Rapid application development comes to the aid of team based learning preparation!

This month, our guest blog post is provided by Brian O’Dwyer, a TBL professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and founder of InteDashboard. Brian provides us with some insights into how concepts from the software industry may provide useful solutions to Team Based Learning issues in the HE classroom. 

In the software industry, the term Rapid Application Development is used to refer to a process that uses minimal planning in favour of rapid prototyping. This allows solutions to be more realistic and perhaps even more effective in problem solving than planning for it too far beforehand. In Team-Based Learning and teaching, the same model can be applied by educators, so that they can stimulate real scenarios and prepare their students for the future.

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One of the hardest parts of Team-Based Learning is preparing the materials for the application exercise. What this means is preparing the questions – both for the readiness assurance tests, readiness assurance process, and the application exercises.

Oftentimes, what educators find is that it’s easy to come up with the questions and answers, but hard to come up with the distractors. In layman’s terms, the distractors are the other answer choices other than the correct choice. There’s lots of research and guidelines on how to do multiple choice questions and application exercises, but generally content experts who know the material very well find it easy to come up with the right answer, and hard to come up with plausible incorrect answers.


This allows students to respond freely, and also allows you to gauge the range of answers to expect. You can then use the wrong answers as distractors for future cycles of using this particular question in a course. It’s an accurate way for you to know what your students will think are plausible answers. The only downside is, it could be cumbersome because you have to run a course multiple times in order to take advantage of it.

This strategy was recommended by Dr Bob Kamei, one of our academic co-founders and now Associate Provost of Education for the NUS Institute of the Application of Learning Science and Education Technology.


In some fields, like Medicine, they have very detailed application exercises, with cases using patient data and lots of complexity. Even in the field of business, business schools publish finely-written cases that are 20–30 pages long and come with information fully developed with tables after tables of data. What generally occurs with TBL however, is that educators find it hard to find time to prepare application case for the next class.

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Brian O’Dwyer, a TBL professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and founder of InteDashboard, found that he lacked the time to prepare a case for his next class. One day he saw something in the popular press, about Singapore’s Changi Airport launching a 30 million dollar tourism campaign – and thought to himself: “That would be an interesting case to have my students try to work out. If they spend 30 million on a tourist marketing campaign, how much do they need in uptick in passenger volume at the airport to break even on that investment?

Instead of preparing a list of assumptions and preparing a real case around it, he presented the application case in class. The question he wanted his students to answer was “How much passenger volume needs to increase for Changi Airport to break even?”


You can use a two-part case: First with a data-gathering and problem structuring phase and the second half can be used to apply the data to solve the problem. Working through ways to gather data and knowing that the data isn’t always going to be there can be a valuable prime for what your students can expect in the future.

1.) Data gathering

Take 10 minutes to think about how you’re going to solve this problem. Think about what data or information you need to solve this problem. After 10 minutes, have a Q&A exercise when all the teams can ask questions about what data, information, and assumptions they need to know to answer the question. In Brian’s case, given his familiarity and experience in this field, he could answer them pretty confidently and instantaneously.

2.) Apply assumptions and come up with estimates

After the Q&A, students can work through a proposed solution together with more information to derive estimates.

What’s effective about this approach is that it’s easy to come up with an application case without thinking about it too much, and you’ll also be preparing students for the real world, where oftentimes, processes like thinking through the problem, structuring the problem, and figuring out what data you need for the problem, is almost as important as having the data and using it to solve the problem.

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Brian using RapidApplication Development in his teaching

Doing it this way stimulates real-world scenarios where not all the information and assumptions are laid out nicely in a 30-page case study with all the tables and data, the way business schools prepare their students.

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