Team-Based Learning in Art History: Pros and Cons

In the past year, I’ve become passionate about team-based learning, or TBL. TBL was an attractive pedagogical approach that seemed to go beyond simply flipping the classroom. My home institution decided more than a year ago to offer intensive training in TBL for faculty interested in new teaching methods. While I was writing my book manuscript, I decided I would learn about TBL as a welcome distraction. When I started to learn about TBL in Spring 2013, I remained skeptical that it would work well in my classes and that it would actually work. As the intensive workshops continued throughout Fall 2014, I began to feel less suspicious of TBL. It no longer seemed like trussed-up group work, but instead a potentially wonderful way to “spice up” the classroom and spark engaged conversation among students. I was only obligated to implement TBL in one of my classes in Spring 2014, but I opted to implement it in two different courses: Mesoamerican Art (25 undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom are art and art history majors) and Introduction to Art: Its History and Meaning (50 freshmen). I could write a book about my experiences during this one semester, so I’ll focus this post on a general list of the major pros and cons of using TBL in Art History courses.

12 Pros

  • Students came prepared to class. They actually did the readings!
  • Students had questions about the readings and the material for each unit (course module).
  • Students discussed the readings and course materials with one another, often turning to specific passages to support their ideas.
  • Students applied what they learned in the readings and my mini-lectures to specific situations and case studies. In other words, they worked as real art historians rather than simply memorizing what art historians have done.
  • Students “argued” with me and the readings. Because they read more deeply about materials, they could critique arguments or poke holes in them more readily.
  • Students had more fun, which translated to being more engaged with the class. For me, fun = energized folks who are smiling, thinking, and discussing materials in a jovial fashion.
  • Students took responsibility for their learning.
  • Grading was easier. OK, that’s not entirely true, but I did notice that I graded faster and more efficiently.
  • Students made connections to other courses and real-world situations.
  • Students learned to work collaboratively.
  • Students experienced discomfort evaluating one another, but most were able to learn how to give constructive feedback.
  • I felt energized hearing students in class.

6 Cons

  • Grading–the actual nuts and bolts of crunching numbers–is more complex. There is greater room for error. And there are ittle “things” to enter into a spreadsheet almost every class.
  • Transparency in grading–it gets a lot harder for students to figure out how they are doing in class. I find that using the TBL folders advocated by many folks helped, but I opted to use Blackboard’s Grade Center so students could track their grades more readily. It still confused them. There are lots of percentages in the TBL grade breakdown that is overwhelming to some (myself included!).
  • Students do experience discomfort around the peer evaluations, especially when they realize they factor into their grade. Some students might react emotionally to the situation. I found that most students worked through any unease they might have with the new experience, but 1-2 students out of the 75 I taught had reactions that I can only describe as upset.
  • It requires a lot of work to use TBL in a class for the first time.
  • There is a lot of new lingo to learn, and there are a lot of props.
  • Learning to write solid multiple-choice questions.

I could expand on each item I’ve listed here, and I imagine I will in future blog posts. I’ll finish this post hoping it inspires folks to experiment with TBL in their Art History classes.

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