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Implementing team-based learning at Boston College

Dan Hasan
|
February 14, 2023
DOMAIN
Humanities
Class Size
72
Instructor Workload
Learner Workload
ABOUT THE INSTITUTION

Boston College (BC) is a private research university in the city of Boston, Massachusetts and is attended by around 15,000 students. Established in 1863, it started as an undergraduate liberal arts college but now offers graduate programs across eight schools and colleges including nursing and law.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR(S)

Dr. S. Kyle Johnson is a digital pedagogy consultant and educator at Boston College, working full time at the center for digital innovation and learning. He has been working at BC since 2016, and after receiving his Ph.D, continues to teach theology part time.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTION

Boston College (BC) is a private research university in the city of Boston, Massachusetts and is attended by around 15,000 students. Established in 1863, it started as an undergraduate liberal arts college but now offers graduate programs across eight schools and colleges including nursing and law.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR(S)

Dr. S. Kyle Johnson is a digital pedagogy consultant and educator at Boston College, working full time at the center for digital innovation and learning. He has been working at BC since 2016, and after receiving his Ph.D, continues to teach theology part time.

Context

In his theology course of 72 students, Dr. Johnson adopted Team Based Learning to boost student preparedness and get students to engage and build their teamwork skills, while making the most out of the limited time in class.

Constructive alignment

Challenges

Having worked with various faculty transitioning to hybrid education, Dr. Johnson has often come across the question of how to get the most out of limited class time, especially when students show up unprepared or unable to understand study material. Even though many classes at BC are now back to mostly face-to-face, instructors often see students for a couple hours a week. This was also true of Dr Johnson's courses, who sought an approach to help students learn from each other both in and outside of class. Reflecting on the hybrid situation across the university, Dr Johnson noted,

"Where they're maybe meeting just once a week or once every other week, they have less time in the classroom. How do you use that time as effectively as possible?"

In the course objectives, besides developing literacy and skills in the subject area, students were introduced to new ways of thinking and questioning, as well as collaborating to build on their knowledge together.

With the previous course setup, students would complete weekly open-book reading responses to express this knowledge, but these proved time-consuming and difficult to assess efficiently.

Assessment of learning outcomes

Solutions

Coming across Team-Based Learning (TBL), Dr Johnson saw a solution as a replacement to these reading exercises which could help students engage and optimize the use of time over the course. Unlike traditional TBL setups which required scratch-off-cards and papers to be distributed among the whole class, FeedbackFruits Team Based Learning tool makes use of digital technology to support the most cumbersome steps of the method. The instructor explained the different steps of the TBL process to students to prime them for this new sort of learning activity.

“I’d say it was really effective. And there's a few different pieces of evidence for it.”

The first step in TBL is individual preparation work, where students would first acquaint themselves with study materials in their own time before class. The instructor makes materials available with the Interactive Document tool, which were embedded with prompts and questions which helped them prepare for the quiz. The responses to these prompts were not graded, to create a low-pressure environment for students to pace their own learning.  

Students responding to prompts and discussions in Interactive Document
Students responding to prompts and discussions in Interactive Document

Next, during class, the iRAT (individual readiness assurance test) and tRAT (team readiness assurance test) steps take place. Groups of 5 - 7 students answer a set of multiple choice questions, first individually, and then after some discussion, again with their team. The multiple-choice questions chosen by the instructor helped students come to a shared understanding of basic concepts necessary for further application exercises. 

"I did want them to develop that vocabulary in a more low-stakes way throughout the semester. Team Based Learning became a really powerful way of doing that, because it helped to really reinforce those baseline comp concepts on a week to week basis."
iRAT and tRAT step in Team Based Learning tool
iRAT and tRAT automated in Team Based Learning tool

While students are answering questions, the instructor receives real-time data on their performance, allowing for direct oversight into which questions are proving more challenging. While the iRAT proved difficult for some individuals, the tRAT showed unanimous improvement with every student improving their scores and getting more question responses correct.

Overview of students learning analytics in Team Based LEarning

Lastly, the class underwent a review in class, discussing their responses and building on the content in a discussion. These weekly TBL activities made up 35% of students' final grades and saw students moving up the Bloom levels as the semester progressed.

Notable outcomes

Outcomes

"Students said they felt like they retained more than they have in other courses because of the quizzes."

The TBL model provided students with the motivation to engage, while at the same time giving them space to communicate and address each other's questions. The setup was helped by smooth integration into the Canvas LMS, synchronizing scores from Team Based Learning into Gradebook, and by 24-hour access to expert support  on weekdays, who were able to resolve any issues that arose.

"I think it was effective, because one I noticed by the middle to the end of the semester, their written assignments, and the conversations we were having in class were deeper, like they were more complex, they were asking better questions. They were writing about more difficult subjects in their papers than they had before. Because I think they really got past that basic retention and comprehension level much more quickly and effectively."

Ultimately, implementing Team Based Learning into his course, Dr. Johnson managed to optimize peer interaction, incentivise careful reading of study material, and foster critical thinking among students. 

Possible variation

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