Team Based Learning

The following description is paraphrased from Larry Michaelsen’s Team-Based Learning website []:

Team-based learning is a technique that forms students into groups, then makes the groups become cohesive teams through work in the classroom that emphasizes both group and individual effort.  Developed by Larry Michaelsen when he was at the University of Oklahoma, team based learning formalizes many of the techniques of cooperative learning.

To undertake team-based learning students are:
1)  divided onto permanent teams of five to seven diverse individuals, 
2)  receive feedback on their understanding and performance through in-class quizzes and active learning activities,
3)  teams are assigned projects multiple times in the semester (at least four), and
4)  feedback on team performance is used to scale grades on all assignments done as a team.

Team-based learning can be adopted in almost any class, but has been used the most in large, introductory classes where content (facts and concepts) are more important than processes (see definitions of these terms on the page covering Bloom’s Taxonomy )
Forming Teams:
Larry Michaelsen recommends that teams of five to seven student be formed in the classroom based on information the students provide.  This requires the instructor to have some idea of what skills or “assets” (Michaelsen is a business professor) the teams will need.  This is done by lining up the students on the first day of class and “counting off” to make sure there is no ulterior motive for forming teams.

In-Class Quizzes and Active Learning:
Every time new material is introduced that the students will do a project on, a “Readiness Assessment Test” or RAT is given after students have had a chance to learn the fundamental concepts.  These are in-class, multiple choice exams that are first taken by each student individually, and once the quizzes are turned in the exact same quiz is taken by the team.  Special “scratch off” exam sheets are used so teams get immediate feedback on their answers.  Once the teams have finished the quiz, each team’s score is posted on the board.  Written appeals are permitted on these quizzes if students think a question was unfair.

Following the RAT the instructor uses active learning exercises in the classroom to give the students practice using the concepts in solving problems of increasing complexity.  The inherent structure of this approach—learn fundamental concepts then apply them—follows Bloom’s Taxonomy but is not always easy to apply to the complex topics found in upper division engineering courses.  More detail on the class activities can be found in the resources below.

Team Projects
Team projects are given for each content module of the course.  Projects need to be too complex for an individual to solve, but not so difficult that the work can be broken up into pieces done individually by team members then integrated at the end.  Judging the level of the project can be difficult.  One recommendation is to allot time each week for the students to work on the projects in class to make sure they get face-to-face time.

Feedback on Team Performance
Team-Based Learning uses quantitative team feedback in which all the grades assigned to team rather than individual work are scaled by the average rating of a student’s team members.  More details on doing this can be found on the Team Resources page.  ES21C supports a web-based peer evaluation instrument that makes obtaining and recording student feedback relatively straightforward.

Further Resources

Internet Resources

Books on Team-Based Learning

Articles on Team-Based Learning

Workshops in Team-Based Learning

Local Resources

  • Alan Cheville has used Team-Based Learning previously
  • Chuck Bunting, Karen High, Sohum Sohoni, Richard Bryant, and Stacee Harmon have all attended the case study workshop and have been introduced to TBL.

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