(676g) Team-Based Learning: Developing Workplace Skills Alongside Engineering Fundamentals
Background: An instructional strategy called team-based learning (TBL)  was implemented in an introductory chemical engineering course on material and energy balances (MEB). TBL is an alternative to conventional classroom lecture instruction. In TBL students are placed in high-performance learning teams and work together, during class time, to apply course concepts and solve discipline-relevant problems called application exercises. The goal of introducing TBL in the MEB course was to enhance the quality of student learning by fostering teamwork skills and life-long learning strategies along with the acquisition and mastery of fundamental engineering concepts.
Description: TBL was used to teach a 15-week MEB course to second-year chemical engineering students. Outside of class, individual students prepared for each classroom session by completing a reading assignment, one or more assigned example problems, and one homework problem. Students submitted the homework problem to receive individual feedback on their work and a grade for the assignment. During class, the student learning teams solved application exercises and received immediate feedback from the instructor. The team scores on the application exercises were used to determine the course grades of individual students. The effectiveness of the TBL instructional strategy was evaluated using student performance on course exams and informal student feedback. The exam scores from students in the TBL course were compared to the exam scores of similar groups of students taking the MEB course taught with a conventional classroom lecture approach. The student comments on course evaluations were qualitatively analyzed by coding and identifying themes.
Evaluation: Students in the TBL course performed well on exams, when compared to students in previous MEB course offerings who received conventional classroom lecture instruction. Informal observations showed a high-level of student engagement in the TBL classroom. Student comments from formative and summative course evaluations indicated that students were also engaged with learning the course concepts outside of the classroom and that the students were forming strategies for life-long learning.
Conclusion: TBL was an effective instructional strategy for the MEB course. Students in the TBL course performed as well as students who had taken an MEB course taught with a conventional classroom lecture format on exams that measured the ability of students to solve problems by applying engineering concepts. The TBL format required individual accountability and provided experience in teamwork. Both of these behaviors are expected from students in upper-level engineering coursework, and are consistent with expectations in professional engineering practice. Due to a recent rise in student enrollment in the engineering college at the instructor's institution, the number of students taking the TBL course was 50% larger than previous MEB course offerings. Given that the quality of student learning, as measured by exam scores, was maintained despite the larger than usual student course enrollment suggests that teaching with the TBL instructional strategy is an effective way to deliver high quality instruction with limited faculty time. Further investigation of TBL in engineering education is underway.
1. L. K. Michaelsen, A. B. Knight, and L. D. Fink (Eds), Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching, Stylus Publishing, Sterling (VA) (2004).