Duke Faculty Share New Research on Team Based Learning

Guest post by Malorie Lipstein, undergraduate researcher with the BRITE Lab.

In the field of undergraduate education, institutions like Duke are constantly striving to improve the quality of learning opportunities offered to their students. At the November BRITE Ideas symposium, Duke faculty member Thomas Newpher shared research he is doing in collaboration with Minna Ng to evaluate Team Based Learning (TBL).

What is TBL?

TBL is a teaching approach that emphasizes student engagement through cooperative and engaging activities in the classroom. In their TBL courses, Newpher and Ng both create teams based on prior experience in the subject to ensure an even distribution of skill-sets across groups. Students are expected to learn key concepts outside of class in a pre-learning stage, incentivized to do so by readiness assurance tasks that take place at the beginning of each class. For example, some days students take a formative assessment in the form of an individual quiz, which is then discussed in teams. Immediately after, the professor gives feedback on the quiz and presents a mini-lecture to reinforce key ideas. In every class session, teams complete application activities that promote analysis, synthesis, and communication to solidify their comprehension.

Active Learning and TBL

Active learning occurs when students engage with material, participate in class discussions, analyze arguments, and apply concepts to broader settings. Several research studies have found that students in active learning classes learn more and perform better on end-of-course exams than students in lecture-only classes. Newpher characterizes TBL as taking active learning even further by adding team-based collaboration and problem-solving. In comparison to active learning, Newpher says that TBL entails more student speaking, collaboration, and formative assessments in class.

Learning Outcomes and Student Satisfaction

Newpher and Ng wanted to analyze how students in TBL courses performed relative to courses with moderate amounts of active learning.  They synthesized responses to course evaluations of two neuroscience courses taught during a summer session at Duke. The classes were taught by the same professor with similar content, but one utilized TBL while the other used active learning techniques without teams. They found that the students who experienced TBL reported that the course helped them gain factual knowledge, understand fundamental concepts and principles, and learn to synthesize and integrate knowledge. However, they found no significant difference in students’ overall perception of the course and professor. These findings suggest that students learn more in TBL courses, but they do not necessarily view the courses are less enjoyable than active learning courses without teamwork. Newpher does note that that upperclassmen familiar with the TBL protocol from past courses have even improved in the levels of comfort with and overall “buy-in” to the program.

Future Directions

In the future, Newpher and his team plan to expand their research on TBL by increasing sample sizes, collaborating with other faculty across campus and at other institutions, expanding their research to evaluate how to design optimal teams, and investigating the impact of TBL on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. To keep up with Newpher’s research, you can visit the website: Collaborative Learning in STEM: Impacts on Student Motivation, Retention and Self-efficacy.

Key Takeaway

Ultimately, TBL is an exciting new approach for professors at the undergraduate level, as it builds a stronger classroom culture and evokes student enthusiasm for deeper learning. Research indicates that the TBL pedagogy can yield better student learning outcomes, and teach students important skills such as team collaboration and problem-solving.

Next Event

Please join us for the next BRITE Ideas colloquia on December 4, 2019 to hear Christina Bejjani and Brenda Yang, graduate students in Psychology & Neuroscience, present “What do Duke Students Believe About Intelligence?”. RSVPRegister here.