Workshop report: Flipping your classroom with Larry Michaelsen

Duke faculty, staff and grad students got together on Tuesday, November 6 to think about how to flip their classes and how to design great group assignments.  Seventy people attended one or both workshops led by Larry Michaelsen, who invented team-based learning.  Professor Michaelsen was joined by Doyle Graham (PDF), a former Professor of Pathology and Dean of Medical Education at Duke who is now teaching at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore.

In the workshops, “Flipping your classroom with well-designed group work” and “Turning good group assignments into great ones“, participants worked in teams to consider how to effectively design group assignments where all students learn.  Professor Michaelsen demonstrated and explained how he designs group work, summarized in his paper Three Keys to Using Learning Groups Effectively (PDF). Effective assignments focus on giving student practice with what the instructor wants students to be able to do after the unit.  Assignments should also meet the “4S’s” standard:

  • Significant The problem should be authentic and relevant to students
  • Same Problem All students should be working on the same problem
  • Specific Choice Students should use course concepts to make a specific choice that addresses the problem
  • Simultaneous report Student teams report their choices simultaneously

In the workshop, we practiced with activities designed to apply the rules by working in teams, and reporting our choice by raising cards with letters.

Some thoughts from Professor Michaelsen:

Who should NOT use team-based learning in their course? You cannot use TBL if you cannot answer ““What do I want students to be able to do at the end of this unit?

When your mouth is moving, you have absolutely no idea what’s in the heads of your students

Is there any subject for which team-based learning will not work?  Court reporting

The most common mistake is underestimating what a student team can do

Of the 47 attendees at the morning session, about half responded to a post-workshop survey.

About half of the 40 attendees at the afternoon workshop gave their reasons for participating.


Several CIT staff participated in the workshops and described their experience:

Seth Anderson said:

Michaelsen offered some excellent examples of class activities, all of which took advantage of the fact that TBL is so effective at changing the typical classroom “lecture-focused” paradigm. Even if they didn’t walk out of the room 100% sold on the idea of using the TBL process in its entirety, I feel certain that every single workshop attendee left with a new, or greatly heightened, respect for student-centered instruction.

Chris Lorch experienced a unique TBL moment during a team exercise during the morning workshop:

When asked a question, one team member had a different answer than the rest of the group. Even though the majority had a different opinion at the start of our discussion, it turned out that she was correct, and we listened to her perspective from that point forward. It was a ‘12 Angry Men’ moment that highlighted the importance of encouraging diversity, critical thinking, and empowering the voices that would typically be silent from a typical open classroom discussion.

Elise Mueller described her experience of working with her team during the morning workshop:

The discussions that arose during the group readiness test were a wonderful clash of ‘what I think is right’ vs. ‘what the book or instructor says is right.’ The answer that was ultimately put forward by the group was ‘what the book or instructor says is right’, but the critical thought put into discounting that answer was the real learning.