Faculty Focus


Thinking of Collaborative Teaching? A Few Things to Consider

It used to be called team teaching, but that term is now used less often to describe the collaboration of colleagues when they jointly teach the same course. Multiple instructors may be involved in the course, each delivering a freestanding module; or two instructors may do the course together, each in class every day with all course activities and assignments integrated. And there are variations of each of these models.

A team of faculty researchers at the University of British Columbia set out to explore the benefits and drawbacks of having multiple teachers involved in teaching one course. They looked at this shared teaching as it occurred in nine different courses. Almost 1,000 students and 17 instructors answered survey questions regarding experiences in these courses. Their results are detailed in the article, which also includes a useful set of recommendations for any department considering shared responsibility within a course and for faculty members assigned to jointly teach a course. These are highlighted below.

Carefully consider whether multiple instructors are in fact appropriate. “Use multiple instructors when course learning goals include (a) improving scholarly skills and attitudes, (b) developing multi-disciplinary knowledge and skills in senior courses, and possibility (c) developing specific student expertise guided by content specialists.” (p. 138)

Actively and visibly reduce confusion by minimizing the adjustments students must make to the various teaching and assessment styles of the teaching team. Students need to know why the course is being taught by more than one instructor. Instructors should agree on expectations for students, teaching strategies, class procedures, and assessments beforehand. They should regularly watch each other teach and work to create bridges between their respective segments. Feedback from students, solicited regularly, can alert them to problems and issues before they become serious impediments to learning. Students are easily confused when confronted with more than one teacher. What may seem clear and obvious to the instructors may not appear that way to students—which is why regular communication with students is so important.

Build an effective team. If more than one instructor is teaching the course, more than one instructor should be making decisions about the course. Instructors need to work on incorporating each other’s perspectives and views on various aspects of teaching and learning. The authors point out that working as a team is essential to success even when the teaching is done individually in sequence. Classroom collaboration offers teachers a great opportunity to learn together. They can mentor and support each other in ways far more significant and meaningful than what usually happens in higher education.

Not all courses are the same. This means that there is no master plan or common template when teaching responsibilities in a course are shared. How teachers decide to approach the task should be influenced by the nature of the course itself—its content, where it fits in the curriculum, and the learning objectives of the course.

Reference: Jones, F. and Harris, S. (2012). Benefits and drawbacks of using multiple instructors to teach a single course. College Teaching, 60, 132-139.

Reprinted from When more than one teacher teaches the course, The Teaching Professor, 26.10 (2012): 5. © Magna Publications.