NTLF Vol. 7 No. 2 1998 - Jim Davis on Team Teaching

Jim Davis on Team Teaching

Jim Davis of the University of Denver has spent a lot of time studying team teaching. It was at least half the story of his last book, Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching: New Arrangements for Learning (1995). Rare enough in itself, the forms of team teaching Davis regards as the best seem even rarer. What are those? "Dialogues, debates, panels," he says.

"Something different happens when faculty talk with faculty in class," says Davis. The ethos of the class changes. Students no longer have room to regard themselves as

"Faculty who've team taught tell me that often it marks the first time they've actually talked about teaching."

clay and the teachers as potters. Instead, they see the subject at hand, not as something difficult that they should learn, but as something exciting that intelligent grownups are ready, willing and able to find interesting and exciting. Seeing this, students feel invited into the conversation and respected in their intelligence, especially if faculty are willing to run the risk of disagreeing in front of students.

Davis recently returned from a conference in Washington state on team teaching where some of the success stories he heard underscore this point. "One fellow recounted that 'where we know we're going to disagree, we don't rehearse it; we let it happen.' It's just incredible for students to see faculty disagree," says Davis.

The most common form of team teaching, "I'm afraid we'd have to say," says Davis, "is serial lecturing." In such team-taught courses faculty divide up the material and alternate weeks of lecturing. It's a start, but it's not the most vital mode of team teaching, the one that achieves "the highest level of integration of material," as Davis puts it.

If serial lecturing doesn't give students the best experience, it may produce one of the happy effects of team teaching for faculty. "When faculty team teach," says Davis, "they end up talking to each other about teaching. Normally, if they talk to each other at all, they talk about their disciplines and subject matter. Faculty who've team taught tell me that often it marks the first time they've actually talked about teaching. They all say it ends up being more work, but they also say it's more satisfying work and leads to better teaching."

Sadly, when faculty express interest in team teaching they often run up against an administrative wall. Deans, chairs and other keepers of the purse counter that team teaching costs too much. Why have two faculty teaching one course when they could have each teaching one? Davis offers a few suggestions for countering administrative objections:

"It all comes down to load," he says, "so you need to find out: Is there an average number of students we teach here? If so, ask: How can we work team teaching into that? If the average number is 20, then a class of 60 taught by three faculty members begins to seem reasonable, doesn't it?

"Or you might ask: How many under-enrolled classes do we have? If you are teaching under-enrolled classes, that can provide some leverage in arguing for team teaching of some kinds.

"Although it tends to encourage the serial lecturing mode of team teaching, you can also begin to answer objections by calculating the percentage of involvement of individual faculty members in a team taught course."

Davis makes two cautions. First: "The hazard of team teaching is that faculty get caught up in the talking process once they're in it; so, team-taught courses do need a leader to limit, guide, and generally keep things on track." Second: "Most team-taught courses have to find a home." Sometimes it's Women's Studies; sometimes it's Integrated Liberal Studies. But academe remains uncomfortable with alliances that cross old territorial borders. "So finding a provost or dean as an ally is important," Davis admits.


Jim Davis
305 Wesley Hall
University of Denver
Denver, CO 80205

Telephone: (303) 871-3650
E-mail: jdavis@du.edu

Subscribers will find material on how to get started in team teaching excerpted from Davis's book--James R. Davis, Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching: New Arrangements for Learning, Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1995--posted on the Forum's Web site.

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