Sept. 5, 2017

Nursing prof sees team-based learning as future of health sciences education

Linda Duffett-Leger uses emerging classroom model to enhance student experience

When students work together to solve problems, real engagement happens. While instructing a two-part nursing course called Families in Transition in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, assistant professor Linda Duffett-Leger discovered that a team-based learning approach presented exciting possibilities.

Team-based learning is not simply another term for learning designed around group work, but is rather a classroom strategy organized around its own set of principles. In short, team-based learning is a peer-teaching technique used in large classrooms. The instructor oversees and facilitates periodic team-based learning sessions, in which the students are organized into small groups. Within those groups, students collaborate to apply course content to specific problems. This model requires students to come prepared for class sessions, which encourages their peers to hold them accountable; it also allows content to be used throughout sessions rather than being communicated solely in a conventional lecture format.

Duffett-Leger says, “Given the complexities of the health-care system, nurses and other medical providers require critical thinking skills and the ability to work effectively within the health-care team.” She argues for the merits of team-based learning, which she says “is rapidly gaining popularity in the health sciences” to develop these kinds of skills.

Learning through experience helps students develop skills

Duffett-Leger found that the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning offered an ideal environment for this classroom approach.

“The TI Forum allowed students to work together in small groups, facilitated by state-of-the-art technology, allowing us to provide nursing students meaningful opportunities to develop their critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills through activities like streaming unfolding case scenarios into the classroom,” she says.

Duffet-Leger’s unique experience with teaching team-based courses in the Taylor Institute has supported her initiative as a Taylor Institute Teaching Scholar. Her initiative focuses on implementing a team-based learning strategy in the Faculty of Nursing program, with emphasis on an innovative technological approach. The University of Calgary Teaching Scholars program helps instructors develop initiatives with the potential for impact across campus. The end goal of these initiatives is to help other instructors improve their own teaching practices, and to advance possibilities for student learning.

On her own initiative, Duffett-Leger notes, “I have used this teaching opportunity to test and develop technologies that would allow our students to collaborate in virtual settings within the classroom.”

Linda Duffett-Leger's approach to team-based learning helps students develop critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills.

Duffett-Leger's approach helps students develop critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills.

Technology use in team-based learning

What are her initiative’s end goals? “I have developed a technology in collaboration with nursing students that will provide them real-time feedback on their performance,” she says, “and hope to launch this new technology at the Taylor Institute during winter 2018.”

She describes her technology as a software developed in collaboration with nursing students, which will support classroom implementation of a team-based learning approach. The software will allow students to complete readiness assurance assessments online, both individually and in teams, and provide them with real-time feedback on their performances.

“I am currently working on the addition of a peer evaluation tool and integration with Desire 2 Learn,” she adds.

Future of teaching includes technology and IT support

Advanced technological capabilities are as important to Duffett-Leger’s work as team-based learning itself. “Critical to my teaching at TI and implementing these contemporary teaching strategies in conventional spaces, is adequate technology and effective IT support, both of which the TI offers,” she says.

For Linda Duffett-Leger, the classroom is most powerful when it calls students to be present — actively engaged, collaborating, and experiencing rather than simply listening. She believes such engagement becomes maximized by the combination of her team-based learning approach and the Taylor Institute’s learning spaces.

“The teaching spaces at the Taylor Institute have allowed my nursing students to work collaboratively in teams to develop important clinical reasoning skills,” she says. “For example, using unfolding case scenario in-class activities, videotaped in our simulation lab, I encourage my students to make practice decisions using clinical scenarios in an engaging format.”

Duffett-Leger sees the potential to hone real critical thinking in such immediate and involved learning spaces. The best way to allow for this kind of immediacy is to embrace the future.