Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Team-Based Learning in Honors Science Education: The Benefit of Complex Writing Assignments

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Team-Based Learning in Honors Science Education: The Benefit of Complex Writing Assignments

Article excerpt


Cooperative learning and team-based learning have been widely recognized as beneficial strategies to improve all levels of education, including higher education. The benefits have been widely researched and are now well-established (Johnson et al.; Michaelsen, Bauman Knight, et al.; Michaelsen & Sweet; Slavin; Springer et al.). The studies have indicated a positive relationship between cooperative learning and student effort, achievement, persistence, and motivation. Just forming groups, however, does not automatically lead to better learning and motivation; cooperation flourishes only under appropriate conditions (Fink; Gillies; Parmelee et al.). This potential for cooperation and learning is maximal when groups are structured in such a way that students understand what is expected of them and how they are supposed to work together (Johnson, Johnson, & smith; Michaelsen & Sweet).

High-ability students learn differently than their peers; they are quicker in their thinking, more flexible in their strategies, and better at memorization; they know more and prefer complexity (Freeman; shore & Kanevsky; Wallace). Furthermore, high-ability students need less structure (snow & Swanson). Finally, when motivation is an important selection criterion for honors students, as it is in Dutch programs, these high-ability students are more motivated than their peers. Given these differences, high-ability students require different instructional conditions to benefit optimally from assignments based on cooperative learning.

We can provide two examples of student-driven honors courses in which students work in teams on complex assignments. These courses, which are designed based on characteristics of cooperative and team-based learning, have revealed that team-based learning works best for honors students when (1) courses are student-centered rather than teacher-driven, (2) the teacher's role is to coach and facilitate, and (3) the assignments are complex and challenging.


Fink distinguishes between three general uses of small groups in higher education: casual interaction, cooperative (or collaborative) learning (CL), and team-based learning (TBL). An example of casual groups is the "think-pair-share" strategy, where short interactions between students are designed to enrich large-group lectures. After the teacher asks a question, the students discuss possible answers with their neighbors, sharing some of the answers before the teacher continues lecturing.

The distinction between CL and TBL is mainly the level of interaction and interdependency, which is more intense in teams. A team is more cohesive than a group because the students spend a long period of time working together and/or have a higher level of accountability and shared responsibility. Teams have two major advantages over groups in an educational setting: individual team members learn to commit a high level of effort to a project, and learning teams can solve problems beyond the capability of even their most talented members (Fink; Michaelsen, Watson, et al.; Michaelsen, Bauman Knight, et al.). Michaelsen and Sweet describe four essential elements of TBL that transform newly formed student groups into high-performance and cohesive learning teams:

* Groups need to be properly formed and managed.

* Students must be accountable for the quality of their individual work as well as their group work.

* Students must receive frequent and timely feedback.

* Design of group assignments must promote both learning and team development

In TBL, small groups are a semester-long instructional strategy in which a sequence of activities is designed and linked so that they accomplish deepening of student learning as well as enhancing the development of team cohesion (Fink; Michaelsen & Sweet). …

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