Des conseils de carrière
Thoughts on co-teaching
Best practices for teaching
a course as a team
by Shoshanah Jacobs
or the last five semesters I have co-taught
an introductory biology course. Until now,
this has not been the norm in our department. This semester has been different for
many instructors: half of our courses are
now co-instructed. This dramatic restructuring has
caused me to reflect on my experience as a member of a teaching team.
Our course follows a loosely “flipped” design
with weekly laboratories, field study and an
interdisciplinary project with students from two
other biology courses. It is student-centred and
inquiry-based, with a focus on critical thinking.
Our means of co-instructing is also not traditional; rather than dividing the course into two
parts, with each taught by one instructor, we
have chosen to instruct together in an improvised dialogue among ourselves and our students. When one of us is speaking, the other is
circulating around the theatre, engaging and
listening, interjecting with positive contributions, and facilitating student participation.
Within a co-instructing scenario, there are
three relevant relationships: instructor to instructor; instructors to students; and instructors to
administrators. Each of these has its unique challenges, and our team has developed a series of
best practices based upon our own experience
and the literature.
One of the most common recommendations
when establishing a co-instructed course is that
the pairing must be voluntary. A willingness to
be part of the team is an important factor in
determining whether the course is a positive
experience for both instructors and students.
Entering into a co-teaching relationship can be
high-risk if not done voluntarily, and especially
when there is a status (e.g. tenured vs. unten-
ured) or gender imbalance.
I am a professor who is female and unten-
ured. I have been paired with professors who are
male and have tenure. Neither of these imbal-
ances have ever been an issue and my co-instruc-
tors are deliberate in their acknowledgement of
our differences. Their small actions demonstrate
to our students the value of being an effective
part of a team. They direct students to me when
questions are asked in my area of expertise, they
refer to me by my proper title, and they always
put my name first when listed with theirs.
However, we do see the imbalance acknowl-
edged by our students and by department admin-
istrators. At the beginning of the semester, my
co-instructor is more frequently approached
after class with follow-up questions, and is more
often referred to by his proper title and surname
in person, by email and on social media. I receive
more student requests for academic consider-
ation or deferred conditions.
My co-instructor and I work hard and delib-
erately at being part of a team and we have
noticed that this results in better teaching. We
build each lesson together rather than splitting
up the work. This ensures that the flow is
consistent, visual aids are uniform, and our stu-
dents enjoy a more active learning experience.
We write all the examination questions together.
Integrated over the semester, “talking time” in
Fclass is equal though it varies within lessons based upon our expertise. During class, we rarely refer to our own accom- plishments and instead point out those of the other. We hold an equal number of office hours per
week and we post a similar number of comments
on the online discussion board. We meet weekly
to reflect on what has happened and to prepare
for the upcoming week. Also, we never contradict
each other in class or with administration. Ever.
Perhaps one of the less obvious best practices
that has facilitated this relationship is that we
practice evidenced-based teaching. This way, we
do not experience conflict associated with want-
ing to do something that the other does not. If
research supports that the strategy in question
will help students achieve our learning outcomes
more efficiently or more effectively, then the
decision is obvious.
Our research has shown that, in the context
of increasing enrolment that leads to growing
class sizes, institutions either scale up (increase
the number of sections, number of instructors,
or number of teaching assistants) or restructure
the course. My experience as a co-instructor has
been with a restructured course where the co-
instructing strategy I have described was part of
the initial design. Co-instructing, in this case, is
not sequential teaching that is sometimes insti-
tuted as a means of facilitating faculty research
priorities; it is much more work and vastly more
rewarding. As our department transitions to a co-
instructing culture, I am excited by this opportu-
nity to innovate our teaching practice.
Shoshanah Jacobs is an
assistant professor in the
department of integrative
biology and a member of the
College of Biological Sciences
Office of Educational Scholar-
ship and Practice at the
University of Guelph.
“ When one of us is
speaking, the other is
circulating around the
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