My Rant about the Team-Based Learning chapter

In Chapter 1 about Team-Based Learning, Michaelson, Knight, and Fink discuss the differences between casual group use, cooperative learning, and team-based learning. I agree with their points that the use of teams is an improvement over a traditional lecture format, and I agree with the hierarchy that they’ve established between the three different types of group work. I do think that team-based learning is very effective. In fact, I really haven’t read anything in the article that I disagree with. But I have a BIG problem with Figure 1.2 that they threw into the chapter.

TBL(Team-Based Learning, pg 9)

I’m sure it’s there to provide a break in the monotony of text, but I think this figure is terrible. It is misleading and potentially inaccurate. To me, it’s like the definition of a “bad chart”. Do you remember talking about that back when you were first learning about charts and graphs? This chart doesn’t have a scale on the y-axis. “Well that’s no big deal”, you might say. I would argue that it’s a very big deal. It includes a visual framework that we then automatically adopt. It implies that the cooperative learning model provides roughly twice as high quality of student learning as compared to traditional teaching based on the bar lengths, and team-based learning appears to be roughly 3x as effective. Even though the chart doesn’t say it explicitly, it implies this information.

I’m not sure how much research has been done to assess the difference in quality, but I can guess that they don’t have specific numbers stating those ratios. Why? Because I suspect that the difference in quality between the traditional teaching method and the different group method likely changes based on the course content, students’ learning styles, day of the week…etc. It would be extremely difficult to quantify. I get it – but if it’s so difficult to quantify, then why put it in a visual format that will likely be one of the most remembered things from the text?

My point is simply that while I like the concepts, I don’t like the method they used to convey it.

Rant over.


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3 Responses to My Rant about the Team-Based Learning chapter

  1. mgrossman

    It’s funny, I noticed the same thing about the figure as I was reading earlier this week. I couldn’t figure out what data the figure was based on. I think my mind is so used to seeing the figure, reading the captions, going to look at the tables in a paper, that it surprised me that there was no explanation or justification for the figure.

    So while it’s a minor point, it bugged me too.

  2. sequencingscott

    I am in complete agreement with you here. This is a terrible chart. It provides no actual scale, nor does it provide units of measurement. What are we counting here? Positive responses to a survey, improvement on standardized test scores…the number of smiley faces that students drew in the margins of their notes?! I suppose that asking for standard error bars would be a bit much, at this point. How this supposed data was generated needs to be explained somewhere.

    Totally bugs me too.

  3. sequencingscott

    I am just going to follow up on this exchange by saying that I have a difficult time taking this guy (interwebs says he is a he) seriously. He seems to be a big fan of anecdotal evidence: “Well, based on my conversations with students, they did not like it.” Maybe I am too used to reading scientific journal articles or something…

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