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The Value of Team-Based Learning in Particularly Challenging Teaching Situations

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
474

Various teachers have found that team-based learning can be especially helpful in dealing with a number of situations that can be and often are particularly challenging for teachers. Four situations in which this is true are when teachers are faced with: larger classes, classes with a high level of student diversity, courses with extended meeting times, and courses that emphasize thinking skills.

Folks:

The posting below looks at four situations that pose particular challenges for team-based learning. It is from Chapter 1, Beyond Small Groups: Harnessing the Extraordinary Power of Learning Teams by L. Dee Fink in, Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups, edited by Larry K. Michaelsen, Arletta Bauman Knight, and L. Dee Fink. Copyright 2002 by Larry K. Michaelsen, Arletta Bauman Knight, and L. Dee Fink. Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881 An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. www.praeger.com. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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THE VALUE OF TEAM-BASED LEARNING IN PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING TEACHING SITUATIONS

 

Various teachers have found that team-based learning can be especially helpful in dealing with a number of situations that can be and often are particularly challenging for teachers. Four situations in which this is true are when teachers are faced with: larger classes, classes with a high level of student diversity, courses with extended meeting times, and courses that emphasize thinking skills.

Large Classes

When teachers are faced with the responsibility of teaching large classes of 100 or more students and seek advice on how best to do this, they frequently get technical suggestions: get more organized, try to make your lectures lively, use more audiovisual materials, and so on. But technical changes like those do not have the ability to make a significant impact on the two biggest problems with large classes from a learning perspective: student anonymity and passivity.

I would urge teachers with large classes to consider using team-based learning as a strategic response. By changing the structure of the course (that is, changing the primary type and sequence of learning activities), the teacher can make a large class operate like a small class and thereby directly impact these two key problems. Students no longer feel anonymous because they participate regularly in a group where everyone knows them and they know everyone else. Student passivity is obviously no longer a problem because essentially every class session consists of active learning. In the application phase of team-based learning, which constitutes the majority of class sessions, students are working on problems and getting feedback on how successful they are. Students in a team-based learning course may complain about being overworked, but they never complain about being passive or bored.

There are some adjustments that need to be made when using team-based learning in classes of 100 classes or more. Michaelsen identifies these in his chapter "Team-Based Learning in Large Classes" in this volume. Overall, though, these are relatively easy to make.

Back in the mid-1980s, Michaelsen and I made a mistake that allowed us to realized just how effective team-based learning is in making a large class to operate like a small class. Michaelsen was using the IDEA course evaluation system to obtain student evaluations in a large team-based learning class with over 100 students in it. In the IDEA system, the overall evaluation is made on a percentile scale of 1 (low) to 100 (high), with 50 being average. But it compares students' response in a given course with other courses of similar size. So we had to note the size of the class on the information sheet. Somehow the class size got recorded as having "11" students instead of "111" students. We were surprised when the results came back. His course was rated in the 90-95th percentile whereas in the past they had always been well above the 95th percentile. When we finally figured out that the reason for the drop was that this course was being compared to other courses with 15 or fewer students, we realized the significance of our discovery. Most teachers of large classes would feel exceedingly successful if student ratings came even close to the average ratings in a small class. But Michaelsen's class, with more than one hundred students in it, had been rated in the 90-95th percentile, two standard deviations above the average when compared to small classes. Seeing these results made us realize how enormously successful team-based learning had been in a large class setting.

Classes with a High Level of Student Diversity

Teachers frequently have classes in which students are diverse in terms of key factors such as prior preparation, age, related background experiences, ethnicity, attitudes toward the subject, and so forth.

Team-based learning creates conditions in which people who are very different from one another learn that they need to work together and that they can work together. They find ways to make their differences an asset rather than a liability.

But again, the conditions necessary to make this happen are the same conditions that make groups evolve into teams: time together, freedom to find ways to work out their differences, feedback on their individual and group performance, and incentives. When teachers can create these conditions, students who are very different from one another have a reason to want to work together effectively.

Courses with Extended Meetings Times

I frequently get frantic calls for help from teachers who are facing the prospect of teaching weekend courses in which intersession courses, or condensed courses in which students meet for half-days or several whole days at a time. "What should I do? I can't lecture for three hours at a time!"

I frequently suggest that they consider using team-based learning. This allows the teacher to move some or most of students' initial exposure to the content to out-of-class reading time. That leaves the teacher and students free to use of or most of the class sessions for learning how to apply the content. Once they have created team-based learning structure for the course, teachers generally have little difficulty figuring out how to use the extended class meeting time to engage students in learning how to apply to course material. This prospect is seen as attractive, not problematic.

Courses That Emphasize Thinking Skills

Team-based learning can be especially helpful to anyone who wants to emphasize the development of students' thinking skills in their courses. In contrast to memorization, thinking is an intellectual activity in which the interaction between people - if properly structured - can be particularly valuable. Whether the skill is critical thinking (judging the value of something), practical thinking (problem solving and decision making), or creative thinking (imagining and creating new ideas or objects), learning how to incorporate the ideas and perspectives of several people and learning how to work through differences can greatly enhance each student's own ability to think effectively. The extended application phase of team-based learning supports this kind of learning very well. Students have multiple opportunities to exchange ideas with others, practice thinking, and get feedback on the quality of their thinking.

References

Michaelsen, L. K. (1983). Team learning in large classes. In Learning in groups. New directions for teaching and learning series, Vol. 14. Ed. C. Bouton & R. Y. Garth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Michaelsen, L. K., & Black, R. H. (1994). Building learning teams: The key to harnessing the power of small groups in higher education. In Collaborative learning: A sourcebook for higher education, Vol. 2. Ed. S. Kadel & J. Keehner. State College, PA: National Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Michaelsen, L. K., Black, R.H., & Fink, L. D. (1996). What every faculty developer needs to know about learning groups. In To Improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional and organizational development, Vol. 15. Ed. L. Richlin. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press. Michaelsen, L. K., Watson, W. E., & Black, R. H. (1989). A realistic test of individual versus group consensus decision making, Journal of Applied Psychology 74(5): 834-839.