In the software industry, the term Rapid Application Development is used to refer to a process that uses minimal planning in favour of rapid prototyping. This allows solutions to be more realistic and perhaps even more effective in problem solving than planning for it too far beforehand. In Team-Based Learning and teaching, the same model can be applied by educators, so that they can stimulate real scenarios and prepare their students for the future.
One of the hardest parts of Team-Based Learning is preparing the materials for the application exercise. What this means is preparing the questions – both for the readiness assurance tests, readiness assurance process, and the application exercises. Oftentimes, what people find is that it’s easy to come up with the questions and answers, but hard to come up with the distractors. In layman’s terms, the distractors are the other answer choices other than the correct choice. There’s lots of research and guidelines on how to do multiple choice questions and application exercises, but generally people find it easy to come up with the right answer, and harder for content experts and professionals who know the material very well, to come up with plausible incorrect answers.
Here are 3 tips to ease the process of coming up with effective application exercises:
Multiple Choice Questions: Allow free responses in the first few cycles of running the question
This allows students to respond freely, and also allows you to gauge the range of answers to expect. You can then use the wrong answers as distractors for future cycles of using this particular question in a course. It’s an accurate way for you to know what your students will think are plausible answers. The only downside is, it could be cumbersome because you have to run a course multiple times in order to take advantage of it.
This strategy was recommended to me by Dr Bob Kamei, one of our academic co-founders and now Associate Provost of Education for the NUS Institute of the Application of Learning Science and Education Technology.
Application Exercises: Use real-life examples
In some fields, like Medicine, they have very detailed application exercises, with cases using patient data and lots of complexity. Even in the field where I teach, business schools publish these finely-written cases that are 20–30 pages long and come with tables after tables of data and information fully developed. What I realised when I started teaching with TBL in the business industry, was that I didn’t have time to prepare a case for the next class.
Then one day, I saw something in the popular press, about Singapore’s Changi Airport launching a 30 million dollar tourism campaign – and I thought to myself: That would be an interesting case to have my students try to work out. If they spend 30 million on a tourist marketing campaign, how much do they need in uptick in passenger volume at the airport to break even on that investment?
Instead of preparing a list of assumptions and preparing a real case around it, when I presented the application case in class, I broke it into two phases. The question I wanted my students to answer was “How much passenger volume needs to increase for Changi Airport to break even?”
Phase I: Data gathering
Take 10 minutes to think about how you’re going to solve this problem. Think about what data or information you need to solve this problem. After 10 minutes, we’ll have a Q&A exercise when all the teams can ask me questions about what data, information, and assumptions they need to know to answer the question. Given my familiarity and experience in this field, I could answer them pretty confidently and instantaneously.
Phase II: Apply assumptions and come up with estimates
After the Q&A, students can work through a proposed solution with more information work together to derive estimates.
What I like about this approach is that I can come up with an application case without too much effort. And without thinking about it too much, I’m preparing my students for the real world, where oftentimes, processes like thinking through the problem, structuring the problem, and figuring out what data you need for the problem, is almost as important as having the data and using it to solve the problem.
Doing it this way stimulates real-world scenarios where not all the information and assumptions are laid out nicely in a 30-page case study with all the tables and data, the way business schools prepare their students.
Don’t feel pressured to prepare all the data at once
You can use a two-part case: First with a data-gathering and problem structuring phase and the second half can be used to apply the data to solve the problem. Working through ways to gather data and knowing that the data isn’t always going to be there can be a valuable prime for what your students can expect in the future.