Team-based Learning in a Large Lecture Course: Effective
Team-based Learning in a Large Lecture Course:
Effective Even in Small Doses
Caron Inouye, Biological Science, California State University, East Bay, Hayward, CA
Figure 2. Proportion of students answering the assessment
question incorrectly (red) or correctly (blue) before and after
the team activity; N = 61.
Mean student score on the exam question that
assessed the team-discussed topic (x = 65.6%, SD =
19.2%, N = 73) were not significantly different
from mean overall exam score (x = 63.5%, SD =
28.9%, N = 73; paired t = -0.9, df = 72, p = 0.37).
Mean student score on isomorphic exam
questions assessing the team-discussed topic was
significantly greater in 2009 (x = 63.5%, SD =
28.9%, N = 73) than in 2008 (x = 37.6%, SD =
23.8%, N = 78) when no team activities occurred
(unpaired t = 6.1, df = 149, p << 0.001; Fig. 3).
Mean Score on Question (%)
Figure 2. Screen shots of the pre-activity question (A), the
questions given to the students to discuss during the team
activity (B), and the isomorphic post-activity question (C).
Student responses to questions A and C were recorded
using iClicker. These questions were posed after a lecture
unit on properties of animal cell membranes that enable
Figure 4. Comparison of overall mean exam scores (%
of total points) for students taking the course in 2008
(when no team activities were done) and in 2009
(when team activities were performed).
Students show marked improvements in both formative
and summative assessments of concept learning once
the concept has been actively discussed in a structured
team discussion. Such peer discussion has also been
shown to be an effective strategy in a very large (>300
student) lecture course.3
Students show some degree of content retention (> 3
weeks) once the content has been discussed in team
A pair-wise comparison of individual student
performances on post-activity questions and overall
exam scores indicates that there is a consistency in
performance between the two assessments, so that
students who show concept understanding just after
team discussion also demonstrate this understanding in
another format some weeks later.
The lack of a statistically significant increase in exam
scores between 2008 and 2009 is a strong indicator of
the need to increase the frequency of these team-based
activities in the course.
These results suggest that even sporadic use of teambased learning (group discussion) activities is effective in
increasing understanding of particularly difficult
concepts, and more importantly, in the retention of
Course: Fall 2009 Principles of Animal
Physiology (BIOL 3151), a core requirement
for all biology majors, 80 students enrolled.
Pre-activity assessment: A specific lecture
unit (topic) was followed by a multiple-choice
question (Fig. 1A) with individual student
responses recorded via iClicker. The answer
was not discussed with students.
Team activity: Immediately after the preactivity, students divided into groups of 3-4 to
discuss (for 10-15 min.) a series of questions
for thought based on the topic (Fig. 1B).
Post-activity assessment: Individual student
responses to an isomorphic multiple-choice
question (Fig. 1C) were recorded via iClicker
and compared to pre-activity responses.
Assessment of content retention: A
formative exam was given 24 d after the team
activity. Student scores on a multi-part
question assessing the same topic as well as
overall exam performance were compared.
Comparison to previous year: Student
performances on isomorphic exam questions
of the same topic and overall exam
performance during the Fall 2008 offering of
BIOL 3151 when no team activities were done
were compared to the Fall 2009 scores.
Mean Exam Score (%)
There was a dramatic increase in the
percentage of students (from 44% to 74%)
correctly answering the isomorphic assessment
question immediately following the team activity
% Student Responses
There are tomes of evidence that team-based
learning is highly effective in improving
comprehension, critical thinking, and content
retention when a course is delivered in a
student-centered, inquiry-based format.1,2
However, this format may necessitate a more
wholesale conversion of the lecture format
that is more feasible in a class with fewer
students. I addressed whether a more
conservative integration of team-based
activities had a significantly positive impact on
learning and retention in a moderately large
course in animal physiology.
Figure 3. Difference in mean score (% of total points) on an
exam question assessing the particular topic between 2008
(when no team activity was done) and 2009 (with team
activity). The 2008 and 2009 exam questions were
Mean overall student performances on exams
were not significantly different between 2008 (x
= 65.5%, SD = 15.7%, N = 49) and 2009 (x =
65.6%, SD = 19.2%, N = 73; unpaired t = 0.05, df
= 120, p = 0.48; Fig. 4).
1. Michael, J. 2006. Wheres the evidence that active learning works? Adv.
Physiol. Educ. 30: 159-167.
2. Prince, M. 2004. Does active learning work? A review of the research. J.
Engr. Educ. 93(3): 223-231.
3. Smith, M.K., W.B. Wood, W.K. Adams, C. Wieman, J.K. Knight, N. Guild, and
T.T. Su. 2009. Why peer discussion improves student performance on inclass concept questions. Science 323: 122-124.
I would like to thank the following for their help, encouragement, and support of this
project: ASM, NSF, and my Biology Scholars Program colleagues; Bernie Salvador
(IT); Michael Hedrick (Biology Chair); Michael Leung (Dean); and my infinitely
patient family (Ned, Dayton, & Mariko Garrett).
The CSU East Bay IRB has approved this project.
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