Review: EconTEAching Session 8: Team-based Learning in Economics: how to make the transition to online education

The eighth session of the #EconTEAching chats, and first of the academic year 2020-21, organised by CTaLE and the Department of Economics at Warwick took place on 2nd September 2020. It featured Prof Phil Ruder (Pacific University) and was chaired by Prof Parama Chaudhury (UCL). The session live-stream can be found on the CTaLE YouTube channel.

As usual, our session’s chat was very lively and we will try to capture the conversations here. We would like to thank Jimena Gonzáles Ramírez (Manhattan College) for addressing many of the questions in the discussion. Her insights were very helpful!

Team-based Learning? What is it about?

Team-based Learning is a teaching method designed for collaborative learning among students with a clear sequence: preparation, readiness assurance and application of concepts.

If you have followed our other #EconTEAching chats, it will not be new to you that what is key to a successful implementation of this method is planning and good teaching design. Of course, under the current scenario in which a lot of our teaching activities are going to take place online, there are new challenges. Phil and the participants (in the chat) talked about these and we summarise them in the following points.

1. Making teams

First, it is important that instructors make the teams and do not allow friends to work together. This helps to minimise probability of voting blocs when friends stick together, and it helps to maximise diversity. We want multiple perspectives to come into place.
One thing that was noted in the chat is that collaborating with people who have different working styles is an important transferable skill. The book “Messy” by Tim Hartford was recommended as it has a chapter on the value of working with people different to us.

How many students in a team? In Phil’s experience, 3-4 is better than 5-7 to maintain students’ online engagement. Try to maintain the same teams over the course to help students know and trust each other and work better.

Size class is an important aspect. Team-based learning requires that the instructor provide continuous feedback and for very large classes (100+) we may need the support of Teaching Assistants. Of course, TAs need to receive adequate training. It is very important to give students’ support to keep them on-track. In an online setting it is important to give students a presence.

2. Individual work

Instructors in the chat pointed out that a mix of individual and team assessment is important. Team-based learning involves individual tests (called Readiness Assurance Testing) to be taken in-class. However, with the shift to online, cheating has become a concern. We did not focus on these issues in this session, but you can take a look at the resources on “Adaptable Assessment” put together by #EconTEAching chat and the Economics Network which offers lots of advice on assessment design.

3. Class Activities

Class activities are at the core of team-based learning. These activities must promote learning but also teamwork. In a synchronous setting, this can be easily achieved through the use of Zoom break out groups, Microsoft Teams channels and Slack. Asynchronous may present some more challenges as timing stretches out. Asking students to report to a discussion forum can help.

One thing to keep into account is the software used to allow group collaboration. If using Zoom, the Zoom whiteboard seems not to be the favourite choice, but Phil and the chat provided good alternatives. Microsoft Teams allows for sharing documents and working together. JamBoard, Google docs and Word online are all tools that can be used (there are concerns on GDPR issues in the EU using Google based apps, so check individual university’s guidelines). 

Team-based learning is a lot about providing guidance. Not being there in the room is a huge concern. The use of discussion forums was highly recommended, but it is imperative students use the forum. Students may feel better emailing and in some cases instructors could recommend putting those questions in the forum.

4. Peer Evaluation

Peer evaluation is easier online! This can be used (a mix of formative and summative) to maintain engagement. Follow up early if you/students notice that someone is disengaged/not participating.

One key aspect of peer-assessment is to provide a marking-criteria for students. Students need clear guidance on what aspects of their peers’ teamwork they are assessing.

Few final thoughts:

Collaborative learning requires structure and without the structure, the group work will not be effective. Team-based learning is a lot about preparation. The benefits lie in seeing how engaged students are and how capable they are of engaging with their own learning. This was confirmed by someone in the chat who noticed the difference in students coming from courses which used Team-based learning.

There are many advantages of Team-based learning, but it may not necessarily mean that it can be applied to all teaching settings. When it is not possible, think of alternatives e.g. Mazur’s interactive teaching techniques.

Whether you use Team-based learning or not, the main worry of online teaching will be to create communities. Sorting students in to small groups can help as students can support each other. Teacher’s presence is also important.

If you are planning to use Team-based learning, keep in contact and let’s share our experiences!

Resources for this session:

Blog post by Stefania Paredes Fuentes

If you are interested in attending a session please check our EconTEAching page and get in touch at ctale.ucl@gmail.com.


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