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Improving Online Learning Effectiveness Through Team-Based Learning

Jennifer Styron (University of South Alabama, USA)
Ronald Styron, Jr. (University of South Alabama, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 12:45pm
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere A3
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 2

This presentation discusses asynchronous and synchronous web-based tools used to facilitate Team-Based Learning, a research-based instructional strategy that improves content acquisition, collaboration and critical thinking.

Extended Abstract

Collaborative learning, or group work, is a widely used P-20 instructional method found to be beneficial in most subject areas. Active learning strategies such as collaborative learning increase the probability of students' understanding of course material and engagement. Students working in collaborative groups exhibit higher cognitive processing, increased problem-solving, and improved creativity. These skill sets are particularly important as student's progress through school and transition to the workforce. Life outside the academic enterprise is heavily group-centered; consequently, an education that does not prepare students to work successfully in groups is inappropriate and flawed.

Collaborative learning has been approached in asynchronous and synchronous online learning environments in a number of ways which include discussion forums, groups projects, virtual gaming or scenario-based environments; each presenting their own set of advantages and disadvantages. These types of distinct strategies or activities can be effective within a course however they lack a framework for the design and delivery of online learning. Without the support of a research-proven pedagogical model, certain online settings and active learning strategies promote a "divide and conquer" approach to collaborative learning which tends to be counterproductive to learner effectiveness. This project sought to determine whether the use of team-based learning in an online learning environment increased instructional and learner effectiveness.

Team-Based Learning (TBL) addresses this problem by providing a systematic approach to collaborative designed activities that supports the exchange of course content, collegial teaching, critical thinking, collaboration, and student engagement. TBL is based on a conceptual model called "Backward Design" which is centered on the development of sophisticated insights and abilities using a technique whereby instructors work backward to determine course outcomes, unit outcomes, and finally specific learning activities. TBL has been shown to be an effective instructional strategy with predominant use in K-12 and health science fields. While these strategies have arguably been effective in face-to-face learning environments, there have been limited illustrations of team-based learning in a fully online environment.

The primary components of Team-Based Learning include permanent teams, peer review, individual tests (iRATs), team tests (tRATs), and application activities constructed around what Michaelsen describes as the 4 S's; a Significant problem, the Same problem, a Specific choice, and Simultaneous reporting. TBL and the use of the 4 S model are comparable to the "Flip" classroom strategy in which time spent on course related activities outside of class focus on building content knowledge; and in-class activities are focused on content acquisition and application. The flip model and TBL have shown the ability to

Designing effective online learning environments that encourage collaboration and community among learners can be difficult to achieve. When selecting to use TBL, project faculty established that the use of the 4 S model of TBL was critical to the pedagogical model yet has been difficult to replicate in an online learning environment. Shifting the TBL model into an online environment with limited physical presence poses challenges yet with the proper tools can be accomplished. The project team utilized a number of state-of-the-art web-based technologies including the Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness (CATME), WebEx, Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) and Sakai to execute synchronous 4 S activities in the online environment.

To determine instructional effectiveness course grades were compared with previous semester course grades to determine differences, if any, in student performance. Students were also asked to complete the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) which predicts students' ability to critically think and to solve authentic real-world problems.

To determine learner effectiveness students were asked to provide feedback about through an end of semester survey and course evaluation. In addition, activities were designed to minimize the "divide and conquer" approach traditionally taken to online team assignments. Course assignments and activities were assessed to determine effectiveness particularly in the domains of collaboration and communication. Finally, the course was assessed by an internal Quality Matters (QM) reviewer and revisions based on recommendations were made. QM is a nationally-recognized peer review process designed to certify the quality of online courses.

Tools that were utilized and will be demonstrated in the session include the CATME Smarter Teamwork network, which was utilized to place students in permanent diverse teams; the CATME peer review system that includes another series of questions whereby students can anonymously rate themselves and their team members; WebEx, a video conferencing system, which was used for class management, discussion and space for breakout teams; the LAMS in which tRATs were created and deployed; and Sakai, an open-source learning management system, which was used for creating and scoring individual tests (iRATs).

Lead Presenter

Dr. Jennifer L. Styron currently serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of South Alabama and works in the College of Nursing's Research and Development Office, assisting with grant proposal development and college-wide research projects and publications. Dr. Styron is part of a three-year $1.3 million dollar HRSA project aimed at developing Interprofessional core competencies among health professionsÕ faculty and students, and delivering high quality, efficient, team-based care in community-based clinical settings to improve patient outcomes. Dr. Styron has been involved with the submission of more $75,000,000 in grant projects to various funding agencies over the course of her career. She has published 9 refereed journal articles and has presented at numerous regional, national, and international professional conferences. Her research interests include instructional technology and design, electronic health record adoption and use, and interprofessional education and practice.