By Beatriz Casares
In their article “Widening the discourse on team-teaching in higher education”, Minett-Smith and Davis analysed how team-teaching may be an answer to this changing environment in HE teaching based on experiences from different staff. The main drivers for this evolution in teaching practice are circumstantial and contextual but other drivers more related to the subject specialization and expertise play a role as well as pedagogical reasons for this teaching approach.
There are three main well-recognised strategies by which team teaching can be carried out:
Interactive or co-teaching model, which implies that two or more lecturers share the space and time during the course actively participating and debating while presenting the content of the course;
Participant-observer model, which also implies two or more lecturers sharing the space and time during the course, but being intervention on the other’s presentation of the subject rare, and;
Parallel or sequential model, in which lecturers teach only the sessions assigned to them based on competence or availability.
Although the latter is the most common, none should be considered superior to the the others, since the rewards or challenges to be faced are still comparable if team teaching is to be carried out.
Based on the experiences and perspectives of participants some elements are highlighted in order to make team teaching a rewarding experience that leads to a good strategy facilitating students learning and fosters an environment for professional growth:
Instead of team teaching as the way to cope with student’s ratios and workload it should be considered also as a pedagogical choice. It not only helps in the work distribution but staff has to be aware of the strategy to follow and share a common responsibility of the students’ learning experience.
A team is something that grows learning from one another and knowing each other, so stability in teams should be considered instead to base team member’s selection solely on availability, leading to an ephemeral group.
While splitting the course into sections and allocating them to different members of staff looks like a fair distribution, it is important to consider that although discussing all the materials within the group may take longer, it will bring along two very positive outcomes: reflecting on your work with your peers and hence, learning from other views; and knowing that if unforeseeable circumstances happen there is a back up to keep students learning progressing. This does not mean that different roles can be played by different team members or that in the team some members are responsible for the planning, others for the teaching and evaluation, and other for supporting in a closer manner the student’s learning process. That could be a great blend among the three strategies.
Every team has a captain, and in the case discussed here the figure of the module leader has an important role to play. It is key that although this figure is frequently needed for organisation purposes in the institution, it has to be one more team player. Being able to balance being in charge with shared responsibilities and acknowledging every body’s contribution as well as leading a team with authority requires training. It is also important that each member of the team can be recognized by their individual contributions to the group, with everybody being in the same boat and paddling in the same direction.
Communication has to be clear and it is best enhanced with established teams with enough time for planning. This means that issues can be discussed and instead of direction being given to the group, it can be found by the group. This comes back to stability in the group and leadership as key factors.
Having clear channels of communication, recognizing everybody’s contribution, finding the appropriate strategy, group stability and sharing motivation and rewards of team-teaching are key elements for a satisfying team-teaching experience for everyone involved.
[Source Paper] Catherine Minett-Smith & Carole L. Davis (2020) Widening the discourse on team-teaching in higher education, Teaching in Higher Education, 25:5, 579-594,