Welcome new readers!

The "New to the blog? Start here" page will give you an overview of the blog and point you to some posts you might be interested in. You can also subscribe to receive future posts via RSS, Facebook or Twitter using the links on the right-hand side of the page, or via email by entering your address in the box. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Team-based learning: The basics

[If you haven't completed the blog reader survey yet, please take a few minutes to do so (before July 31 if you want to be included in the drawing for a free copy of The Intl Handlbook on Teaching and Learning Economics). Thank you!]

Although I know I've mentioned the fact that I use Team-Based Learning (TBL) in my data analysis class, I can't believe I haven't written a series of posts yet to really explain what I'm doing and how it's working. So here we go... Keep in mind that the class is called Collection and Use of Data in Economics (if anyone's interested, you can get the syllabus here); it is an upper-division required course for all econ majors and they must have already taken Principles (both 101 and 102), lower-division statistics, and an Information Systems course that covers Excel and databases.

For those who know nothing about TBL, the basic idea is that students spend the majority of class time working in permanent teams (i.e., they keep the same team for the whole semester) on exercises that emphasize application, evaluation and other higher-order skills. One thing that differentiates TBL from other problem- or group-based approaches is that it is a "whole course" pedagogy - to get the full benefits of TBL, you really need to design the entire course, from day one, according to a particular structure. I thought the easiest way to explain that structure is to share the explanation that I put in my syllabus:

[After typical intro stuff about requirements, texts, etc.:]
We will be using a learning strategy known as ‘team-based learning’ (TBL); the majority of the work in this class will be done in teams that will be established at the beginning of the semester.

How does TBL work? You will spend most of your time working in teams, applying what you’ve learned from outside readings (and your own review of statistics). The course is divided into several units where each unit lasts a few weeks and follows the same structure:
1. Students read the assigned material for the unit. This will generally be readings in the Greenlaw and Klass books. There will be reading guides provided that are a series of questions that you should be able to answer by the time you come to class.
2. At the beginning of each unit, students will take an “individual Readiness Assessment” (iRA) in class to be sure that they have sufficient knowledge to work problems from this unit. Questions will primarily be over definitions or will be simple applications of facts and definitions. These will be multiple-choice (you will need scantron forms) and will be graded.
3. Immediately following the iRA, students will answer the same questions as a team, with a “team Readiness Assessment” (tRA). This too will be graded. All team members receive the team score.
4. Disputes over missed questions on the tRA can be appealed to the instructor. The appeal must come from the team, it must be written, and it must come no later than the beginning of the next class (detailed instructions for appeals will be distributed later and are posted on Blackboard). All affected students on the team will have their scores changed.
5. The instructor will address common errors on the RA to the class as a whole.
6. Over the following classes, teams solve real-world problems and answer questions that economists must answer as they do their work. Team Applications generally pose a question and ask each team to make a decision. Your team will need to poll each member, listen to each member’s ideas and their explanation of why their idea is the best, and then reach a team consensus. At the end of your deliberation, all of the teams will simultaneously report decisions. Then we’ll discuss the question as a class. Any member of your team may be called upon to explain your team’s response and points may be awarded to the team based on these responses. Several of the Applications also have an individual component that must be completed prior to coming to class. These assignments will involve reading chapters in the Maier book, or articles by other economists, and answering some questions, and/or getting data and doing something with it. That information will then be used to have deeper discussions and make better decisions with your team. In general, you can expect to have something ‘due’ almost every class.
7. At the end of the semester, students complete a confidential evaluation of their teammates, based on their participation in team activities (Did they come to class regularly? Were they prepared for the day’s activity? Did they contribute productively to the team? Respect others’ ideas?). There is a copy of the Peer Evaluation form on Blackboard; note that you will have to distinguish between your teammates. The peer evaluations will be used to weight the Team portion of your grade.
[end of syllabus text]

In the next few posts, I will explain exactly what I do in more detail and some 'best practices', as well as student response. If you have specific questions about TBL, feel free to leave them here and I'll try to answer them as best I can in future posts.


  1. Let me add my enthusiasm for TBL. Other than for large classes (I'm not sure that it scales to hundreds), I wouldn't use anything else.

    1. Hi Bill! I should have mentioned that my classes are 75 students. Maybe someday, when I really feel like I need a new challenge, I'll try to adapt the 500-seat Principles class to TBL, but I'm skeptical too...

  2. I passed this link on to my (former--I have retired) colleagues at Indiana University Northwest, to my friends who are members of Indiana University's Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (https://facet.indiana.edu/) and the tch-econ list. Hope you get some visitors frm that.
    Don Coffin

    1. Thanks Don! And thanks for always being so supportive of the blog!


Comments that contribute to the discussion are always welcome! Please note that spammy comments whose only purpose seems to be to direct traffic to a commercial site will be deleted.