This blog post is authored by Caroline Wilson (with Ethan Vieira, Zoom videographer), faculty in the Health Sciences department of Crean College. Caroline also serves as an IETL Ambassador.

In this post, I want to talk about how I worked through the process of learning to teach an online synchronous course within Canvas using Team-Based Learning (TBL) approaches. I chose the synchronous approach to teaching my courses for two reasons: 1) We had already worked on TBL sessions in-class so I knew the students worked well together and knew the basics of this active-learning, flipped classroom approach; 2) The students were surveyed and a majority voted to retain “live” lecture sessions. Why did I choose Canvas? I actually enrolled in the Canvas Complete Course Redesign (CCR) in Dec-Jan, and adopted Canvas in all of my courses this semester (I highly recommend participating in the next CCCR this summer!). Canvas has some advantages that have helped me shift to online teaching, including making it easy to give assignments and quizzes, and the ability to create teams with shared assignments and different due dates. I have been pleased with its capabilities, and have learned a lot in the last few months about its various “bells & whistles”. I use quiz features, discussions, student teams, assignments, and so many of the other features.The students have found the transition pretty seamless; I have only had a few issues with students not being able to see images on quizzes when using older versions of the Safari browser.

The next dilemma many of us faced was what video conferencing tool to use? At the beginning of the online course transition, it was not mandated how we would meet with our students. We had three different video conferencing tools available to us: Canvas Big Blue Button, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. I had used Zoom for years to design curriculum with colleagues and was most familiar with it, but I tried the Big Blue Button to try and integrate more Canvas tools. The students reported problems with the audio and a few were even dropped from the conference. I conducted a survey during spring break to see how we should proceed. Students were using Zoom in other classes, so they voted for this choice. I have not tried Teams. Allowing students a voice in this process has been a key to success.

While I encourage you to learn more about the TBL approach to teaching, full adoption of this formal pedagogy is probably too difficult to tackle in this stressful time. When I learned TBL, I learned that it was okay to take parts of the formal pedagogical structure and try them out before adopting full TBL. So I wanted to share the system with you so you could borrow pieces of it for your courses. I also wanted to discuss how I was adopting parts of the TBL strategy in my current class. If you want to learn more about the approaches to online TBL, experts can provide more information.

The key TBL components I think you may consider adopting as we move forward with online teaching include:

  1. Preparation: Students are struggling and need clear, careful prework to be successful. This includes short videos (e.g. recorded mini-lectures, less than 20min in length), shortened readings, or reading guides for longer, more complicated assignments.
  2. Assessments: Preparation materials will lead to successful assessments. TBL uses “readiness assurance” which includes two multiple choice question (MCQ)-based quizzes. You can adapt your normal exams by allowing the students to take the first quiz as an individual, and the second quiz as a team. The score on the assessment would be some combined percentage of the two quizzes (my students selected 25% individual and 75% team at the beginning of the semester).
  3. Applications: Consider either synchronous in-class discussions or out of class activities to focus on “big picture” questions that the students will find meaningful and not just busy work. What particular skills or objectives are most important? Does your discipline have case studies or projects that are common in the workplace? Can you adopt software (examples from the Teaching Town Hall: Adobe Spark, Google Jamboard, Music writing software) that helps the students?
  4. Peer evaluation: Students need to learn to work together in this online environment and this itself is a valuable skill. So is giving feedback to their peers.  Make a low-stakes assignment where peers review each other’s work on a project. Allow some flexibility due to the stresses students may be experiencing right now. I recommend students read this article before giving qualitative feedback, especially if they will read each other’s comments.

What are the logistics for making this happen? Below I outline my approach, but it is by no means the only way to achieve online TBL. You can also watch a Panapto recording with screenshots from my class that my student assistant, Ethan Vieira, helped to create.

  1. Preparation: Students are given a link to a Google document reading guide with careful objectives. A mini-lecture is created using Panapto and added to a Canvas page. Students are also given a choice for a live lecture some weeks to allow for variety and schedule overload.
  2. Quizzes: Canvas quizzes are easily set up with multiple-choice (MCQ), fill-in-the-blank, and many other types of questions. I set up one MCQ 10 question quiz for the individual (worth 25% of the day’s total of 20points = 6 points) and make a copy to create the team quiz (75% or 14 points). The students come to class that day on the main page of Zoom; they “sign-off” to take the quiz on their own (15min). Then we meet back on the Zoom main page for a brief check-in, and the teams then go into their Breakout rooms to retake the quiz as a team. I listen in (“join room”) to see if there are particular questions they struggle with or particular concepts that may need to be addressed after the quiz.  I have only 3 teams, so I can easily switch between them, but this may be more difficult with large numbers of teams. At the end of the team quiz, one team member enters the answers and submits the answers (I enter the scores manually for the other students later). This does not allow the team to have a second guess at the correct answer, but the instructor can listen in and give partial credit.  In-person TBL utilizes the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique using scratch-off cards, but there is no built-in method on how to do this in Canvas. Proprietary software can be purchased that includes this feature, but I didn’t deem it necessary for this small class.
  3. Applications: Teams are assigned various big-picture goals and discuss them within the breakout rooms on Zoom. Examples: 1) Online microscopes to find a particular cell type in the brain; 2) A “scavenger hunt” to find videos that show a particular neurological symptom; 3) A case study about a patient is presented and then students come up with an answer to a question related to their learning objectives. Sometimes the questions are open-ended, but in formal TBL fashion, they should have specific answers (A, B, C, D) so the students can answer a specific question simultaneously when they get back to the main room for inter-team discussion.  Students can type in “A”, “B”, etc. to the chat when the professor asks to reveal the answers. Facilitation of discussion follows, with the reveal of the correct answer (if there is one). Students may be called out by name to answer, or you can ask for volunteers from each team to speak. The team leader can be switched each time to prevent one team member from always speaking.
  4. Peer evaluation: During some class periods, we switch from TBL to student presentations. Students work together on case presentations they lead through Zoom following the model used during TBL weeks. Peer evaluation is an important goal in TBL:  which team members are the leaders, who contributed and how much?  Teammates is a free peer evaluation software that can be set up with qualitative (e.g. “What is one thing this team member does well) and quantitative (e.g. Score this team member’s contribution to the materials from 1-10) questions. This becomes part of the case presentation score (10%).

Online teaching has been an interesting experiment, and I think (hope?) the students in this course are enjoying it. It is A LOT of work to set up a course in this way but it makes for very fun in-class sessions that are not just lecture-based. If full TBL seems daunting, adopt parts of it, especially during this stressful time. Getting feedback from the students on what works well and what doesn’t is important, and continue to ask as the semester unfolds. This experience has not always been enjoyable, but like snails, we can get back up when we fall. Good luck!