Team Teaching on Large Modules: Opportunities and Challenges

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This article will discuss the subject of team teaching. Many university lecturers have their first experience of team teaching as PhD students and part time lecturers, because they are not initially permitted to design and run courses in their own area of interest. But as class sizes increase, is also becoming part of the working life of permanent staff members as well.

Team teaching: what is it?

This refers to a method of teaching that involves a number of different lecturers working on the same unit (i.e. individual course). They might be involved right from the start in the design process or simply cover the teaching and delivery aspect. This method usually is employed on large, ‘survey’ modules that involve cohorts of a significant size.

What are the positives?

For students, being taught by a range of lecturers can enhance understanding due to being able to see the subject from a number of perspectives. This can allow lecturers to speak on their own topic as part of a larger unit without having to revise and write a lecture on topics about which they are unfamiliar. It can also mean that the load of seminar/workshop/lab teaching is shared among staff members.

In terms of teaching development, team teaching can encourage innovation and the sharing of best practice. In ideal circumstances, a unit should be run in a democratic fashion where any contributing lecturer should have the opportunity to suggest a new approach. Regular meetings should be held between the staff members to ensure parity across the student experience and staff workloads.

What are the negatives?

For students the inconsistency and lack of routine can be unsettling. Taking a unit with one lecturer means that you can get used to that person’s style and requirements. Team taught units can leave students unsure as to who is in charge and are unclear about the right person to approach with a particular problem.

Lecturers sometimes dislike this approach because they too find it ‘bitty’ and inconsistent. They would prefer to work with a cohort for the whole year rather than see them just for a few weeks.

Often the team taught module doesn’t encourage collaboration and can even increase the divisions between ‘us ‘ and ‘them’ with the lecturing staff (usually permanent members of the department) distinct from the small group staff (usually part time lecturers or postgrads). In these cases, very little input is sought from the staff leading the small groups, despite the fact that they are the ones with more student contact.

Good practice:

  • Encourage all members of the staff team to meet regularly to share experiences and make suggestions for improvement.
  • Make sure that students have a single clear point of contact that is consistent throughout the year.
  • Use staff members’ expertise to improve the course. Allow them to develop lectures in their own areas of research rather than forcing them into something unfamiliar.
  • Encourage staff to engage with the whole course and not just turn up to deliver their few sessions as this will enhance student experience by ensuring continuity.

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