Backward Design Steps for a TBL Module
Backward Design Steps for a TBL Module (in more detail) Heading link
Using Backward Design is essential to developing a good TBL module. First, we need to consider “what I want the students to be able to do” by the end of the module, then “how will I know they can do it”, then “what opportunities do I need to provide to help them learn and succeed.” Fink’s (2003) work reminds us that we must ensure that these three aspects of course design – Learning Goals, Feedback and Assessment, Teaching and Learning Activities – are well integrated and mutually reinforcing. We need to develop teaching and learning activities that give students the learning opportunities they need to prepare them to show us all they have learned. Here is a quick overview:
- Develop aims and learning outcomes.
- Consider situational factors
- Develop your instructional aims
- Develop student learning outcomes
- Design 4S application tasks / activities.
- Develop readiness assurance test (RAT).
- Create / select advanced preparation materials
- Write RAT questions
Develop Aims and Learning Outcomes
First, you need to develop your instructional aims. Aims are your general instructional intentions for the module. Aims are always written from the point of view of the instructor, the things you hope to achieve as an instructor.
Next, you develop Learning Outcomes. Learning Outcomes focus directly on the students and get more detailed on exactly what the students will be able to do by module end. Learning Outcomes often contain references to the knowledge, skills, and judgment abilities you want your students to develop. These Learning Outcome statements are often the precursors to ideas for 4S Application tasks. When we start thinking about the 4S Application tasks, we want to try to write Learning Outcomes that focus on more concrete actions rather than abstract understanding. We are looking for concrete actions just like a discipline expert takes. Good Learning Outcomes express how experts in your field or discipline would use the course content to solve disciplinary problems. The more concrete you can make the learning outcomes the easier it will be to develop 4S Application tasks from them.
Note: learning objectives for all sessions, including TBLs have been created already and are located in the MedEd Database (aka BenWare).
Note below how concrete, active Learning Outcomes use verbs that are already the seeds for 4S Application task development!
Design 4S application activities/team tasks
During a 4S Application task, students get to concretely apply what they have abstractly learned from the preparatory work. Because of the abstract nature of understanding, it is not “teachable” in the conventional sense. An understanding can be gained only through guided inference whereby the learner is helped to make, recognize, or verify a conclusion. (Wiggins and McTighe, 2013).
You want students connecting abstract concepts from the preparatory work with concrete experience during the 4S team Application tasks.
Making connections during 4S team tasks is important to consolidate student learning. Helping students see gaps in their knowledge motivates the students’ look up what they don’t know and then immediately put that knowledge into action tests and deepens their understanding.
You need to present a scenario that creates the context in which what students “know” abstractly (via their preparatory work) is put to the test when they try to “use” it in concrete, specific case. Your job is to find or, if necessary, fabricate these scenarios.
4S Extended Example
The Hunger Strike is a TBL that has been delivered at UICOM in Block 1 and in the legacy curriculum. Here is how the application phase starts:
Dan, John, and Ted are members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). An animal testing laboratory has decided to build in their locality and have requested a zoning variance from the community Zoning Board.
Dan, John and Ted are against animal research and are hoping to promote a negative decision by the board. They have decided to bring attention to their cause with a hunger strike. Dan and Ted vow not to eat anything, but only to take water with electrolyte supplements, while John will drink only fruit juice and water.
The men are in their middle twenties and have no health problems. Before beginning their hunger strike, they are checked by Dr. Doolittle a physician who is also a member of PETA. He takes blood samples and has them analyzed.
Note: students are also shown a blood workup.
The details of the case are rich, so it quickly becomes clear to students that this case is complicated. We seek questions that make students want to actively pursue an inquiry, and willingly learn content along the way in service of inquiry (Wiggins and McTighe, 2013).
Example 4S prompts (note the use of superlatives or implied superlatives to force a specific choice)
Q: The blood was drawn from the men in the fed state. Which one of the statements below provides the BEST support for their being in the fed state?
Q: What are the primary fuels being consumed, respectively, by Dan and John when blood was drawn after 6 weeks?
Q: What best accounts for the significant differences in blood metabolites between Dan and John?
Next, you need to create problem scenarios/situations where students’ factual knowledge (from RAT process) is useful, but may be insufficient to solve the problem definitively.
Next, when creating these scenarios, you want to clarify exactly what do you want students to be doing.
- Evaluate/judge something (object, product, creation, situation)?
- Analyze or diagnose a situation?
- Interpret something (text, artifact, data set)?
- Solve a particular type of messy problem?
Next, identify the concrete information/data sets the students will work with:
- Texts (such as cases, descriptions, excerpts from a textbook, writing samples, etc.)
- Images (visualisations, diagrams, videos, etc.)
- Data (spreadsheets, graphs, charts, etc.)
- Objects (products, specimens, etc.)
Next∫ you need to pick the format of students’ action:
- Will they compare?
- Will they sort?
- Will they rank?
- Will they score?
- Will they choose the best course of action?
- Will they distill and represent in a written format?
Next, determine how to make student thinking/decisions visible so it can be represented in a simultaneous report. Can their answer be represented with?
- Color Voting Cards
- Single Number
- Single Letter
- Single word or phrase
Sometimes this means converting a complex response into a simple response. For example, after a ranking task, ask students to report their #1 choice, rather than their entire ranking scheme. If you’ve asked students to compile a list, ask them to choose the MOST critical item on their list and report it. Every task needs to lead to a moment of sharp differentiation: “I choose this over that.” Getting the students to this moment sets up “WHY?” as the teacher’s entry point for interactions leading to student analysis, reflection, and critical thinking. The simultaneous report naturally lets teams compare their decisions and decision-making process to other teams.
Finally, it is good to develop a facilitation plan for debriefing the 4S Application task, to ensure students learn the most they can from the task. Debriefs always begins by asking ALL teams to simultaneously report their answers/decisions. A good plan provides you with a way to organize the discussion that follows, and direct students into a dialogue with each other.
Instructor: “OK, I see three groups said “B” and two groups said “C.” Let’s start with those of you who said “C.” Please explain to the other students why you chose this answer?
Later: OK, teams who said B, how would you respond to them?
Later still: Nobody chose A. Why did you discount that possibility?
Note: At UICOM, we use the MedEd Database (aka BenWare) for TBL delivery.
Develop Readiness Assurance Test (RAT)
Once you understand what the culminating student performance will be, you turn your attention to preparing student for first engagement with the progression of TBL activities that leads to that culminating 4S performance.
First, identify what specific knowledge students will need to effectively engage with the 4S activities. This is not everything they need to solve every activity but what they require as an entry point to the problem-solving conversation. You do this by mapping back from the 4S application activity to important foundational knowledge that the students will need to be successful. When you are clear on the knowledge students need to know, you are then ready to select appropriate preparation materials.
Next, you need to select the appropriate preparation materials. There is an iterative loop with the following step as you refine the concepts to be tested, and then select and refine the preparation materials. We most often use readings, but videos or edited lecture recordings can work. Over the years we have discovered that less is more with readings. The amount of readings that students will tolerate depends on the context. We found that students were spending a short, fixed amount of time completing readings without regard for complexity and length of readings. Remember the Readiness Assurance Test is not trying to be comprehensive. It is just giving students an entry point to the problem-solving conversation.
One aside – when teachers are first introduced to the idea of the flipped classroom, they are often concerned on how to cram their 1-hour lectures into 10-12-minute videos. This is the wrong way to look at it. These short preparation materials are just to get students started. It is not all that students learn in a module, so 1 hour of lecture content is too much. Students will learn additional content during the 4S team tasks.
Next, develop a list of important concepts and ideas to test with your RAT questions. The RAT question coverage doesn’t need to be comprehensive, you are providing students the foundational knowledge and understanding they need to begin problem-solving.
Next, write your RAT multiple-choice questions at Bloom’s Remember, Understand, and light Application level of difficulty. This is not about testing all that students will learn in the module, but instead only what they need to begin effectively problem-solving (4S Application Activities). It is important to pitch the RAT at the right level to encourage students to engage deeply but not so difficult that they lose heart. Make sure you also follow NBME style when writing questions. If you are not sure how to do this, ask representatives in the Office of Assessment and Evaluation for advice.
Next, let a peer or colleague review your questions. It can be difficult to see flaws in our own questions when we have spent hours writing them. A fresh set of eyes can help us catch many errors. There is nothing more uncomfortable then dashing off a set of poorly written questions, rushing to class, and enduring the inevitable student backlash and discontent. Ideally, any peer review would happen well in advance of the TBL delivery date.
RAT and Application questions must be entered into the MedEd Database (aka BenWare). RAT questions must also be rated using the Angoff system. If you are not sure about this, contact representatives in the Office of Assessment and Evaluation for advice.
Finally, as TBLs are no longer delivered on paper at UICOM, we sometimes unofficially call them ‘eTBLs.’ Work with a coordinator at your campus or a representative from the Office of Assessment and Evaluation to learn how we use the MedEd Database (BenWare) to deliver the RAT and Application.
Some advice to make your RAT questions go further
First, ask a question about the relationship between two concepts. This can help you cover more topics, and this can help students make important connections between concepts.
Second, you can use a simple word twist to get discrimination into even lower level questions. The trick is to add “-tion” to the questioning verb. For example: what is the best definition? which is the best explanation? This can force students to discriminate between a series of explanation of varying quality
RAT Question Examples
How is the bulk of class time spent in a TBL course?
- Using course content to solve problems and make decisions
- Reviewing important course content
- Working on team writing assignments and reports
- Listening to lectures, interspersed with activities
What is the most important consideration when creating TBL teams?
- Large, diverse, and instructor created
- Small enough that everyone must pull his or her weight
- Grouped with similar abilities
- Selected by students to minimize initial student resistance
What is the most important purpose of the Readiness Assurance Process?
- Holds students individually accountable for coming to class prepared
- Creates a social learning environment where students can compare their understanding of course concepts
- Delays feedback so students are forced to review and reflect on the right answers for the tRAT
- Turns initial individual preparation into true readiness
What is the primary purpose of the Application Activities?
- They enable the instructor to get an idea of which teams are struggling with learning the course material
- To get a quick read on individual students’ preparation, and to identify students at risk
- To enable the teams to report decisions publicly, and defend their own decisions, and examine and critique other teams decisions
- To give the teams sufficient time to generate a lengthy written rationale for their decisions that can be easily graded by the instructor
RAT Questions - Possible Stems
RAT Questions - Possible Stems REMEMBERING (knowledge) Recalling, defining, recognizing, listing, describing, retrieving, naming What is...? How is...? Where is...? When did ... happen? How would you describe...? Can you select....? Why did....? UNDERSTANDING (comprehension) Explaining ideas or concepts, interpreting, summarizing, paraphrasing, classifying How would you classify...? What facts or ideas show....? Which statement supports...? How would you summarize...? What is the main idea of...? APPLYING (application) Using information in another situation, implementing, carrying out, executing What is the best first step? What is the most significant problem? What would be the worst thing to do? What is the most common mistake? Which test would you order next? What is the most common diagnosis? How would you use...? How would you solve? What is the most logical order? What would result if....? What facts would you select to show...?
Delivering a TBL Session
At the Chicago campus specifically, a ‘bingo’ card is used with numbers on it to reflect the number of teams attending the session. So as to not call on the same table repeatedly, this card is a way for facilitators to keep track of which tables they have called on, or which tables have responded voluntarily.