Adapting Team-Based Learning to the Interpersonal Communication Class

By Thomas, Theda | International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Adapting Team-Based Learning to the Interpersonal Communication Class


Thomas, Theda, International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning


Abstract: This paper proposes that team-based learning (TBL) methods can be adapted to achieve the learning outcomes of an interpersonal communication class. When studying interpersonal communication it is important for students to be able to apply the theory they learn through interaction in groups. TBL principles support students learning theoretical concepts prior to coming to class in order to free up time for group interaction. The method therefore seems particularly suited to the study of interpersonal communication. This paper shows how team-based learning was adapted to suit the interpersonal communication discipline allowing students to apply theory while developing their understanding of their role in the communication situations through reflection. An evaluation was undertaken by analysing students' perceptions of their engagement and their experience of the subject. Student feedback, reflections and a questionnaire were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the methods. Ideas for further research are presented.

Keywords: interpersonal communication, team-based learning

Effective interpersonal communication includes the ability of people to listen to others, put themselves in the other person's shoes and solve problems in a collaborative way. Effective interpersonal communication can help in a person's personal, social and professional life (DeVito, 2009). This paper focuses on a specific subject dedicated to the study of interpersonal communication. This subject area is relatively new, only starting in the 1960s (Graham & Shue, 2001) but it has grown quickly. Graham and Mazer (2011) maintain that skills-development exercises have been central to undergraduate interpersonal communication courses over the past decade and that research has shown the importance of exposing students to activities that allow them to apply theory. Workshop-type activities are often used to help students apply their learning in a safe environment (McInnis, 2003).

Team-based learning (TBL) is a specialised form of group learning developed by Michaelsen, Knight and Fink in 2002 (Sisk, 2011). The method promotes the active learning of students in small groups within the classroom with students held accountable for pre-learning parts of the materials prior to coming to class (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008). Group activities in class facilitate collaboration both within and between groups. The author of this paper was the lecturer of the subject COMM213 interpersonal communication on the Melbourne campus of the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in 2010. She felt that teaching this subject using TBL methods would provide time for students to work collaboratively in groups and teams in the classroom. Although there are many applications of TBL in business (Hernandez, 2002), health (Clark, Nguyen, Bray, & Levine, 2008; Haidet & Fecile, 2006) and the sciences (Carmichael, 2009) the author could not find anything about its use in an interpersonal communication class despite an extensive search of electronic journal databases.

This paper proposes a way in which TBL can be adapted to facilitate achieving the learning outcomes of an interpersonal communication subject and argues that the method is effective in engaging students and helping them to learn.

TEAM-BASED LEARNING

As more and more content is available to students on the internet, the need for a lecturer to stand in front of a class and deliver content is being questioned (Persky & Pollack, 2011). TBL focuses on students undertaking self-directed learning activities that prepare them to undertake structured team projects in the classroom. Teams learn to apply concepts rather than only learning about them in the abstract (Lane, 2008).

TBL has been compared with problem-based learning but the difference is that TBL is based on applying four essential principles (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008; Sisk, 2011): (1) groups must be properly formed and managed; (2) students must be made accountable for the quality of their individual and group work; (3) group assignments must promote both learning and team development; and (4) students must be given frequent and timely feedback.

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