Published: 13 October 2016

Team-based learning (TBL) at the University of Surrey

This workshop offered participants the opportunity to learn more about the approach and its benefits in the classroom.

Academics and staff experience the advantages of team-based learning first-hand

On 23 September, academics and staff were invited to a team-based learning workshop held by Rebecca McCarter from the University of Bradford. The workshop offered participants the opportunity to learn more about the approach and its benefits in the classroom.

How does TBL work?

TBL emphasises teamwork and problem solving, operating on the basis that students learn best when actively and collaboratively engaging with course material.

Students are organised into teams of 5-7 that remain permanent throughout the given module. Selection is not random – but aims to bring together a variety of students in order to maximise individual strengths and address individual weaknesses. As a result, teams are well-balanced and are on equal footing with one another.

Students work through background material before class, which is then put to the test for both individuals and teams through a multiple-choice Readiness Assurance Process (RAP). An application exercise then asks students to apply their shared knowledge to solving a problem drawn from module content. A “4S Framework” is used to guide the creation of these exercises to make them as effective as possible. The problem must be Significant, all teams must analyse the Same problem, they must make a Specific choice and all teams report back Simultaneously. Summative assessment is typically split between TBL activities such as a peer review at the end of the module, and traditional methods such as written exams.

What are the benefits?

In the workshop Rebecca outlined some of TBL’s many advantages over other approaches:

  • Higher levels of student engagement – contact hours are used more constructively to apply information rather than merely “cover” it, helping students develop the critical thinking skills needed for other assessments (Sibley et al., 2015). TBL can capitalise on the active learning space (ALS) where individuals are better able to interact with tutors and peers.
  • Better results – teams consistently outperform even the highest performing individual (Michaelsen and Fink, 2004).
  • Participation is incentivised – the summative nature of some TBL activities (which is recommended, although not necessary) gives students the incentive to study background material and make regular, meaningful contributions.
  • Redefines team project work – teams are balanced and long-term, giving members the time to form trustful relationships where constructive disagreement is encouraged rather than avoided (Birmingham and Michaelsen, 1999). Lengthy discussions lead to simple solutions, making results between teams easily comparable.

References and useful resources

Rebecca listed a number of resources for any academic looking to implement TBL into their modules or to consolidate their understanding of it. Included as well are resources about active learning spaces, which are crucial to the effectiveness of TBL:

Literature – “full of case studies and advice by TBL practitioners on how to start converting your material to TBL and how to troubleshoot a range of issues that you may encounter along the way,"  Birmingham, C. and Michaelsen, L. (1999) Conflict resolution in decision making teams: A longitudinal study. Paper presented at the Midwest Academy of Management, Chicago, IL.

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2013) Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding. Alexandria: ASCD.

Michaelsen, L. and Fink, L. (2004) Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group

Sibley, J., Ostafichuk, P., Roberson, B., Franchini, B., Kubitz, K. and Michaelsen, L. (2015) Getting Started With Team-Based Learning. Sterling: Stylus Publishing.

Online resources

DTEL (2016) Active Learning Spaces. (Accessed 5 October 2016)

DTEL (2016) Beyond the basics – Active Learning Spaces. (Accessed 5October 2016)

McCarter, R. and Tweddell, S. (2016) Introduction to Team-Based Learning. (Accessed 5 October 2016)

TBLC (2016) Team-Based Learning Collaborative. (Accessed: 5 October 2016) – joining the Collaborative as an institutional or individual member will also give you access to a host of other resources

Online tools

CATME (2016) CATME SMARTER Teamwork. (Accessed 5 October 2016) – used to support peer evaluation, features pre-defined questions

Epstein Educational Enterprises (2016) Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique. (Accessed 5th October 2016) – provider of “scratch cards” which are frequently used in the team RAP stage of TBL

Poll Everywhere (2016) Poll Everywhere. (Accessed: 5 October 2016) – used in the individual RAP stage of TBL

Teammates (2016) Teammates. (Accessed 5 October 2016) – used to support peer evaluation, allows you to write your own questions

Further information

If you have any questions or ideas regarding TBL, please contact TEL.

Share what you've read?