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I’ve used TBL for approximately 2 years, in multiple classes with 2 cohorts of students and will soon start a 3rd cohort

What is TBL

TBl is a highly structured method for promoting learning through application of important course concepts.

TBL Components

Preparation is the key to students’ success. This is coupled with teachers design and committmen. Students can prepare all day, but if a teacher does not design and commit to TBL, students will be less successful.

One of the first tasks, and often the most daunting for students, is the team selection process.


Teams must be selected early on and are semi-permament. Groups are heterogeneous but equal. The goal is to form groups of 5 - 7 people that have a relatively equal distribution of strengths and weaknesses.

Team selection process

  1. Identify sorting criteria
  2. Prioritize criteria
  3. Explain process to students
  4. Call highest criteria first - sub-categorize if appropriate
  5. After last criteria, ask students to number themselves from 1 - the number of groups desired. Do not have students count by the number of people desire in the group.
  6. Teams meet and develop name and “contract”


To be successful, students must READ. In fact, the entire process rests on students preparing for application exercises. Of course, this represents a significant shift from traditional learning.


Quality material is significant. Students will read a lot and consideration MUST be given to the quality and quantity of what is being read. Students will be tested on this material. The material must support the course concepts. The volume of reading material changes depending on many factors including the depth of reading, course pace, etc.

Individual Readiness Assurance Test (IRAT)

Irats are the beginning of the testing process. It’s very important to understand the IRATS test broad concepts based on reading and NOT trivial and non-significant details. The IRAT represents the foundation from which application exercises are built. Application exercises are the mechanism for student to apply concepts to specific scenarios.


TRAT’s are identical to IRATS except, the quiz is taken by the team. Also, teams are given multiple attempts to successfully complete the quiz. A significant amount of learning occurs in TRATS


After TRAT scores are revealed, students are given an opportunity for discussion and rebuttal. Rebuttals must be logical and based on assigned reading. Students must give specific citations and submit rebuttals in writing. Credit is or isn’t given to the team.


The final step is discussion/lecture to clarify global errors in understanding or knowledge. This clarification of concepts is important prior to the beginning of the application exercises. Although, frequently I do the discussion/lecture after the next step, application exercise. Bear in mind, the purpose of discussion/lecture is NOT to reiterate what students have already read/learned, but to clarify what they have not learned.

Making Canvas Work with TBL

I personally like Canvas, but making it work with TBL can be a bit of a chore. Over the years, I’ve learned few tricks to help achieve some of TBL’s important characteristics. These mostly involve RATS.

Application Exercises

Application exercises are where students truly learn. It is here that students apply RAP concepts to specifically designed scenarios that are relevant to desired outcomes.

To be successful, application exercises must be constructed and carried out in a specific manner. In my experience, the more one deviates from this manner, the less effective the exercises.


To be most effective, application exercises should be constructed using the following criteria:

Significant Problem

The exercise should create a problem that is relevant and germane to student interest. The problem should require utilization of concepts derived from the RAP.

Same problem

Each team receives the same problem

Specific choice

The application exercise should require the selection of one most correct choice. Teams must discuss among themselves, using course principles, why choices are or are not correct. Often, there may be more than one correct choice, but student’s must select the BEST choice.

In these exercises, much discussion, debate and even disagreement occurs. This is critical to learning, where students are learning how course principles apply to real-world scenarios. Students truly learn from each other during this process and often develop ideas that are highly unique and technically accurate. It’s a wonderfully rewarding experience.

Simultaneous Report

Teams must present their selection at the same time. There are many ways to accomplish this, but it’s important that teams’ commitment is recorded before they can change.

Peer Evaluations

Peer to peer evaluations is an accountability process. I’m sure there are many ways to accomplish this process, but I find Google Forms to be an easy online method for collecting both qualitative and quantitative peer input.

Developing a Google Form requires a Google account, however, students do NOT need an account.