Imperial College London

Pietro Spanu is a keen and innovative teacher and Professor of Molecular Plant Pathology at Imperial, Moira Sarsfield is Senior Faculty Learning Technologist and Kate Ippolito is Senior Teaching Fellow in Educational Development. Together they work to translate educational strategy and theory into practical applications.   

Each team member brings passion for their own specialism and they use their complementary skills to analyse issues from different perspectives, including extensive student input. They believe in creating learning experiences that support the active participation of all students, even in large group settings, and team-based learning (TBL) is an example of this.

Impact of work

Pietro thinks that collaborative, peer-supported learning is particularly helpful for acquiring difficult skills. After attending Kate’s experiential Introduction to Team-Based Learning (TBL) workshop, he decided that TBL could provide a suitable method for teaching a challenging aspect of his Applied Molecular Biology course: the interpretation of complex primary literature. However, he was concerned about the logistics of delivering TBL to 140 students, so asked Moira if technology could assist in the process. She put together a technological architecture within the VLE that enabled smooth delivery of the TBL session in the classroom. This template also supported future deployment and has since been used successfully on a number of other courses.

Plans for the future

Despite strong evidence of the benefits of TBL, a number of factors can act as barriers to its adoption. The team’s project objectives build on their success in addressing these issues at Imperial and aim to extend their practice nationally and internationally. They plan to deliver:

  • An open-educational resource to help overcome the discomfort students often feel about peer evaluation and feedback, which is important in TBL
  • An online toolkit to guide teachers in how to design and deliver TBL, which requires comprehensive staff training
  • A repository of sample TBL session materials and case studies showing successful use of TBL in different subject areas, to help teachers understand how TBL can be used in their context
  • New open-source software to provide the functionality required to run a TBL session using technology, independent of a particular VLE, to simplify the administrative aspects of delivering TBL for large classes
Institution or Organisation: 
Imperial College London
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