Professor Emeritus in Business Education
Howard Community College, Columbia, MD
Although we often think of it as new and innovative, team teaching is a concept that has been in existence since teaching began many centuries ago. Socrates employed it, and it was used to settle medieval disputes (Shafer, 2000). It is a way to combine the knowledge and skills of more than one person to produce a better, more meaningful class experience and broaden students understanding of the course content by providing them with more than one perspective.
There are numerous combinations of methods for using team teaching, but all include "two or more faculty in some level of collaboration in the planning and delivery of a course.” Davis (1995), Maroney (1995), Robinson and Schaible (1995) and Goetz (2007), describe several methods used: Traditional Team Teaching where both teachers plan the course, are in the classroom together lecturing and assisting students, and share grading responsibilities; Collaborative Team Teaching, similar to traditional except that, in the classroom, the teachers dialogue together about course material, sharing different viewpoints and ideas with the students; Complimentary/Supportive where one teacher lectures and sets the stage for follow-up activities conducted by the other teacher; Parallel Instruction where the class is divided into two smaller groups and each teacher teaches the same material to his or her respective group and, similarly, a Differentiated Split Class may divide students according to ability and each teacher teaches his or her group based on students’ prior understanding of the material. Lastly is Monitoring Teacher where both teachers are in the classroom, one instructing and the other assisting students to increase their understanding of the lecture material.
Regardless of how the class is structured, the major advantage to team teaching is bringing together different skill sets, background and knowledge of each of the teachers on the team. One teacher described it as "akin to attending daily professional development seminars” (Goetz, 2007).
As with any good teaching technique that deviates somewhat from the normal method of delivery, there can be some drawbacks. It takes a lot of time and effort to plan and work together, including time up front for course design, and time during the semester to meet and share ideas and possibly joint grading. Defining the roles of each instructor can be a problem, especially if they have dissimilar teaching philosophies. Students may also be resistant to the approach, as they are often more comfortable with the traditional lecture and note-taking method. Finally, administrative support must be strong, as this can be a very time consuming process, and the administration must be clear about the beneficial outcome.
Howard Community College used team teaching in a very unique way for ENTR-215: Taking Innovation to Market. This course was developed as part of the Technology Assessment Program funded through a National Science Foundation Grant. According to the TAP-NSF grant Web site, www.inventiontobusiness.com, the purpose of the Technology Assessment Program is to "expand the innovation infrastructure in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and to speed technology transfer from the national research enterprise to the private sector.” The method used to teach ENTR-215 probably most closely resembles the "Complimentary Teaching” or the "Monitoring Teacher” techniques. The course was designed by a technology transfer expert from a local research lab who wrote the syllabus and specified the course assignments and grading. He also made contact and brought into the course several mentors from the technology transfer field in regional research labs. The mentors worked with student teams throughout the semester and met with the instructor outside of class at least once a month. A veteran instructor from Howard Community College also assisted with the course by being present in the classroom both for the lectures and the sessions with the research mentors. He was able to facilitate for the main instructor and mentors as well as for the students, both during and outside of class.
What made this such a unique team teaching experience was the use of mentors to guide the students through the technology transfer process. Student teams had assigned products that were developed by participating research labs to take through the technology transfer cycle. They followed the product from the research and development stage through marketing, licensing and eventually to royalty readiness in the marketplace. The class ran for 14 weeks and was structured with three weeks of lecture, then a week of meeting with mentors, three more weeks of lecture, meeting with the mentors, etc. The instructors incorporated full class discussion and small group discussion throughout the course. Working with their business mentors, students learned not just the technology transfer process and differing perspectives of experts in the field, but also teamwork, critical-thinking, and decision-making skills. The majority of the course grade was based on a formal team presentation made to a team of judges, community business leaders and venture capitalists. Prizes were awarded for the best team presentations.
Students in the class ranged in age from 15 to 62 (part of the NSF grant was to include high school students in the technology transfer learning). Because the class was so diverse in age, background and interests, working in teams gave them an additional opportunity to gain different perspectives. The instructors observed that many of the younger students had a greater knowledge of technology, but the life skills and business acumen of the older students factored into formulating plans for bringing the technology to the marketplace.
The instructors reported that the best aspect of the class was that students were given technical expertise from different points of view. The most difficult aspect was the organizational part (mentors working in different organizations with different working schedules). None of them had ever participated in a team teaching experience prior to this class. The Howard Community College instructor felt that the contact with all of the outside mentors taught him aspects of research and development as well as technology transfer that he could not have obtained in any other way. He found it a personally enriching experience, but also a challenge to keep up with what is going on in the area of technology transfer.
Students also benefited from this team teaching approach. Among their comments are:
- "Meeting with mentors and inventors contributed more to my learning skills.”
- "I had a chance to interview an inventor and receive advice from mentors.”
- "I loved review sessions with mentors. I learned a lot about technology.”
- "We worked together as a team of people of different ages. We got to meet new and interesting people from (industry) such as inventors and mentors, and speakers from the technology transfer field.”
The course and the team teaching was deemed to be a success by all who participated--instructors, mentors and students. All agreed that it brought real-life experience and the relevance of technology transfer into the classroom. It will continue to be offered at Howard Community College as part of the Entrepreneurship Program.
Shafer, Ingrid (2000). Team teaching: Education for the future: Available:
Davis, J.R. (1995) Interdisciplinary courses and team teaching: New arrangements for learning. Phoenix: ACE/oryx.
Maroney, Sharon A. (1995) Some notes on team teaching. Available: http://wiu.edu/users/mfsam1/Teamtchg.html. (April, 2007)
Goetz, Karin (2007). Perspectives on Team Teaching. Available: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~egallery/goetz.html. (April, 2007).
Robinson, B. and Schaible,R. (1995). Collaborative teaching: Reaping the benefits. College Teaching, 43(2), 57-60.
E-mail interview with Wayne Swann, Lead Instructor, (June, 2007). Howard Community College, Columbia, MD.21044.
E-mail interview with Lev Volynskiy, Assisting Instructor, (June, 2007). Howard Community College. Columbia, MD.21044.