TBL for DLs

I’m teaching my Digital Libraries course this semester. I’ve taught this course at least once a year for the past 8 years. But this time around I’m doing something different: I’m deliberately trying to use methods from team-based learning.

Now, my DLs course has always had something of a TBL spin to it. The major assignment for the course is for the students to build a prototype digital library. I have the students break up into several working groups. The size and scope of work of those groups has changed over the years, as the course & the state of DLs has evolved. But the point is: there has always been a project, there have always been working groups, and those groups have always been stable across the span of the semester.

Here’s what I’m doing differently this semester. In the past, these working groups have been task-focused: there would be a group in charge of digitization, a group in charge of metadata, a group in charge of information architecture, etc. This semester, instead of different groups working on different tasks, all groups will work on all parts of the project.

A few days before the start of the semester, I had the students fill out a short questionnaire, asking about their level of technical expertise and about whether they’d taken some specific courses. In the past, I’ve let students select their own working groups: students who wanted hands-on experience with equipment could self-select into the digitization group, etc. This time around I created the groups myself, trying to spread depth of experience around as evenly as I could.

As an aside, I want to say that I felt a bit awkward about imposing groups on students. Before the start of the semester, when I created the groups, I didn’t know which students knew each other already, who was friends, who couldn’t stand each other, etc. I assuaged my guilt by reminding myself that, if this all went according to plan, more students would get more experience with more tasks than in the past, so it was for their own good. But as it turned out, it was really a non-issue: a few students had had courses together, but mostly they were strangers to each other. So that worked out fine.

Now here we are a few weeks into the semester, and students are just now getting trained on the digitization equipment. We’re working with the university library’s Photo Archivist: he’s selecting the content to digitize & the students are doing the digitization. He’s very generously going to be training some students — but, in order to keep his time commitment under control, only some students. Each working group has selected one person to take the lead on digitization, forming a sort of ad hoc working group. (Shades of past semesters.) Our Photo Archivist will train those students, & those students will train their group-mates. So here’s my first break from a strict TBL approach: while the working groups are stable throughout the semester, there is this one ad hoc working group, and looking ahead I think there will be others.

At this point I only have one other observation to make about TBL: It requires a large room. I have 23 students, & we meet in a room that supposedly can seat 35. (I debate that number, but it’s more than 23 anyway.) The room has those high school-style chairs with a half-desk on one arm. When the students are just sitting there, the room is plenty big enough. But when I have them get into groups & they move the chairs around, suddenly I have to edge around and squeeze myself between them. So a class of 23 really needs a classroom big enough to seat 40 or so.

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