TBL Lite: Selective Use of Team-based Learning and Other Techniques to Improve Critical Thinking and Student Success in a Upper Level Writing Class in Geology

Douglas W. Haywick
Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama

Team-based learning (TBL) techniques have been shown to improve student success in college and university level classes. In-class collaborative discussions and exercises permit more focused examination of topics and for many students, help to reinforce concepts and develop leadership qualities. The down side is that for some courses, content must be reduced in order to accommodate in-class activities, a requirement that some faculty are hesitant to do. At the University of South Alabama, TBL classes have been taught for approximately two years. Most of these “first generation” classes grouped students into teams of 5 to 7. This is an effective strategy for medium to large classes (e.g., > 20 students); however, groups of 7 students are more difficult to accommodate in low enrollment courses that commonly occur in some majors. GY 402 (Sedimentary Petrology) is a writing-across-the-curriculum laboratory and field intensive core course in the geology program within the Department of Earth Sciences. The class is taught annually and typically attracts between 12 and 25 students per offering. In the past, GY 402 comprised two 50 minute long lectures and two 120 minute long lab sessions (approximately 6 contact hours) per week. In 2014, I modified the course by replacing one of the in-class lectures with team-based discussions and practical activities. The dropped lecture was replaced with an online version that students were required to watch prior to the activity session. Each week, one student summarized the online lecture in a 15 minute presentation that also usually served as an introduction to the activity. Field components, several laboratory projects and even some of the writing assignments in the class were converted to TBL format, but given the small size of the class, teams consisted of only 3-4 students. They took on the role of entry level geologists at a fictitious professional organization in order to give the writing and critical thinking exercises some relevance to their eventual careers. Students were promoted within the organization as their reasoning skills improved. It is too early to quantitatively determine if student success and their ability to “think” have improved with the modifications in teaching style in GY 402, but I plan on collecting assessment and student survey data over the next three years to resolve this. However, it does appear that classroom and laboratory attendance was generally better in 2014 than it has been in previous years.