2.4. Assignment Design
Without doubt, education is definitely not going back to “normal" for the fall semester 2021. With the spread of COVID variants and vaccine hesitancy, campuses often have no choice but to maintain online elements by offering a mix of offline and online teaching. In other words, “online and hybrid learning will remain important", as stated by Beth McMurtrie, senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education in her latest report “The Future of Teaching: How the classroom is being transformed".
While hybrid classrooms offer instructors and learners great flexibility and accessibility, they can still be challenging when it comes to design and facilitation. One solution to help instructors lighten the cognitive load of hybrid education is team-based learning (TBL).
But what is TBL and what are its main components? How does it work? What are the advantages for students and teachers, and what are the pitfalls to avoid at all costs? This article will touch upon all these matters.
As every instructor knows, merely covering a topic is no guarantor for learning. Students might spend hours reviewing content, listening to lectures and taking quizzes, but the learning process is not as simple. TBL focuses on giving students the possibility to apply their knowledge to solve single or multiple problems. By doing this, TBL aims to facilitate both the conceptual and practical knowledge of the students.
TBL is a way to give students an opportunity to solve something they often complain about: not having the possibility to put theory into practice.
“Team-based Learning is an evidence-based collaborative learning teaching strategy designed around units of instruction, known as “modules,” that are taught in a three-step cycle: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing, and application-focused exercise”. - The Team-based Learning Collaborative
TBL, in fact, is organized in a way that most of the time spent in class (online or physical) is used for team assignments, while some is spent ensuring that students master the course content .
In general, a TBL course divides students into permanent groups. Before any class, students have to study an assigned piece of material. Specifically, they will be assessed as individuals and then as a group with immediate feedback to their answers, at the beginning of each new learning unit. The remaining time for the learning unit is spent on group activities that will test students' knowledge of the course content, as well as their ability to apply such knowledge into problem-solving.
This process, which is called the TBL “rhythm", starts with out-of-class preparation, the Readiness Assurance Process (RAP), and is then followed by Application Activities.
Starting with Pre-class preparation, in which students are assigned preparatory materials (textbook chapters, articles, videos, slides, etc.) to review before the start of each module.
Next, students enter the Individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT) stage. For this, students need to complete a 15-20 multiple-choice question test which is written at the three foundational levels of the Bloom taxonomy: remember, understand, and apply.
After the iRAt comes the Team Readiness Assurance Test (tRAT) stage, where students complete the same test. Immediate feedback is provided after the team test.
Students then have the opportunity to write evidence-based Appeals if they feel they can make valid arguments for their answer to questions which they got wrong.
The final step is a mini lecture in which the instructor explains or clarifies any problems or misperceptions that arise during the team test and the appeals.
Once the Preparation and RAP stage are completed, the rest of the learning unit is spent on in-class activities that require students to apply the study content for problem solving. In detail, students work in teams to analyze, discuss, and carry out solutions to a presented problem or challenge. The challenging scenario is often structured around the TBL' s 4S framework: Significant problems, Same Problem, Specific Choice, and Simultaneous Report.
For a more comprehensive understanding of the TBL process, check out this Introduction to Team-Based Learning from the Team-Based Learning Collaborative.
All in all, a course using TBL will need to consider four main elements:
So why is TBL such a good strategy for facilitating effective group work?Numerous studies have described how TBL was specifically able to elicit different benefits for students   . While TBL was specifically created for Business schools, it has nonetheless been successfully applied to many other domains such as medicine and law  . When the previously mentioned 4 pillars are properly setup up, the following benefits are likely to emerge in the learning environment:
Increased engagement: TBL has been repeatedly shown to enhance the level of engagement between students and the course material. It is suggested that small-group assignments significantly enhance individual accountability and collaborative behaviors, leading to students' achievement of their desired performance . Research has shown that when students work in teams and have a problem to solve together, they “pay attention to important considerations and address alternatives with more than just opinion” [8, p. 279]
Many small-group experiences without needing a large number of instructors: TBL allows us to create, in a large-scale course, a plethora of team-based activities. This is possible without having a large number of instructors since students prepare before class and work independently on their projects. The role of the teacher becomes that of a facilitator, or a “guide on the side” .
Multiple opportunities for self-assessment and revision: TBL provides several occasions for students to provide feedback and discuss outcomes, suggest modifications to projects, and compare strategies . Such a feedback-encouraging environment fosters students' cognitive skills such as analysis and evaluation, while also creating a “learning” instead of a “teaching" classroom . A good group dynamic is one that allows students to engage in all these processes, which can be initiated via a well-designed TBL activity. Furthermore, involving technological support like pedagogical tooling can maximize the positive effect of the TBL method, thus counterbalancing students' hesitance towards team-learning .
Increased sense of agency: Students learn best when they feel in control . The characteristics of TBL are able to foster these feelings by allowing students to organize themselves independently and create solutions on their own, while developing a sense of accountability towards each other. Indeed, accountability is one of the strongest components of TBL . Tools such as Group Member Evaluation, have been valuable in eliciting this trait in students during team-based learning activities.
How does TBL look in practice? If you are curious for examples, take a look here for an archive of videos, articles, and resources.
And while TBL is a powerful pedagogical approach that allows instructors to achieve a great many benefits for students, there can certainly be challenges in facilitating the different stages of TBL: lack of engagement with the study materials, free-riding, students' heavy workload due to the flipped classroom format. Solving these issues requires instructors to be disciplined, well-organised facilitators with a thorough understanding of how to best use different pedagogical tools. So how can instructors overcome these challenges? Let's take a look at some best practices and tools.
In his epidemiology course for first-year medical students, associate professor Jeroen de Wilde at Leiden University increased student engagement during the Preparation stage to a greater extent by creating a thriving environment for student discussions. Discover how Dr. de Wilde designed and structured his TBL activity in this use case.
One major pitfall of TBL is associated with students' lack of enthusiasm when having to change to a different learning method . This problem; however, can be overcome by a well-crafted course design . FeedbackFruits tool suite, which offers several sorts of pedagogical tools, helps teachers create a watertight course design that optimizes the potential of TBL strategies. Seamlessly integrated into many LMS’s, these tools target all four elements of TBL by allowing for direct, interactive discussion with study materials, peer/ group feedback, and group-task distribution. As a result, students' engagement, learning, and retention can be maximized. For a complete overview of the tools, take a look here.
As it happens, our team is about to release a new tool which targets the RAP process of the TBL activity. This tool, co-created with IE Business School, promises to help instructors design and facilitate a smooth iRAT and tRAT process. Are you interested in trying out this new tool? Then stay tuned for our upcoming official release of Team-Based Learning, to be announced on the FeedbackFruits website and newsletter.
 Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team‐based learning. New directions for teaching and learning, 2008(116), 7-27. Source
 Brobeck, F. C., and others. “The Dissemination of Critical, Unshared Information in Decision-Making Groups: The Effects of Pre-Discussion Dissent.” European Journal of Social Psychology, 2002, 32, 35–56. In Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008)
 Chan, C., Burtis, J., and Bereiter, C. “Knowledge Building as a Mediator of Conflict in Conceptual Change.” Cognition and Instruction, 1997, 15(1), 1–40. In Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008)
 Hattie, J., and Timperley, H. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research, 2007, 77(1), 81–112. Source
 Birmingham, C., and McCord, M. “Group Process Research: Implications for Using Learning Groups.” In L. K. Michaelsen, A. B. Knight, and L. D. Fink (eds.), Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. Sterling, Va.: Stylus, 2004. In Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008)
 Hunt, D. P., Haidet, P., Coverdale, J. H., & Richards, B. (2003). The effect of using team learning in an evidence-based medicine course for medical students. Teaching and learning in medicine, 15(2), 131-139. Source
 Haidet, P., Morgan, R. O., O'malley, K., Moran, B. J., & Richards, B. F. (2004). A controlled trial of active versus passive learning strategies in a large group setting. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 9(1), 15-27. Source
 Barron, B. J., Schwartz, D. L., Vye, N. J., Moore, A., Petrosino, A., Zech, L., & Bransford, J. D. (1998). Doing with understanding: Lessons from research on problem-and project-based learning. Journal of the learning sciences, 7(3-4), 271-311. Source