Educator Spotlight - Summer 2011

Dr. Frank A. Scannapieco

If you attended the 2009 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition in Phoenix, Arizona, you may remember a Presidential Symposium held on Team-Based Learning"¢ (TBL). The presenter readily admitted that prior to adopting TBL, half his students did not attend class, and those who did read the paper, slept, chatted, and doodled. Is it any wonder that he wanted a more effective way of reaching millennial students?

That presenter was Dr. Frank A. Scannapieco, Chair of the Department of Oral Biology at the University at Buffalo (UB) School of Dental Medicine. In the mid-90s he attended a workshop offered by Dr. Clyde Herreid, a colleague in the Department of Biological Sciences at UB who promoted educational innovation. There he learned about the work of Larry Michaelsen, the creator of TBL, and he left inspired to give this new educational strategy a try. Soon he was applying the method in courses as diverse as preventive dentistry, clinical research methodology, and microbiology, with dramatic results.

"I had 100% attendance, the students always read the assigned material, and the number and quality of their questions rose exponentially," he told the crowd in Phoenix. "I used to get two questions-are there any handouts, and will it be on the test? Now I get loads of questions, and teaching is much more fun."

To achieve this level of success right out of the gate, Dr. Scannapieco devoted the better part of his summer to preparing his first TBL course. He did not alter the content, but TBL required that he locate appropriate readings and write the multiple mini-assessments that TBL uses to monitor and reward preparation outside of class. He also spent time studying the method itself and observing its use in the classroom. "TBL can be time-consuming up front," Dr. Scannapieco concedes, "but if you prepare, it is a very satisfying way to teach."

In 2009, UB completed a review of its curriculum and elected to incorporate more case-based learning. Dr. Scannapieco took the lead in developing a course for first-year students that consolidated earlier course offerings and incorporated both TBL and a modified version of problem-based learning (PBL). UB uses a mixture of learning strategies, with individual professors incorporating cases in different ways. Dr. Scannapieco personally likes the versatility of TBL. An individual faculty member can implement it, whether or not an entire department or school embraces the strategy, and in contrast to PBL, it does not require a faculty facilitator for each team or group of students. In an era of faculty shortages and educational cost cutting, those advantages may be significant on campuses that are looking to improve student engagement without assuming huge financial burdens.