Teaming up for Success in the Classroom

Posted on August 27, 2020 by Lance Crawford
Lance Crawford


A collaboration between the University of South Alabama College of Education and Professional Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences focusing on team-based learning in undergraduate mathematics has received a three-year, $579,762 National Science Foundation grant.

The bulk of the money will find training workshops for faculty from other institutions across the country and ongoing support as they implement team-based inquiry learning, or TBIL, in their math courses.

“Mathematics has a rich tradition of inquiry-based learning, in which students explore and discover mathematics themselves. However, this has largely taken place in upper division courses taken only by math majors,” said Dr. Drew Lewis, assistant professor of mathematics and one of five co-principal investigators on the project. “Team-based inquiry learning is a route to bring these rich, engaging inquiry activities into lower division courses.”

Lewis, who teaches commutative algebra and algebraic geometry at South says, most students view team-based learning as an improvement over "traditional" lecturing.

“It helps students be more flexible in their problem-solving approaches, rather than just blindly following an algorithm,” he said.

Students like junior, Celeste Holsombach believe accountability leads to success.

“Personally, I think it worked because everyone was willing to do and understand the work,” the electrical engineering major said. “There was always one person who understood the concept and could explain it.”

Team-based learning has been a part of the USA’s Quality Enhancement Plan since 2013. To date, more than 400 faculty have been trained in TBL and more than 200 have used it in their courses.

“Collaboration, problem-solving and critical-thinking measures have shown improvement,” said Dr. Julie Estis, director of QEP. “Students are also more likely to stay enrolled in TBL courses compared to non-TBL courses.”

As for individuals learning the material, instructors assess content mastery on an individual basis, but students work in teams to learn the material.

South faculty are not only using TBL, quite a few are conducting research to develop a better understanding of how and why TBL works.

Faculty members are also impacting the broader TBL community as part of the Team-Based Learning Collaborative—the international professional organization for TBL. Estis and Lewis are TBLC certified trainer-consultants and Estis also serves as president-elect of the organization.

“Together, we can be proud that — at South — our students have engaging and challenging opportunities in the classroom that prepare them to excel in their careers,” Estis said.

In addition to Estis and Lewis, Dr. Raj Chaudhury, Dr. Christopher Parrish and Steven Clontz were co-principal investigators on this project.

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