Team-Based Learning at VIU Energizes Professors and Engages Students

Team Golden Giraffes pose with Hospitality Management professor Jonelle Knowles. The students say they love the Team-Based Learning class, and Knowles reports attendance in the course has significantly improved since adopting the teaching method.

April 10, 2017 - 4:00pm

More than 30 instructors have implemented Team-Based Learning in their classrooms since its introduction by VIU’s Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning 

A teaching method called Team-Based Learning (TBL) that flips the traditional classroom model on its head is showing positive results in dozens of classrooms across Vancouver Island University (VIU).

Take Hospitality Management Professor Jonelle Knowles's class, for example. With names like Awesome, Power Rangers, Golden Giraffes and Vikings her student teams have worked all semester to solve a different challenge each class.

The latest was to analyze what techniques standout corporations, like the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Air Canada, use to attract customers and stay ahead of the competition.

Knowles monitors the discussions and clarifies issues for team members. Voices get heated as different theories are considered but eventually, one by one, the teams find common ground and get their answers ready to present – and defend.

It’s not your typical classroom presentation, which is exactly why when training was offered to VIU faculty to learn TBL, Knowles jumped at the opportunity.

“When I took the training and introduced TBL in my class, I saw changes right away. I was surprised most by the learning I didn’t expect to take place,” said Knowles. “I watched students break free of former cliques and learn to work with new people. They suddenly took a genuine interest in each other and explored their different cultures. Individuals came together and bonded as a team, with learning as their prime motivation, and that was inspiring.”

Bill Roberson is a teaching and learning specialist with VIU’s Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (CIEL). He co-authored the book Getting Started with Team-Based Learning and is an experienced instructor in the method.

He says in short, TBL flips the typical classroom model on its head. It introduces a structured form of team learning where it’s the students’ responsibility to make a good first effort to learn the course content on their own, at home. They then spend classroom time working through application challenges or real-world problems in their teams.

“What it does is provide an option for teachers to get away from the classroom presentation mode that so often defines post-secondary learning environments,” said Roberson. “Instead, class time is used to debate course material in a structured, safe environment prepared and managed by the faculty member. It’s a way to effectively turn passive learning into active learning.”

TBL is not characterized just by the use of groups. It’s a complete set of coordinated practices to promote student responsibility and independence. The method was developed in the 1970s and since then a substantial body of research from around the world shows positive outcomes including increased attendance, improved student preparation for learning, increased achievement and student collaboration skills.

There are now more than 30 faculty members at VIU teaching TBL in their courses. Roberson says over the next two years he would like to see those numbers increase to more than 100 because “it’s such a powerful model” with no restrictions on what courses it can be applied to. At VIU, faculty members in areas such as Interior Design, Resource Management, English, Geology, Human Services and Hospitality Management, just to name a few, are using TBL in their classrooms.

“In many cases the old model of teaching isn’t always pleasurable for the teachers or the students. For those faculty who commit fully to the process it can reinvigorate not only their classrooms but also their passion for teaching,” said Roberson.

VIU Resource Management and Protection faculty member Marilyn Funk embraced the TBL method and has since applied it to most of the courses she teaches.

“What I love about this teaching method is the power shift from the lecturer to the students. The students become responsible for learning the basics and are empowered to apply it to real-world, meaningful problems,” said Funk. “TBL has helped me to believe that I’m a ‘good teacher’ and I base this feeling on student engagement in the classroom during team exercises, student feedback and assessment grades. I feel as though it has helped me put my best ‘teaching’ foot forward and allows students to fully engage with the material.”

VIU is a teaching university with core values that include maintaining teaching as a priority in support of student learning. To learn more about TBL and the wide range of teaching and learning supports available to both faculty and students at VIU please go to Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning.


Media Contact

Dane Gibson, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6288 | C: 250.618.7296 | E: |  T: @viunews

Tags: Teaching and Learning

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