How to facilitate discussions between teams/groups?

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Some suggestions to strengthen your discussion facilitation skills contributed by members of the Team Based Learning list serve. Your Primary Task as a Discussion Facilitator is to help the various teams to work their way toward identifying the correct or best answer themselves to a given question or problem. Do not give them an answer to their questions, but facilitate and direct their search. Strategies for accomplishing this Before Class: • Write questions that are truly challenging, where the answer is not obvious in anticipation of the outcomes, where even knowledgeable students have to engage in careful thinking. • This means it is a good thing when different teams have different answers. They deepen their understanding of a concept or problem, by challenging themselves and each other with questions about particular answers. During class, after an application exercise: Begin with having teams simultaneously reveal their answer choices. Then do the following. A. When different teams have different answers to a given problem, ask teams to share their thinking and reasons behind different answers. B. Then get teams to challenge the answers that are different from their own. The teacher can bounce the question back and forth between two or more teams with different answers. Main Problems to Avoid • Don’t share your expertise too much or too early. Allow the students time and interaction to develop their own expertise. • Don’t reveal prematurely what you see as the correct answer. Let the teams help each other figure it out – without any leading questions from you, but through Socratic questioning: Why did you think this? How did you come to this conclusion? What evidence did you use? Etc. Summary of Suggestions from TBL Users July 15, 2013
  • Have students explain why they chose what they did. Ask: ‘What is your thinking?’ Be like a judge in a jury case: your role is not to do the talking; let the lawyers do the talking.
  • Circulate among the teams during their discussions, to see what issues they are wrestling with. That gives you an advance understanding of where you may need to take the discussion.
  • Have teams identify a concept they struggled with and then the teachers identify a team that mastered it, and let that team explain their reasoning to the rest of the class. The teacher only adds something if there is an important gap in that team’s explanation.
  • Make sure you have a way for students to inform the teacher that they have a question they want to discuss about a particular question, before moving on. Another useful strategy is to have a teacher who did NOT write the problem, lead the discussion about it. Don’t butt in as a content expert until the discussion among teams has ended.
  • Specific Problem #1: A problem arises when the teacher allows his expert persona to intrude. Solutions:
    • Make sure the question or problem is structured so that the teacher is NOT defending his/her authority. Formulate the problem as: “Experts/authorities say….[or: some say X, some say Y].
    • In the discussion, you can say: “Your diagnosis is consistent with Expert X. What do you do with the view of Expert Y?”
  • Specific Problem #2: This occurs when the teacher fears letting go and letting uncertainty linger, while teams or individuals report their reasoning.
    • Work hard on being patient, problem solving and learning take time.
  • Specific Problem #3: Going too slow.
    • Let one team represent other teams that had the same answer. Then ask those other teams: “Is this the same reasoning you had, for choosing this answer?”
  • Specific Problem #4: Not having a strategy to keep everyone in the discussion.
    • Solution? Sometimes, you can call on specific individuals or specific teams to give their choices or the reasons for their choices.
Reminder: Chapter 8 (4 pp.) in TBL for Health Professions Education is focused on “Facilitator Skills”; a good summary on this same topic.   Effective team discussions can easily lead to more questions and thus be the start of further research by the student teams. A sequence of well planned 4-S assignments can lead to highly significant learning within the discipline. Developing such a sequence requires deep understanding of the issues that live in your discipline, what the students are capable of, what their current level of understanding and skill is, how to sequence meaningful questions that they can tackle successfully, and what to do if surprising answers, questions or obstacles surface. Developing this will take several semesters of working with similar groups of students. Practice and repetition on the teacher’s part will lead to better learning outcomes for students.

12 Steps to a managing successfull learning activities in the classroom

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Physical Education teachers and athletic coaches are some of the best managers of learning activities, because their students physically run around and do things to learn. This requires that the teacher is very clear about what students should do, for how long, and what to do afterwards. Management of learning activities is a skill set that must be learned with repetition, but it really is not that difficult to acquire. As with many tasks, the devil is in the details. You have to be precise in executing a number of steps to help the students understand who does what, why, when, for how long, and what they are supposed to accomplish. Most importantly, don’t rush through the instructions. In my experience this sequence os steps works well:
  1. State “in a few minutes, I am going to ask you to….” Always include “in a few minutes” so they don’t start doing something before you’re done explaining, because you will have lost their attention when that happens.
  2. State who needs to do what, why, how (if necessary) and for how long.
  3. State “I will let you know when you have 1 min (or some other number) left, and when you hear the bell (or any other signal) your time is up.”
  4. Explain what product they must deliver when time is up.
  5. Explain how they will share their product with the rest of the class (accountability). Simultaneous presentation of their choice(s) or product is best (see
  6. Emphasize again that they will have a certain amount of time, and set your timer
  7. Say “GO!”or use some other signal to let them know they can start.
  8. Walk among the teams and listen in to what they are doing. Make mental notes of misconceptions, errors, comments etc.
  9. If necessary, pause the activity by using your signal or simply stating loudly “PAUSE!” if you find you need to provide further explanations to move them back on track.
  10. Keep an eye on the time and at certain points let them know how much time remains to keep them on task and working hard.
  11. When time expires you can ask “do you need more time?” if it is obvious that few teams were able to finish in the time provided. Rather than forcing them to deliver a poor product because you estimated the time needed incorrectly, give them an opportunity to request more time. If they say “yes,” you can ask “how much” and give them one or a few more minutes. Make a note in your lesson plan whether the time you allotted for that activity was sufficient or way off. Adjust the amount next time.
  12. Give the signal to end the activity and have teams present their choice preferably simultaneously and then facilitate the discussion. This is the topic of the next post.

A Liberated Professor Speaks by Arvind Singhal

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A Liberated Professor Speaks by Dr. Arvind Singhal

  Liberating Structures have liberated me from bearing the sole burden of “professing” in a classroom i.e. being a Sage on Stage, a knower, and content deliverer (see photo below to grasp what I mean by a “liberated professor”).   Now, when I prepare to walk into a classroom, I ask not “What is it that I need to do?” but rather “What is it that WE need to do?”   This “flip” in mindset profoundly changes the way a classroom is designed and enabled.   I am now deeply mindful about how seats are configured – e.g. in a circle where everyone can be “seen” versus in rows and columns, and how these spatial configurations (geography) affects pedagogy.  I am now deeply mindful about my positionality – am in seated with the class participants — one participant among many, or am I behind a podium — in control with a PowerPoint clicker.   I am constantly thinking about how do I frame the structural conditions so that participant conversations are focused and yet are allowed to expand and deepen.  I am strategizing about how all participants can be engaged at the same time, whether as individuals who think in silence, or with a partner in a conversational space, or in a small group as a contributing or listening member.   In creating such conditions, the professor in me experiences deep humility.  He realizes that the no ONE person is (or can be) the arbiter of learning, but rather knowledge is created by the collective in the conversations they have, and the processes they experience.    Liberating structures create the enabling conditions for people to contribute, to ask for help, to develop skills in listening and paraphrasing, and to build trust and safety, while valuing (rather celebrating) diversity and difference.   The design aspects of Liberating Structures go way beyond the frame of “what we need to do in a classroom?”    In order for meaningful, collective conversations to occur in a classroom, I am now deeply mindful of what individual class participants need to do prior to coming to class – what texts to read, what lectures/talks to watch in advance, what problems to solve, and what questions or reflections to bring to share with the collective.   As a professor, one asks how might the class participant prepare themselves to come into a designated interactional space once/twice/thrice a week at an appointed hour, and benefit from the presence, knowledge, and experience of others, including the professor.  This mindfulness also influences the design of what the class participants do, individually or in small groups, in-between class sessions to widen and deepen their understanding, to engage in actions and reflections, and such.   My professorial role is now one of a Chief Enabler whose responsibility it is to design and enable a process so that all class participants feel invited, engaged, and allowed to contribute as “whole” people. As an enabler, I bear the responsibility (and challenge) to create the safety and supportive conditions for such invitations, engagements, and contributions to potentially occur.  Poetic as it sounds, this process of “enabling” can be difficult and challenging, as the control of the classroom space, time, and content is no longer solely with the professor.  The professor exercises some degree of control over the process, and can help provide the frame for structuring conversations, but cannot completely control (or predict) what surfaces from the collective.   That means liberating structures, necessarily, create the conditions for “surprising” and emergent classroom outcomes – both of a substantive and relational nature.   I have seen how, for the most part, these outcomes result in opportunities for deeper, experiential learning for individuals and the collective, and deeper friendships and relationships.   With liberating structures, a classroom, its participants, and a professor are always a work-in-progress.   And, that is what learning is about, no?

Random Thought: Tendency and Confusion in Higher Education by Louis Schmier

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Random Thought: Tendency and Confusion in Higher Education By Louis Schmier “This reflection may get me into trouble. But, here goes. A few days ago, I was sitting at the Union struggling with a hard, wrinkled, overcooked, sorry-I-ordered hotdog for lunch as I waited in my “office” to talk with a student. I always talk with students on their turf rather than in my department office. Anyway, I have to admit that I was in a funk. The semester was coming to an end which is always bittersweet for me. But, I was really thinking about Susie, about all the pain she has been suffering in her shoulder, about her impending surgery next week, about the painful rehab she’ll have to endure for months to come, and about how in the coming weeks I was going to willingly pull all-nighters in order to be her caring slave while pulling together final grades.

Graduate Student Instructors’ Perspectives on Teaching

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Haiku by Lindsay Hamilton The students’ minds open Reach for fruit in open hand Make juice and drink it   Reflection by Veronica Jackson How I See Myself Teaching and Learning Through my learning experience teaching reminded me of the tools I have, the talents, traits, and training I received to become a teacher. As a teacher I am a poet that conveys the language of passion for my subject. Creating a beautiful mosaic that encourages curiosity to the imagination, reveal secrets, and making connections to unleash the cycle of learning. As a teacher I am a physicist who gives my students the magic, sense, reasoning, and wonder to the properties, changes, and interaction of the world we live in. As a teacher I am a maestro who composes, conducts, and coordinates students’ thoughts and actions from inharmonious loudness into harmonic meaning. As a teacher I am an engineer who will provide a firm foundation for my students but the most beautiful outcome and sight will be when I see the brilliant structure that will emerge from within. As a teacher I am an acrobat in whom I will encourage the expressions and revolutions of thoughts and the flexing and strengthening of ideas. As a teacher I am a diplomat, an ambassador of thoughtfulness and compassion, as I will facilitate efficiency, positive connections among the diversity of students, cultures, beliefs, and ideas. As a teacher I am a philosopher where my actions and professional ethics will communicate meaning and hope to students who will look to me for direction and instance. As I prepare for my students to enter my classroom I know I will come across their attitudes that range from impatient to enthusiastic, from keenness to uncomfortable, from uncertain indifference; I will remember the power I have within me from being a poet to being a philosopher and I will present myself as a honorable teacher.

2012 Sun Conference by Dr. Bill Robertson

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1. What was the presentation you attended and the topics presented/discussed? I attended the events on Thursday, March 1, including the Keynote by Jose Bowen and served as moderator for a series of 4 presentations, two on Math education and two on Health Sciences and Nursing education.  The main topics discussed had a common theme of providing immersive experiences for students in their learning and to also require high impact practices including active learning, discussions, critical thinking (using the skills of analysis and synthesis), collaborating, doing demonstrations and engaging in active listening to name a few of the common skills described. 2. What did you learn from it; what new ideas did the presentation generate in your mind? For me, I learned that we need to continue to emphasize the experience first in learning and give students a reason to engage and explore the content in greater depth.  In some ways, the idea of the “Flipped classroom” aligns well with the constructivist methodology, in the you should put students into learning situations that are built on demonstrating and doing the work, rather than interacting specifically with the content.  In some ways, an experience done in the classroom should  have content wrapped on both sides, and this should be done more by the students outside of class.   This implies that we as professors should provide an experience and then ask students to do something with the content, rather than giving (or delivering) the content to students and then asking them to do something with it. 3. How could/will you apply those new ideas in your own teaching? For me, the use of constructivism as an organizing framework for teaching and learning is reinforced by the interactions and information I gain at the Sun Conference.  Within a constructivist approach, as students encounter new information, they work to synthesize new understandings based on their current experiences and their prior learning. Students and adults are enabled to construct a deeper and more comprehensive understanding through activities that match their cognitive capabilities. The key is to build on previous learning and to apply new learning in a meaningful context, which centers in active learning and requires learners to address their own understandings in the context of new experiences and learning opportunities. I feel this aligns well with the goals of the Sun Conference, is reinforced by the multidisciplinary work I see there, as well as the efforts done in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. William H. Robertson Associate Provost The University of Texas at El Paso * A special thank you to Dr. Bill Robertson for his wonderful comments and insight on the 2012 Sun Conference.

Summary of 2012 Sun Conference Keynote presentations for faculty P. 2

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Dr. Pat Hoy Dr. Hoy showed that thinking well is a universal skill that applies across disciplines, but added a perspective and structure that could lead to liberating students’ intelligence in our classes in line with Dr. Bowen’s arguments. First, he suggested that we must teach as if students matter. Second, we must ask students to be thoughtful rather than declarative by teaching them to stop and think first and then write about their ideas. To illustrate this, he asked the audience at his presentation to read a page and a half of text written by George Steiner about how to read text. First he asked each member of the audience to identify what s/he thought was the most meaningful sentence to him or her and underline it. He then asked several members of the audience to

Summary of 2012 Sun Conference Keynote presentations for faculty

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Dr. Jose Bowen Dr. Jose Bowen, in his dynamic keynote presentation, argued that residential education (going to school on an actual campus) is under threat from numerous forces ranging from private online educational institutions, state budget cuts, and the cost conscious consumer. He argued that if residential higher education institutions want to justify their higher costs, they need to ensure that the education students receive in its brick and mortar facilities is worth their money. Students still seem to prefer coming to a campus for the rich experiences and to take classes from professors in person, but that does not mean that they will continue to do so if the residential institutions don’t deliver a high quality product. According to Dr. Bowen, the true benefit residential campuses offer is the person-to-person interactions between faculty members, the experts in their disciplines, and the students. To keep these interactions of the highest possible value, every minute in class needs to be carefully planned and fully exploited through teaching strategies that are difficult if not impossible to deliver online.

Good practices for multiple-choice exams

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To the learning objective purists, multiple-choice exams amount to heresy. To the rest of us, however, they can serve a very useful purpose, if they are done correctly.  In a recent CETaL Fellows’ meeting, I brought up the issue of using multiple choice exams and providing appropriate feedback to students. Is a raw score on an exam appropriate feedback for our students? Whether you agree or disagree with this type of feedback the issue remains that the majority of instructors choose to simply provide a number as the only feedback to their students. This blog entry is a summary of our discussion and some of my own thoughts about this particular issue.