Faculty Development & Learning Assessment

Team Based Learning - Contributed by Joy Adams


Reading quiz. The very term makes me cringe and often inspires the same response in my students. On the one hand, we as instructors want to encourage students to be responsible for their own learning. Reading quizzes promote student accountability and provide us with feedback on student learning that helps us to better meet their needs and fulfill our course objectives. On the other hand, “quizzing” has become synonymous with rote memorization and regurgitation, often performed in isolation. As such, the typical reading quiz does little to challenge students’ higher-order thinking skills or provide them with the sorts of experiences they can expect to find in the professional world or in advanced studies.

Professor Larry Michaelsen has developed a technique known as “Team-Based Learning” (TBL), which advocates and details a three-fold “paradigm shift” to transform the traditional classroom learning and teaching experience:

1) Primary learning objectives shift from knowing concepts to using concepts for problem solving
2) The instructor’s role shifts from expert (“sage on the stage”) to facilitator (“guide on the side”)
3) Students shift from passive learners with limited responsibility for their learning to active learners with an increased responsibility for their learning. (http://www.teambased.org)

Michaelsen’s approach to TBL entails a holistic transformation of course design. Each instructional unit is organized as follows:

1) Students conduct preparatory activities (such as completing assigned readings and small-stakes homework exercises) outside of class independently.

2) The Readiness Assurance Process (RAP) is employed to ensure personal accountability and comprehension of course information prior to proceeding. A RAP takes approximately one class period and consists of three steps:

a) Students first complete the quiz independently, retaining a copy of their responses.

b) Students then immediately re-quiz in permanent, heterogeneous peer groups of five to seven students. Each team works together to achieve consensus on the correct answers, encouraging discussion and debate. Group quizzes are administered on scratch-off “lottery ticket” type quiz forms (available at the CELT office) to provide immediate feedback regarding the correct answer.

c) The group can submit an “appeal” for any missed responses, on the basis of either ambiguity in the test question or ambiguity in the reading. The instructor may grant/deny an appeal based on the quality and completeness of the arguments and supporting documentation submitted.

3) Students then demonstrate mastery of the course material by completing an in-class application exercise with their team over the course of one or more class periods.

The cycle is repeated for each instructional unit of the course. The instructor may occasionally deliver “mini-lectures” for clarification, but the large majority of the coursework is completed in peer groups.

Michaelsen (2004) explains that he has completely replaced traditional lectures and exams with TBL. His research reveals the following benefits of the approach:

- “Small groups” are transformed into learning “teams.” Students are individually accountable, in addition to being accountable to their peer groups. – A stand-alone “teaching technique” becomes an “instructional strategy.” – The quality of student learning and engagement is enhanced. – The instructor’s enjoyment of teaching is often transformed or restored.

So, how realistic is such a paradigm shift, given the structural constraints of our physical classroom spaces, tighter budgets, and larger classes, among others? While I have not yet adopted the TBL approach wholesale, I have successfully experimented with a partial implementation that has been met with great enthusiasm by students and enhanced my experience as an instructor.

In GEOG 304 (Migrations and Mosaics), I implemented the RAP, but stopped short of adopting the team-based application exercises. Even this modified approach conferred the advantages of TBL cited above. Students actually looked forward to quiz days (as did I) – they enjoyed discussing the material with their peers, learning from one another’s interpretations of the reading, and having a less “structured” classroom experience. I sat with different teams throughout the quiz to observe their group dynamics and listen to their discussions, which yielded a great deal of insight into what the students were (or were not) learning from the readings.

The “scratch-off” forms made the quizzes more interactive and — dare I say? — fun. Getting the correct answer not only meant “points,” but felt like “winning.” I observed a lot of “team spirit” within, and playful rivalries between, the teams of students. The immediate feedback lent instant credibility to less assertive students who had been “outvoted” by their team mates, empowering more reticent participants. And about 95% of the time, the team score surpassed any single individual’s score, demonstrating the power of collaborative thinking and problem-solving and ensuring student buy-in.

Through informal small-stakes writing assignments, I asked my students to comment on their perceptions of TBL, both at mid-semester and at the end of the semester. They were unanimous in their support for my continued use of the technique, and all agreed that it enhanced their learning and engagement with the course. The only critiques centered on the staging of the quizzes. While Michaelsen boasts of successfully using the technique in 200-person, fixed-seat lecture halls, my students felt our 50-seat classroom (fixed seats) was difficult to navigate and very loud during our quiz periods. However, if these are their only complaints about reading quizzes using TBL, then I’m more than satisfied with the outcome.

Contributed by: Joy Adams, Assistant Professor of Geography

Tip References

Tip references*:
Michaelsen, L., A. Knight, and L. D. Fink, eds.. 2004. Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. *Note: The online resources cover most of the key information and are suitable and sufficient for beginners. The book includes specific case studies and it is probably most useful to advanced practitioners.