Conveying the value of the application-oriented exercises in team-based learning


Last May in Buenos Aires, we presented our experience in deploying Team-Based Learning in software engineering courses.

Team-Based Learning is an Active Learning Methodology where all classroom activities are carried out among students formed teams. As such, the instructor takes on a secondary role of enabler of the process and facilitator of the discussions.

In our opinion, one key element of TBL is that the course life-cycle is completely described in the methodology. Therefore, those looking to deploy TBL in their courses should study and follow the guidelines. For that purpose, we recommend the book by Michaelsen et al

In short, each TBL module is composed of the following activities.

  • Individual Study: so that students come to class with the contents already studied.
  • Individual Readiness Assessment Test (IRAT): so that students can individually evaluate how well they have prepared for the class.
  • Group Readiness Assessment Test (GRAT): where students can check their answer within their team, and the team comes up with possibly new answers to the IRAT.
  • Written appeals: a venue for students to communicate which questions they found were poorly written.
  • Instructor feedback: which comes immediately after the previous steps, is evidence-based, on the results of the IRAT and GRAT.
  • Application-oriented activities: this is, in our opinion the key element of the methodology, and one on which we put more attention, and also, the one which we feel we should improve upon.

Application-oriented activities

Application-oriented activities (AOA), are a set of exercises designed to test the group skills and foster discussions. During AOA, students work in teams to solve problems that should jog their understanding of the topic. AOA are the place where most of the learning takes place in TBL. Unfortunately, our results and satisfaction towards AOL have been mixed.

We observed that: 

  • As only IRAT and RAT are graded in TBL, when faced with pressures from other subjects in the semester, students skip AOA classes.
  • Lower attendance also introduces the problem that serious games (with some healthy competition among teams) cannot be implemented without a minimum critical mass of students and teams.

This semester we’ve tried a few variations to get students more engaged in AOA, such as: 

  • awarding extra points for contributing to new AOA exercises, and
  • establishing a minimum attendance for AOA classes.

We are still evaluating the effects of these interventions. For the moment, attendance rate has risen during the last semester. 

Do you have any ideas to help us with this problem? We’d love to hear about them. Contact us at:

  • Santiago Matalonga – University of the West of Scotland –
  • Alejandro Bia – Universidad Miguel Hernández –

3 thoughts on “Conveying the value of the application-oriented exercises in team-based learning”

  1. Santiago and Alejandro: In my experience teaching a flipped-classroom course with in-class activities for about seven semesters, I have not experienced the problem of attendance that you are describing. One reason might be that we have a participation grade (of about 10% of the final grade) that rewards students’ engagement during class (e.g. contributing questions, comments, experiences, etc.). A pre-requisite for getting those points is to be present in class. That seems to be doing the trick:-

    However, a problem that we have had instead, is students arriving late to class and hence missing something important that should be repeated. Annoying! And the fact that their participation grade might suffer because of their tardiness did not seem to be impacting their behavior… This semester, we have added a short quiz right at the start of class (which assesses student understanding of video lectures and readings). The quiz itself is not graded, but completing the quiz counts towards the participation grade. That seems to be working much better as a motivation. Let’s see how long it will last!

  2. With the in-class quizzes, we have actually increased the participation grade to 20%, 10% of which is awarded based on completing a minimum number of quizzes.

    1. Thank you, Cecile,
      You are right, we were not grading attendance. I have a thing with giving points for attendance. Its what they should do, isn’t it? Also, I’ve always thought that If students didn’t go to my classes, it probably was because I was adding little value to them (I do remember skipping a few classes myself not that long ago 🙂 ).

      But…I have no problems in giving away marks for answering simple quizes. Alejandro is trying this out at UMH, we’ll let you know if that works.

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