Case #10: Teaming Up to Re-Imagine Undergraduate Education


DISCIPLINE: Biology Education, Higher Education
RESEARCH AREAS: Enhancing student learning and engagement through the development, examination and use of new teaching approaches, technology and assessment tools.


In 2014, Dr. Melody Neumann, University of Toronto (U of T), developed an EdTech tool called Team Up! for online courses. Students sign onto Team Up! and work in groups to answer questions. Key features include immediate feedback, automatic uploading of marks and secure data storage. Dr. Neumann then created a prototype with a dynamic grouping function to facilitate Team Up! use in face-to-face classes.


The dynamic grouping function of the prototype along with the original features interested Drs. Michelle French and Franco Taverna, who, along with Neumann, were looking for new ways to introduce active learning into large lecture classes (200-1300 students). French, Taverna and Neumann then worked together to acquire Learning and Education Advancement (LEAF) funds from U of T to support the further development and testing of Team Up!. The LEAF grants themselves are an initiative of Vice-Provost Susan McCahan and her newly formed Office of Innovations in Undergraduate Education. The team also proposed and developed a novel cross-disciplinary, case-based teaching approach involving the use of Team Up!. With each trial of Team Up!, user data were collected and the tool was refined. During this time, team members communicated their successes to their own networks. In 2018-19, Team Up! was used by 6,300 students in ten courses.

“A challenge for developers of technological tools, especially in academic settings, is supporting and sustaining their development and use. This requires educational leaders who can help secure additional funding, and those who can act as early adopters and champions.”


A challenge for developers of technological tools, especially in academic settings, is supporting and sustaining their development and use. This requires educational leaders who can help secure additional funding, and those who can act as early adopters and champions. Many of the features of educational leadership articulated in the Five-Pillar Model resonate in this case. Affective qualities: Neumann, French, Taverna have known each other for over 15 years and have previously worked together. They trust and listen to one another, keep each other motivated and on track, and have a diverse but overlapping range of skills and experience. The team held several meetings to formulate their grant proposal and to develop course materials and an evaluation strategy. Mentorship and empowerment: Each team member is an educational leader, who has earned the respect of colleagues, teaching assistants and students in their own departments and beyond. This was important for championing the use of Team Up! across the university. For example, French invited Neumann to deliver a presentation to educators in the Faculty of Medicine and the presentation resulted in the early adoption of Team Up! by three attendees. French also gave a presentation at a meeting of U of T’s President’s Teaching Academy, which generated interest in Team Up! at other U of T campuses. As well, an article was circulated to the university community at large. Action-orientation: Each team member took risks in introducing a newly developed technology and new approach to teaching into their traditional lecture classes. Neumann’s course consists of 1400 first-year students taught in two sections, where concerns about WIFI access were acute. French worked with two faculty members in her own department to transform two 50-min lectures into a small group problem-solving sessions with 1000 students. Teaching excellence: Each team member and all of the early adopters are experienced teachers who are committed to the success of their students and to using and promoting evidence-based teaching practices. Their students respect them and are more forgiving if things don’t go exactly as planned. Research and scholarship: Team Up! was initially designed based on results from pedagogical research demonstrating that group work, peer teaching, low-stakes testing and immediate feedback enhances student learning and reduces drop rates. Likewise, the team is engaged in research to study the effectiveness of their novel multi-course, case-based approach using Team Up! Team members have presented preliminary results of their findings at local and international conferences. The results collected to date are promising and will encourage others to adopt new technologies and teaching models.


Students reported that the game-like nature of Team Up! was fun to use and that the in-class group worked allowed them to get to know their fellow students and acquire a deeper understanding of the course material. When Team Up! was combined with real-world cases, students stated that they could see how knowledge was applied. Instructors reported that they were able to introduce active learning into their courses in a time-efficient way. Dr. Neumann has make Team Up! free for students and instructors to use. As a result, even though the tool was in a developmental stage during the 2019-19 academic year, the 6,300 students who used Team Up! collectively saved over $250,000 CDN because they did not have to purchase a clicker or pay a license for commercial software (based on a $40 clicker/license fee). The broad exposure of Team Up! across the University has prompted leaders in U of T’s instructional technology community to explore new models to support the scale up of Team Up! across the University and to other institutions.


Brown, P.C., Roediger III, H.L., & McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Making it stick: The science of successful learning. The Belknap Press, London.

Epstein, M.I., Lazarus, A.D., Calvano, T.B., Matthews, K.A., Hendel, R.A., Epstein, B., & Brosvic, G.M. (2002). Immediate feedback assessment technique promotes learning and corrects inaccurate first responses. The Psychological Record, 52, 187-201.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. In proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (111)23, 8410-841

Hake, R.R. (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66, 64-74.•Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. Prentice-Hall: Toronto.

Michaelsen, L. K. (2004). Appendix A – Frequently asked questions about team-based learning and Appendix E – Speeding up team development with immediate feedback. In L.K. Michaelsen, K.A. Baulman, & L.D. Fink (Eds.), Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Wood, W.B. (2004). Clickers: A teaching gimmick that works. Developmental Cell, 7, 796-798.


Headshot of Michelle French

Over the past 20 years, Michelle has taught courses at the University of Toronto in the life sciences and scientific communication. She holds a BSc and an MSc from the University of Toronto (U of T) and a PhD in physiology from Western University. Her post-doctoral studies were conducted at WEHI in Melbourne and at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She is the recipient of ten teaching awards, including a 2017 U of T President’s Teaching Award.


Michelle is an Associate Professor in the Teaching Stream and Vice Chair Academic (Undergraduate) in the Department of Physiology. As Vice Chair she oversees U of T’s Programs of Study in Physiology. She was recently appointed to be Special Adviser to the Dean on Innovation in Undergraduate Education in the Faculty of Medicine, a newly established position. Michelle also teaches undergraduate courses in physiology and research to classes ranging from 30 to 1000 students. In these classes, she strives to incorporate innovative teaching practices and tools to enhance student engagement and learning.


Headshot of Melody Neumann

Melody Neumann is the creator of Team Up!, and has taught large introductory biolgoy classes for three years. She has expertise in creating lecture videos for a second year online course and a partly-flipped course. She has a great deal of experience in designing and implementing in-class learning activities in fully online and blended classes. As well, she has expertise in creating animations that highlight key concepts.

Headshot of Franco Taverna

Franco Taverna has extensive experience with innovation in teaching large introductory classes using technology to enhance student engagement. He has used online teaching tools including webinar software and Team Up! to promote an active learning environment. He has expertise in statistical analysis of very large data sets and in designing survey questions. He has received grants for the development of online courses and a neuroscience concept inventory.



Ontario Consortium of Biology Educators (Neumann, French, Taverna)
Online Teaching and Learning Community (Neumann, French, Taverna)
E-campus Ontario (Neumann and Taverna)
President’s Teaching Academy, University of Toronto (French)