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Team-based Learning as a Hybrid Teaching Strategy: Increasing Engagement During COVID Parameters

Clemson University

Young woman on video call

​​A current challenge that many instructors face is keeping students engaged during the pandemic. Professors and students have had to adjust to the many challenges posed by courses being either hybrid or fully online. However, even synchronous sessions do not always increase the engagement of the students. Therefore, requiring students to be engaged through non-traditional classroom methods needs to be explored. One of these methods is Team-Based Learning, a proven strategy to increase student engagement and connection to the content due to its collaborative nature.

Team-Based Learning (TBL) combines both conceptual and procedural knowledge while encouraging collaboration within the classroom (Michealson & Sweet, 2008). This method follows a set of guidelines, including team formation by instructor, individual learning components, and a team application exercise for each module (Clark et al., 2018). This student-center teaching method applies to various disciplines. It is an ideal approach to use during the pandemic due to its ability to be adapted to in-person, online learning, or a hybrid method. Several health professional curriculums include TBL due to its ability to promote problem-solving while working collaboratively (Parmelee et al., 2012).

There are five steps to TBL. The first step is an “advance assignment,” an out-of-class assignment, like other flipped classroom methods, where the student reviews content from reading material, videos, labs, etc. (Michealson & Sweet, 2008). Next, completion of an individual readiness assurance test (iRAT) gauges understanding of the pre-class assignment. Immediately after taking this short quiz, students gather in groups to retake the same quiz while discussing the answers to each question. If students miss a question, they have the opportunity to appeal the question with justification for their response (Michealson & Sweet, 2008). The instructor then meets with the class to cover material surrounding the concepts missed. The final step is a team application where students work through a real-world scenario, and they come together to present a viable solution.

I recently used TBL In an undergraduate health science course. Introducing the format to students during the first class, they were referred to the website Team-Based Learning Collaborative to watch a short video to learn more about the method. I grouped teams based on education level, major, and gender. Teams were encouraged to meet and discuss personal strengths that each member could bring to the team before the first module. Every team was assigned a group class Zoom link for meetings, using recordings to increase member accountability.

The TBL format needed only slight modifications from the original steps to fit the needs of a hybrid method, employing it in the following manner for each of the eight modules covered during the semester:

• Class period 1 – Assigned chapter(s) readings: Students were given a handout to guide them on key concepts covered in the chapter. Students had the option to complete study notes independently, with a peer member, or with the professor during class time if clarification of content was needed. Most students worked alone, consulting with the professor occasionally.

• Class period 2 – Each student completed an individual readiness assurance 10-question quiz through a learning platform (i.e., Canvas). These quizzes were open-note but timed (eight minutes) to encourage students to learn the content. After completing the quiz, the students returned to the classroom (some physically and some through Zoom) to discuss questions related to the content.

• Class period 3 – Dedicating the first few minutes to cover any additional content questions, and then groups met to retake the same quiz to discuss their understanding of the material. With 15 minutes remaining in class, quiz answers are revealed and students can argue through an appeal process to gain back points.

• Class period 4 – The team application was a problem-based learning question (PBL) that is likely to be asked in a healthcare/public health setting. Teams encourage creative freedom for finding solutions and posting them to a discussion board by the end of class period 5.

• Class period 5 – Team applications wrap including final solutions with students' reflection on individual contributions, teamwork, and the value of the problem posed.

All thirty-five students gave feedback on each component of the process, giving a quantitative rating (0= not fair or beneficial, 1= fair, but not beneficial, 2= fair and beneficial) and qualitative comments. The group components were the most valued part of this approach (group test average – 1.87 and team application – 1.88). The comments highlighted benefiting from team discussions and looking at the material from different perspectives. Students also found benefit in individual learning (average – 1.67) and quiz (1.68) with the common theme that they were held accountable for learning the information. The reflective component was the least valued (average 1.33). Some students had trouble doing metacognition and found reflecting on every module to be tedious. Overall, students were pleased with the experience as one student commented, “At first, I was skeptical about the prospect of team-based learning, as I had never had a class with this format before. However, after a month of it, I believe that this format was the key to my success in this class and I deeply enjoyed working on each PBL. It is obvious that the strength of this class lies in its requirement to apply the material to real-life scenarios, which makes learning it more enjoyable.”

Woman on a video call

During the pandemic, students have been encouraged to limit in-person contact to decrease the spread of COVID. Using Zoom or other platforms, instructors can use TBL to get all students to engage in collaboration regularly. “The PBLs were my favorite parts of the course, especially with the reduced amount of interaction right now due to COVID; it was nice having a group throughout the semester.” Gaber et al., (2020) found similar benefits to TBL during the pandemic, with an 85% satisfaction rate.

Several research articles explain how to do TBL for those who want to try it. Fatmi et al. (2013) conducted a literature review of TBL used in health profession education and found that TBL increased students’ knowledge; however, some students still preferred traditional methods. COVID has caused education to have to step away from the traditional lecture. Therefore, now might be a good time to try this method.


Discussion Questions

1. What aspects of TBL do you see as most beneficial for courses set up in a hybrid format?

2. Students often struggle with seeing the value of reflections, as they did in this situation. What can be done to help students to have a more positive experience with (or perception of) reflection?

3. What potential barriers would you anticipate experiencing in trying TBL in your course?


Clark, M., Merrick, L., Styron, J., Dolowitz, A., Dorius, C., Madeka, K., Bender, H., Johnson, J., Chapman, J, Gillette, M., Dorneich, M, O’Dwyer, B., Grogan, J., Brown, T., Leonard, B., Rongerude, J., & Winter, L. (2018). Off to On: Best Practices for Online Team-Based Learning. Team-Based Learning™ Collaborative (TBLC) conference.

Fatmi, M., Hartling, L., Hillier, T., Campbell, S., & Osward, A. (2013). The effectiveness of team-based learning on learning outcomes in health professions education: BEME Guide No. 30. Medical Teacher, 35(12), e1608–e1624.

Gaber, D. A., Shehata, M. H., & Amin, H. A. A. (2020). Online team-based learning sessions as interactive methodologies during the pandemic. Medical Education, 54(7), 666–667.

Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2008(116), 7–27.

Parmelee, D., Michaelsen, L. K., Cook, S., & Hudes, P. D. (2012). Team-based learning: A practical guide: AMEE guide no. 65. Medical Teacher, 34(5), e275–e287.

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