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team teaching

Kathleen Archer Kathleen.Archer at trincoll.edu
Wed Jun 23 14:41:08 EST 1999

We team teach our introductory biology courses - a two semester series that
starts with a semester on organisms (structure, taxonomic diversity,
evolution, Mendelian inheritance) and their environment (some ecology), and
finishes with a semester on biochemistry, cell biology (including some
molecular genetics) and physiology.

Each semester has 4 faculty members, and we found it helpful to give each
faculty member a block of lectures whenever possible, instead of one coming
in for 1 or 2 lecture, then another for 1 or 2 etc.  Team teaching does
present the problem of different teaching styles, and to a certain extent,
different expectations, but if you can give each person a group of lectures
together students have a chance to get used to them.

For this to work you need faculty who are good team players and who are
able to handle some reduction in teaching freedom.  They have to be
well-organized; if you take too much time digressing to tell funny stories
and don't finish your lecture, the next faculty member to go is not going
to be happy when you ask to be given extra time out of their block of
lectures.  You need to do things like agree on an exam format - we write
our exams a week in advance so there is time for the other faculty in the
course to read and make suggestions for clarity, difficulty, point values,
etc. so that more uniformity in exams is possible.  You need a person in
charge to call meetings, handle grades, and in general be the point person.  

I think there are definite advantages for the students.  They get to see
the entire department teach by the time they've completed the two semester
series.  If they don't like a particular faculty member's style, in a
couple of weeks someone else will be teaching that may be more to their
liking.  Faculty get to teach what they know the most about, which makes it
possible to answer questions of interest with more depth.  It evens the
playing field - everyone takes the same exams, whereas when multiple
sections are taught by different faculty you can get variability in
expectations and difficulty.

The biggest downside is faculty who are unable to work as a team.  Ego
can't be a player here or it won't work.  If you have good people who can
work together, then I think you will find the experience very positive. I
have learned a great deal about teaching by sitting through the lectures my
team teachers give, and it provides a nice focus for talking about teaching
issues and techniques.  

That's just a quick version.  If you have specific questions I'm happy to
give more detail.  I'm interested in hearing what other team teachers have
to say on this subject.

Kathleen Archer

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