the groups have been divided up, as there is a mix of age, origin and background. Everyone agrees that it is important to have a good group in which everyone is on the same level and no one has to be the one with all the answers or, indeed, all the questions.

“We’ve got a group that’s really equal and that often tackles the problem in the same way, and I can always get support from the group if there’s something I don’t quite get,” says Angelina Schwarz, exchange student from Germany.

The medical statistics course is only two weeks long and is very intensive. Opinions differ, however, as to whether doctoral students would choose TBL for their other courses.

“I prefer to study alone, because I can go at my own pace and don’t have to bother about anyone else, and no one else has to bother about me,” says Angelina Schwarz.

“I like the set-up and would definitely choose TBL or PBL over regular teaching,” says David Forsberg.

However, everyone agrees that TBL doesn’t suit every aspect of their education. Sandra Petrus-Reurer says that it also depends on how much time you have.

“If you go to all the lectures maybe the only time you put into the course is lecture time,” she says. “When you’re studying on a TBL course, quite a lot of your spare time goes into studying, time that you might want to spend doing something else.”

Text: Frida Wennerholm

Photo: Gunnar Ask