Introducing a Team-Based Learning approach to classrooms in Japan

Brent MacLaine


Brent MacLaine claims he has always been interested in the art and science of teaching. He experienced a transformative moment in his career while attending a workshop on Team-Based Learning conducted by Larry Michaelsen of the University of Oklahoma. Maclaine’s academic training, teaching, and scholarship is focused on English literature, particularly the fiction and poetry of the UK, the US, and Canada in the modern period. Before returning to Prince Edward Island, where he was born and grew up, he taught at the National University of Singapore, the University of Alberta, and the University of British Columbia in Canada, and at Hubei University in Wuhan, China. Currently at the University of Prince Edward Island, he is dean of the department of English, where he teaches the literature of Atlantic Canada, the literature of islands, English composition, and professional writing. He has published three collections of poetry including Shades of Green. Now,this literature major has developed a keen interest in research and developments concerning post-secondary education.

Introducing a Team-Based Learning approach to classrooms in Japan

“My classroom became a much more productive and happy environment and, certainly, I felt much more successful as a professor. I have continued to develop and refine Team-Based Learning in my own classes, and I am enthusiastic about sharing some of these principles and strategies,” reported MacLaine as an introduction to participants about his own workshop on Team-Based Learning held on 29 May, 2009 during the Shades of Green Canada Project in Kyushu conference convened at the International University of Kagoshima.

At the outset of his workshop, MacLaine acknowledged Michaelsen’s (1993) seminal work on encouraging teams of students to study more effectively, “While my skeletal organization of the Team-Based Learning process remains essentially the same as Michaelsen’s, many of the adaptations and innovations grow out of my own experiences using Team-Based Learning practices in my English literature classrooms.”

Although 25 attendees entered the faculty development workshop and freely sat at tables in groups of five, it wasn’t long before they were asked to take a test to create balanced teams. Based on scores related to a participant’s expertise in the study of English literature, interest in reading literature, major academic area of interest, and preference for working in groups, teams of similar-scoring participants were formed.MacLaine suggests that elected groups perform better on average than do random groups, and for maximum productivity and individual satisfaction groups should be limited to 5 members.

The literature professor uses the team-learning approach during a 14-week course on Contemporary Fiction at the University of Prince Edward Island. During semester-long courses, MacLaine claims that permanent groups are superior to temporary groups. The workshop for teachers, teachers-in-training and graduate students at the International University of Kagoshima ran for 3 hours, the first 90 minutes devoted to explaining the principles of Team-Based Learning and the remaining time used as an experiential learning opportunity.

A typical class encourages a 5-member team to work on an assignment. Lectures are not given; instead the instructor coaches the teams and encourages participation by all members. Whereas student-centered CALL and e-Learning approaches assist the individual learner to work on problems at his or her own pace, the Team-Based approach inspires group interaction.

Critical reading and issues tests (CRITs) are an important component of this learning approach when it is applied to the study of foreign languages and literature. Multiple choice question tests are given 9 times during the semester to motivate students to perform close, critical, and analytical reading of literary texts; to ensure that each member of the team comes to class prepared; and to signal important material for team discussion and for classroom lectures. The course instructor must develop CRITs that serve as motivational learning activities that are challenging for the teams. Multiple-choice questions relating to interesting paragraphs from literature are recommended. These group-learning activities must be structured, specific, and detailed. For example, MacLaine suggests the following CRIT can encourage students at the Master’s level in Japan to read The Master’s Wife by Sir Andrew MacPhail.

In the following quote what does the allegoryof the needle represent? An allegory is the use of symbolic fictional people and actions to explain truths or generalizations about human existence. Choose the best answer A, B, C, or D.

“Without the sanded floor there was now no means of restoring the rusty needle; a new one must be bought. When she found her needle rusted, she would place it on the floor, and roll it under her foot at an incredible speed. In a moment the needle was polished bright.”

  1. Economical living actually requires more work in modern times.
  2. Simple needs could once have been met with simple solutions—the art of economy.
  3. The past rolls under us and, inevitably, it takes on the bright glow of nostalgia and memory.
  4. Modernization brings a surface brightness, but things of the past have the quality of the earth.

The final evaluation of the individual ought to accommodate a group’s effort and performance, claims MacLaine. Evaluation could therefore include marks for completing the CRITs as a team, other team assignments, individual essays, an individual final examination, and peer evaluation. Students are encouraged to make appeals to the instructor when the team missed points due to ambiguity in any of the assignments.

MacLaine summarized the workshop by asking participants to evaluate each other and discuss how they felt during the workshop that they had essentially conducted themselves. Group work was focused, class discussion was highly engaged, mistaken assumptions can be peer corrected, there is immediate feedback, the reading-thinking-speaking sequence is reinforced, and a successful group is a means to successful learning, not an end in itself.


Michaelsen, L. (1993). Team learning: A comprehensive approach for harnessing the power of small groups in higher education. In D. Wright & J. Lunde (Eds.), To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional and organizational development. Stillwater, Oklahoma: New Forums.