Team Based Learning

Ever hit snags when having students work in small groups? Student evaluations often tell the story:

Best thing about this class:  Small group work!!!!

Worst thing about this class: Small groups!!

I’ve always felt bad for the students who hate small groups. I know the research that collaborative and active learning results in better performance; I hear employers clamor for lawyers who can work with others. I tell the students about this and they still hate small groups.  Students complain that small group work is inefficient, frustrating, and burdensome. Students freeload. Others dominate and control. They have to take time to work together outside of class.  I’ve worked on ways to reduce the problems, but most of them involve monitoring by me or a teaching assistant, with mixed results (aside from the fact that one of my goals is to have student groups learn to be self-monitoring).

Last semester I tried another strategy, Team Based Learning, and was blown away.

Part of it was the structure. Students were put in teams based on diverse skills, experiences, and values. Students were in teams for the whole semester.  No one was required to meet in teams outside of class. No one was required to write a long paper as part of  a team.

At the beginning of the semester the class negotiated how to weight the points that would make up their grade. There were three areas: individual performance, team performance, and team participation. During that first class, most of the students were self-professed opponents to working in groups. Most of them wanted more points for individual performance and considerably less for team performance.

What happened? Consistent with the research on team-based learning, teams outperformed individuals for every assignment. Students wished they had allocated more points for team performance. They realized how much they had to learn from their teammates. Several times the teams chose to get together outside of class to study and prepare. Because they were accountable to each other, when students had to be absent, they emailed their team and almost always prepared the assigned problem ahead of time, making that day’s assignment considerably easier for the rest of the team. Team members monitored and evaluated themselves.

So much of law school is about individual isolated performance, but most of life is about our ability to connect with and learn from other human beings.  Could applying more team based learning experiences to law school help more students perform better? I’m trying this approach in two other classes next semester and hope to see positive results.

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One Response

  1. Thanks so much for posting about this Sophie! I sent to my faculty and received many comments back about how interesting they found your experience and how they might try it this fall.

    Keep the ideas coming!

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