Teaching as a team – Q&A with face-to-face & online instructional teams at Purdue

Many Purdue courses are taught by more than one instructor, and instructional research outlines many advantages to students and co-instructors. But there are challenges too. This month, instructors from courses taught face-to-face and online offer insights into their approach and how collaborative instruction improves the experience of everyone in the course.

NUR 417 Leadership in Nursing has been team-taught for more than seven years and was part of the IMPACT course transformation program in fall 2017. This semester, the NUR 417 team includes Pam Karagory, clinical associate professor and interim head of the School of Nursing; Diane Hountz and Joy Pieper, clinical assistant professors; Mallori Walker, continuing lecturer; and Emily Fusiek, graduate teaching assistant. All have varying nursing and teaching experience, and work together to instruct two sections of 104 students who meet on Thursdays in the Wilmeth Active Learning Center. Students in NUR 417 are seniors who work to develop their leadership and management skills as professional nurses, managers, and leaders in the nursing field.

ASEC 548 Communicating Science to the Public is an eight-week online summer course offered by the Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication. It has been taught online for three years by the two-person team that created the course: Mark Tucker, ASEC professor, and Beth A. Forbes, science communication director and continuing lecturer in the College of Agriculture. The course attracts graduate students from across campus with a typical enrollment of 12-15.

Q: In his book The Skillful Teacher (2015), Stephen D. Brookfield talks about the advantages of team teaching in terms of the diverse experience and perspectives it brings to students? How is this reflected in your course?

Tucker & Forbes: “We both bring slightly different experiences to the course – Mark as a faculty member and researcher and Beth as an experienced communications professional. Having these combined perspectives gives the course the academic rigor of a graduate-level course and the very applied and practical aspects of how to create specific science communications resources.”

Karagory: “Nursing is a complex field and faculty practice experiences vary depending on a number of variables. This is specifically true in nursing leadership where leadership roles occur from the bedside to the boardroom. Team teaching allows for the faculty to employ narrative pedagogy where stories are shared by faculty and students and focuses on the human element of healthcare and leadership. This pedagogical approach allows students and faculty to assess the meaning, reasoning, and outcomes of leadership from the lens of leadership growth, development and style.”

Q: How is your team teaching structured?

Tucker & Forbes: “We pretty much share responsibility for the course, working closely together to determine course objectives, readings and assignments. At times, compromise was necessary as science communication is a creative activity and there is more than one way to interpret priorities and best strategies. Because it’s an online class, we alternated in taking the lead in developing the content for certain topical areas (primarily videos).  We also recorded some videos together using a discussion format to give the students some perspective on the readings. Because of our unique strengths in different aspects, we were able to develop a division of labor so that we each specialize somewhat. For example, Beth oversees and grades much of the student writing, while Mark works with students on case study papers that are more research-based and rely on literature review.”

Hountz: “We see each other every week, but we always meet in the beginning and end of the semester to evaluate what we need to tweak. We look at where is the faculty expertise? Where do you feel comfortable? Where do you have lived experience you can talk about? This semester we have new members to the teaching team. As the course coordinator, before the semester, I sent a list of topics and projects to everyone. They each circled the top four they could teach well and, for the projects, we literally went around the room several times until each project had a leader. We go over the course evaluations and feedback from past semesters. We also get feedback from the practice partners that our students work with in the field. Every week, I email a recap of what happened in class and the agenda for the next week. Everyone contributes to that feedback, so it’s not just one person trying to remember what worked well and what didn’t.”

Q: What are advantages to instructors who team teach?

Tucker & Forbes: “There are many ways to communicate about science and there is much we can learn from each other’s experiences. In addition, there are practical benefits of team-teaching. If one of us is away at a conference or is otherwise unavailable, the other can cover the course.

Pieper: “I learn from my colleagues every day. One of my favorite things about teaching in this course is that I get to hear other people’s opinions and experiences, and that helps improve my breadth of knowledge on the multiple topics we discuss.”

Q: What are other advantages to students in a team-taught course?

Tucker & Forbes: “It means that they have double the availability when it comes to seeking help or asking questions. We use a common email dedicated to the course, so that instructors both receive and can reply to and handle any comments or requests that come in, in a timely manner.”

Karagory: “Sharing experiences, perspectives, and problem-solving techniques empower faculty and students in recognizing the complexity of the human experience in healthcare. One of the biggest advantages is a well-designed team teaching classroom helps create a safe space where diverse opinions, ideas, disagreement and healthy conflict are welcomed. Rich, diverse learning occurs within a framework of inclusion.”

Q: What are challenges to team teaching?

Tucker & Forbes: “Most of the challenges were probably at the beginning when we were creating the course and trying to decide what content to include. We pretty much agreed on what topics to cover, but had different styles when it came to teaching and content creation. It’s necessary to put the students’ needs first when deciding how topics will be addressed. The online modules have now been developed and we simply tweak them a bit each year.”

Fusiek: “Time. It takes passion and commitment to be able to put in the time and effort to be at class each week and give your best to the topic that is being discussed. I am a full-time student and also TA another class, so this class takes a whole day of my time. But I do it because I love nursing and I want to be part of teaching the future generation.”

Q: What are other considerations to keep in mind when considering team teaching a course?

Tucker & Forbes: “Having a partner to bounce ideas off of is very helpful. It’s also good that we have been colleagues and have worked on teams together before, so we are very familiar with each other’s style of work and teaching. From our experience, we have found team teaching to be very beneficial, but it does take some time as well to coordinate. Communicating with each other is always very important.”

Walker: “Communication is key. With the busy schedule I keep, [the weekly recaps and agenda] are imperative for my success as an instructor in this class. Everyone being a ‘team player’ is super important. No one has to pull anyone else’s weight. We are all active participants in our teaching team, and we pick each other up when life gets in the way. Lastly, we all share a passion for our students and their learning. When that is the case, it is difficult to not be successful.”

Writer: Karen S. Neubauer, assistant director, Center for Instructional Excellence, 765-494-5110, neubauer@purdue.edu

Last updated: October 9, 2019