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Group work makes the group hurt

Team-based learning only works in an ideal world

By Aviva Zapinsky

Contributing Writer

According to many professors, team-based learning is more effective than lecturing. But this is only true in an ideal world.

   Team-Based Learning: those words strike dread into many undergraduates’ hearts. If they can find a way to rearrange their schedule so as to avoid this experience, they probably will.

In a recent initiative in many courses, especially science and math courses, have become more group-oriented in their curricula, based on the data from several studies. One from 1989 showed that the team performs better than the best student in the team 99.95% of the time.

Dr. Steven Miller, an associate professor in the biological sciences department, thinks this is a good change, saying the new method “helps students learn and retain the information for longer. We did a mini-study with Dr. [David] Einsenmann, who is a very good lecturer, and who teaches genetics in the spring. The students who took team-based genetics did better answering the same post-questions than the students who took the lecture genetics … .”

But it doesn’t work that well everywhere. Many students don’t show up to class, nd many students don’t do the required reading. Let’s face it, college students — when faced with the option of doing the work or riding on someone else’s work — will take the free lunch.

That undermines the whole concept of group-based work and the discussion it engenders, making it less effective for everyone. That one person in the group who does nothing ruins the group work for everybody.

So it is not fair to tie everyone’s grades together when the group is inherently not monitored for balanced dynamics.

Dr. Miller says that, “We have modified things slightly since last fall. Now we have students work individually first, before discussing things with their team — because nothing is worse than having someone tell you the answer before you have the chance to work it out for yourself. So we don’t have the genetics students do everything as a team.” This solves some of the problem, but only a little.

But students still seem to have a problem with team-based learning. Kristie Langford, a junior biology major says, “I don’t really like it in [genetics]. Since we are in a lecture hall, we can’t really talk to our team members, so it’s as if we are learning on our own, anyway … half the people don’t really want to do it. It would be more effective if everyone were fully into it. I also don’t like that our grade is tied to other peoples’.”

So yes, the data is there. Team-based learning is more effective as teaching method, but only in an ideal world, where students actually show up to lecture all the time; where students actually all do the work and all do the readings; where students don’t rely on one person to carry the team. So until someone comes up with a treatment to make college students responsible all the time, perhaps the traditional lecture should be brought back.