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Team-Based Learning


by Emily Bartelheim
August 2016

Dr. Raymond Frost, professor of management information systems at OHIO, has reinvented his classroom. By utilizing a teaching methodology called Team-Based Learning (TBL) that delivers highly interactive small-group learning, Frost has significantly improved student engagement and learning in his classes.

As many teachers can attest to, student engagement and student learning are two of the most substantial challenges in the classroom. Frost would agree; he has been teaching for a total of 24 years, and until he implemented TBL into his courses at Ohio University, he faced these same challenges.

In 2011, Frost was asked to pursue faculty development that would guarantee classroom critical thinking on the part of the students. This was when he first started learning about TBL. "For years I'd tried what I would call my bag of tricks in teaching," Frost said, "but it wasn't really a recipe in the sense that all of the parts didn’t tie together in the way TBL ties them together."

Frost said every teacher dreams of productive group work, and deciding to use TBL has been a way for him to actually achieve that dream. According to the Team-Based Learning Collaborative website, TBL is an evidence-based collaborative learning teaching strategy that is designed around units of instruction. Frost describes it as "sort of the original flipped classroom methodology," in which students come to class prepared and are assigned to groups/teams to study and discuss course content together. The role of the instructor in TBL is of a facilitator, only revealing the correct answer right at the end of class.

What is team-based learning?

There are four main categories of implementation for TBL:

  • Assign students to teams—Students are strategically placed into diverse, permanent groups.
  • Readiness Assurance Process—Students are tested individually and as a group on pre-assigned readings.
  • Application activities—The instructor assigns case studies or other problem-solving activities to see if the students can apply what they learned.
  • Require students to provide teammate feedback—Students share one thing they appreciate and one thing they request from each group member.

The group application activities are comprised of four principles, referred to by Frost as "the four S's":

  • Same problem—All of the students/teams are working on the same problem.
  • Specific answer—There has to be a certain answer the students are looking for.
  • Simultaneous reporting—All teams report their answers at exactly the same time.
  • Specific choice—There has to be a choice on the problem, such as reporting via voting cards or a large Post-It note.

Effects on Student Learning

"Students learn at a deeper level since they are applying their knowledge," Frost said. He cited a management information systems (MIS) introductory course he's taught that helped push him toward using TBL. This course was comprised of 110 students. When teaching in a traditional lecture format, Frost said if he was lucky around ten percent of his students would participate by asking questions. However, when he used TBL, there was nearly 100 percent participation because the students actively interacted with their teams. "I thought the solution to the large intro class was me becoming a great entertainer," Frost said. "But I don’t think that it really resulted in student learning. Now I feel like the students are learning."

Students have responded positively to Frost’s use of TBL in his classes. "The difference is night and day," Frost said. "That's one huge benefit because you really want every student in the classroom participating and not just on Facebook or falling asleep or checking their email."

Before his research on TBL, "nobody at Ohio University was doing TBL," Frost said. Now there are faculty in the College of Business, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and more who are utilizing TBL in their classrooms. Frost said not only are his students learning more as a result of his course structuring, but the College of Business as a whole has benefitted. "It’s by far a more enjoyable experience to teach," Frost said. "It’s just fun to see students in your classroom excited about the material."

Faculty Learning Community

Frost has also worked with Charlie Morgan, assistant professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences, in leading TBL faculty learning communities at OHIO's Athens Campus. They will be leading the third TBL faculty learning community in the spring of 2017. Frost looks forward to more faculty studying TBL methodology and improving their student engagement and learning. For more information on the spring 2017 TBL faculty learning community, see the sidebar at right.

Having taught at OHIO since 1999, Frost believes OHIO is becoming a frontrunner in innovative teaching practice. "I really feel like this is the dawn of a new age here at Ohio University," he said.

The Office of Instructional Innovation (OII) serves as a catalyst to spark bold experimentation and sustainable discovery of promising new approaches to instruction. OII provides a variety of services to academic units and faculty, online programs and students, as well as additional initiatives to further the institution’s mission. Visit our home page for more information.