“The main object
is to find a method by which teachers teach less but learners learn more” (John
Amos Comenius, a 16th Century scholar).

The default mode
in teaching and learning is the traditional face-to-face, teacher centered
method. But studies indicated this method is not effective in promoting
learning. It’s always revealing to see how this “default mode” is quite deeply
built into our consciousness. The problem with default mode is that it stops us
thinking. One of the challenges is that curricula tend to be stated in terms of
a combination of specific content and overall “motherhood” statements. So
teaching can be tempted into focusing on essential technical content, and how
to ensure this is “well” delivered. That is, the curriculum gives certain
topics – often in bullet point form – which can lead to an approach focused on
exposition plus examples. No matter how real the contexts, data, case studies etc.,
this easily leads to top-down, “default mode”. What we need to develop in
learning is critical thinking and deep knowledge. McGullary asked “Can this be
done in practical classrooms to meet overall curricula requirements in
assessable and equitable ways?” Yes, if developing critical thinking and deep
knowledge is always at the heart of learning and teaching.

We are using group
work even in the traditional setting to increase student engagement. However, there is a crucial difference between simply putting
students in groups to learn and in structuring collaboration among students (Johnson, D.W. and Johnson, R. T. (1990)). “Collaborative learning is an umbrella term for a
variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by
students, or students and teachers together.  
Usually students are working in groups of two or more, mutually
searching for understanding, solutions or meanings, or creating a product.
Collaborative learning activities vary widely, but most centre on students’
exploration or application of the course material, not simply the teacher’s
presentation or explication of it” (Smith and McGregor, 1992). Collaboration is
not an end goal of instruction, it is a means to help students learn the subject.
Experience has shown us that all groups are not necessarily collaborative. We
have seen that some groups may hinder student learning and create disharmony.

From pedagogical
perspective, engagement and motivation of collaborative learning are primarily
derived from the way the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are linked to group
work. Thus connecting the group work, with a delivery method that create
collaboration is of vital importance to promote learning. Based on my
experience in using Team-Based Learning
(TBL), one of the
potential benefit of TBL
is creating a motivating and
collaborative learning environment. TBL is a special form of collaborative learning that integrates
individual work, team work and immediate feedback. It is a delivery method which
has shifted from the previous instructor-centered approach (where information
flows from teacher to student) to one where students come to class prepared –
to apply the concepts from their readings. TBLprepares students for collaboration, motivates them to collaborate
and facilitates engagement in solving problems. It has three phases that creates
positive attitude for collaboration. Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., and
Fink, L. D. (eds.) (2004).

The three phases in TBL: Phase 1 is preparation phase. It is a
pre-class individual study and students are required to read the textbook and
prepare themselves for individual test and “team test” and team discussion.
Phase 2 is also called the readiness assurance process and it is in-class. In
this phase students take two tests – Individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT)
and Team Readiness Assurance Test (tRAT). Both are closed book assessments. In
the Individual Readiness Assessment Test, each student takes a multiple-choice
quiz individually, turns in the answers, and then re-takes the quiz as a team
(Team Readiness Assessment Test). The Individual Readiness Assurance Test holds
students accountable for acquiring important foundational knowledge from the
readings and video lectures. The test consists of multiple choice questions
related to the pre-reading material. The purpose is to evaluate the pre-class
preparation and to ensure that the student has done the required reading.

Then the teams
discuss the same questions done individually and team members come to a
consensus and choose the answer. They then use an Immediate Feedback Assessment
Technique (IF-AT) card on which they scratch off their choice to see the
correct answer. If the answer is correct they will see a star. If the team does
not discover a star, they continue to discuss the question again and then
scratch off choices until they arrive at the correct answer. This is the climax
where collaborative learning is manifested. The common goal is to get the
correct answer.

Phase 3 is the application
phase, where the team members apply the theory into practice. The application
question should be a significant problem and all teams are given the same
problem. The answers are provided by reporting a specific choice (A, B, C, or
D) simultaneously. If the answer
is different, the teams defend why their decision or choice was the correct one.
The strength of TBL is that it
creates an opportunity for student accountability. Students are accountable for
their pre-learning, and should study in order to get good scores individually
and for the team by providing correct answers for the iRAT and tRAT. This
increases engagement in the course and in working in teams. That is, TBL
individual study and team
assignment promote self-learning, group interaction and team development.

Course evaluation reports indicated that their
engagement and motivation is more than 85%.

instructional sequence naturally progresses to higher levels: from theory to
practice (application using software programs); from simple concept to hard
concept and increases student engagement and motivation. It seems team based
learning (TBL) could be considered as a good example of collaborative learning
that increases team work, student engagement and motivation.


Johnson, D.W. and
Johnson, R. T. (1990) Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Research, Edina,
MN; Interaction Book Company

Smith, B. L. &
McGregor, J. (1992) What is collaborative learning? – National Center on Postsecondary

Roseth, CJ, Garfield,
j, B and Ben-Zvi, D (2008) Collaborating in learning and teaching statistics

Michaelsen, L. K.,
Knight, A. B., and Fink, L. D. (eds.) (2004), Team-Based Learning: A
Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching, 1st Edition, Sterling,
VA., Stylus Publishing, LLC

Forget the “default model”: Collaborative learning- it works