Step 2 - Application Exercises

A TBL course is made up of a sequence of TBL modules that each contain a Readiness Assurance Process (RAP) [Step 1], followed by a series of Application Activities (Application Exercises) that build in complexity throughout the module [Step 2], and a summative assessment (e.g. homework, an exam, or an essay). A TBL course generally includes 5-7 TBL modules, each covering a core concept or topic area in the course.

Implementing Application Exercises

Following the Readiness Assurance Process, each module includes a series of Application Exercises requiring teams to apply the disciplinary concepts and ideas of the module to challenging problems.

Getting Started. After beginning the class with an introduction of the day's Application Exercise(s), the instructor hands out the materials needed to complete the Application Exercise, including instructions.

The 4S Framework

Application Exercises are organized around the TBL 4S Framework, outlined below.

Significant Problem

The problem should address concepts or ideas that are important and meaningful in the course. A "significant problem" also requires the input from all members of the team, so the problem should be somewhat complex, with possibly ambiguous or contradictory (but plausible) specific choices. As Sibley and Ostafichuk (2014, p. 119) suggest, the problem should be "resistant to resolution or at least does not have an obvious solution."

Same Problem

Unlike some other group-based techniques, TBL requires each team in the class to work on the same problem. The reason for this is increase students' engagement in the class-wide discussion during the debriefing phase of the Application Exercise. If all teams have been working on the same problem, this will increase the quality of the critique of other teams' choices during the debriefing, since they have already developed their own arguments for the choice that their team made.

Specific Choice

Each Application Exercise includes a scenario and 4-5 specific choices related to that scenario. Teams are required to select one of the choices and be prepared to defend it using appropriate conceptual and/or technical analysis. Having teams make a single choice focuses attention on a limited number of options and allows for easy and quick comparisons among teams during the "simultaneous reporting" of team choices. All team members should be prepared to publicly support and justify the thinking process leading to the team's choice.

Simultaneous Report

At the time appointed by the instructor, each team reveals its specific choice for the Application Exercise simultaneously, often by raising a card printed with the letter indicating their choice of responses. Having teams make a single choice increases team accountability and engagement, as each team is forced to commit to a single answer, make its choice public, and stand ready to defend it using appropriate analysis.

Class Discussion and Debriefing

The first stage of learning occurs when team members are discussing the AE problem among themselves, jointly determining a specific answer choice and the analysis supporting that choice, and seeing other teams' choices during the report-out phase of the AE. Further learning occurs during the class discussion immediately following the simultaneous reporting of team choices. If the report-out reveals a variety of team choices, this is an opportunity for teams to challenge and learn from other teams' decision-making process and analysis. In the class-wide discussion process, students gain immediate feedback on their own thinking processes and learn from other students in the class.

As Sibley and Ostafichuk (2014, p. 127) note, "the teacher's role during the class discussion stage is to facilitate the discussion, while resisting the temptation to join in the discussion." Sibley provides extensive facilitation advice on the LearnTBL web site (Facilitation Advice section), including a very useful "reporting facilitation poster" that graphically summarizes a variety of discussion question types and their role in facilitating class discussion.

For many instructors, this is one of the most challenging aspects of TBL – how will I keep the discussion going? One useful tip is to develop a list of anticipated team responses and create several discussion questions before class that will encourage students to address those responses. Leading discussions "on the fly" takes both preparation and practice – over time you will learn what types of discussion questions work best with your students and particular AEs.

The AE examples in our Starting Point AE library include both teaching notes and class discussion facilitation questions to help you get started.

Completing a Module – Summative Assessment

At the end each module some type of individual summative assessment is given – for example, a homework assignment or an exam. This promotes additional accountability for student learning and team engagement, as each student knows she/he will ultimately be held responsible for learning both the concepts and application of those concepts.