Collaborative Team Teaching Definition Essay


Research results on whether team teaching improves student satisfaction and performance are mixed. Nevertheless, evidence suggests a number of tangible and intangible benefits to students, faculty, and institutions that engage in team teaching (Wadkins, Miller, and Wozniak, 2006). Based on a literature review of team teaching literature, this report provides an overview of team teaching, summarizes some of its benefits, identifies some challenges, provides suggestions for best practices, and makes recommendations for supporting and engaging in team teaching.

Definition of Team Teaching

Davis (1995) provides this succinct definition of team teaching: “All arrangements that include two or more faculty in some level of collaboration in the planning and delivery of a course” (p. 8).

Types of Team Teaching

Team teaching includes a number of different approaches. Some of the more common are

  • Interactive team teaching – two faculty members present in front of the class simultaneously.
  • Rotational format team teaching – faculty alternate teaching the class. This rotational format has a number of variations depending on the subject matter and the number of faculty involved.
  • Participant-observer team teaching – all participating faculty are present for all the classes, but only one is “teaching” at a time. Roles that the other teachers could play as participating observer(s) are model learner, observer, panel member, or resource (Klein, 1990).
  • Team coordination – faculty arrange and integrate a curriculum so as to maximize learning and connections using paired or linked courses, an integrated cluster of independent courses, or freshman interest groups (McDaniels and Colarulli, 1997). Though not necessarily team teaching per se, this curriculum-level approach to interdisciplinarity can help to achieve some of the expected gains of team teaching.

Those Best Suited to Engage in Team Teaching

William Newell suggests that “one needs to consider whether potential [team teaching] participants are open to diverse ways of thinking; wary of absolutism; able to admit that they do not know; good at listening; unconventional; flexible; willing to take risks; self-reflective; and comfortable with ambiguity” (Davis, 1995, p. 47).

Benefits Team Teaching Provides for Faculty

Literature on teaching and learning suggests a number of benefits faculty gain from participating in team teaching (Austin, 2002; Belenky et al., 1986; Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1992; Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1993; Focus on Faculty Newsletter, 2002; Freire, 1971; Letterman and Dugan, 2004; McDaniel, 1987; McLaughlin and Talbert, 1993; National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, 2006; Shulman, 1986; Smith, 1994; Speaking of Teaching Newsletter 2007). Specifically, faculty can

  • Learn about teaching
  • Improve their own teaching skills
  • Have opportunities to socialize graduate students into the world of teaching
  • Step out of their comfort zone
  • Have opportunities for creative assignments
  • Become informed and encouraged in interdisciplinary research
  • See teaching through the learners’ eyes
  • Avoid the lonely, repetitive, fragmented experience of solo teaching
  • Gain new insights into their disciplines
  • Develop clearer perspective on the differences between disciplines
  • Build collegial relationships
  • Foster respect
  • Build bridges of understanding across disciplines

Benefits Team Teaching Provides for Students

Students also appear to benefit from team-taught courses (Benjamin, 2000; Harris and Watson, 1997; Johnson, Johnson, Smith, 2000; Smith, 1994). The literature suggests that team teaching can

  • Deepen students’ analytical abilities
  • Help to build bridges of understanding across disciplines for both faculty and students
  • Build greater curricular coherence for students
  • Create a greater sense of academic community
  • Provide explicit structures for academic and social engagement (this is particularly necessary at commuter campuses)
  • Improve student-teacher relationships
  • Make classes more interesting and challenging because of the novelty
  • Improve student learning outcomes, retention rates, interpersonal skills, communication skills, analysis and judgment, and diversity

Challenges that Team Teaching Poses to Faculty

Scholarly discussion on the drawback of team teaching is limited faculty (Klein, 1990; Letterman and Dugan, 2004). The literature does suggest that team teaching can be detrimental to faculty performance when

  • Lack of sufficient time for collaborative work exists
  • Lack of training in group dynamics exists
  • Problems with overlapping roles exist
  • Territorial and status conflicts exist
  • One discipline dominates the process
  • Insufficient funding and inadequate logistics are provided
  • Individual autonomy is lost

Challenges that Team Teaching Poses to Students

Students report that team teaching is ineffective when

  • Instructors are not flexible in addressing students’ learning styles
  • Confusion about learning expectations exists
  • Disparity in evaluation exists

The team teaching problems cited above can be overcome if faculty implement best practices in planning and execution, and if institutions implement best practices in fostering and supporting team teaching (Focus on Faculty Newsletter, 2002; Harris and Watson, 1997; Helms, Alvis, and Willis, 2005; Letterman and Dugan, 2004; National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, 2006; Speaking of Teaching Newsletter 2006, 2007).

Suggested Best Practices for Faculty

Team teaching works well when faculty

  • Plan together
  • Identify sources of information on team teaching
  • Talk to others with experience
  • Become acquainted with each others’ styles
  • Communicate (i.e., clearly define expectations)
  • Plan alternating, interjecting strategies
  • Attend each others’ classes
  • Support each other
  • Model debate
  • Participate even if not teaching on a certain occasion
  • Apply common grading standards
  • Attend all staff meetings
  • Let the students speak
  • Be willing to be surprised
  • Have an open discussion about power issues. Who is in charge? How will conflict be resolved?
  • Apply team teaching to case-based courses: the team teaching can model how various perspectives bear on a solution
  • Ensure sufficient time and resources for success: team teaching often requires more resources — e.g., time and planning — than solo teaching

Suggested Best Practices for Institutions

(Laufgraben and Tompkins, 2004; Quinlan, 1998; Smith, 1994)

Institutions can support team-teaching faculty when they

  • Create structures to support team teaching
  • Are aware of costs and time limitations
  • Clearly articulate expectations for the teaching team
  • Recognize and reward planning efforts (e.g., planning lunches for teachers, stipends for summer planning time, and professional development funds for travel to conferences)
  • Are flexible when scheduling team planning events. (A one-time workshop, for example, works only if all members of a team can be present.) Institutional leaders can set aside several dates and times for planning sessions and require teaching teams to participate as a group
  • Provide examples of successful teamwork in learning communities
  • Avoid (whenever possible) changes in teaching assignments once a team has formed and started its work
  • Suggest that teaching teams set meeting schedules well in advance, particularly days and times to meet once the semester begins
  • Create or suggest space where teaching teams can meet. (Space that is away from individual offices or departments may allow for more focused, less interrupted team planning time.)

Ways to promote faculty collaboration include

  • Faculty pairings
  • Discussion around common concerns
  • Multi-sectioned course seminars
  • Departmental review

The Fiscal Impact of Team Teaching

Team teaching can be more expensive than solo teaching because it may involve faculty taking more time to teach fewer total credit hours. One viable approach to garner the positive aspects of team teaching while reducing fiscal impact is to use the “dispersed model” of team teaching. For example, a course entitled “Romanticism in the Arts” could be taught by one faculty member from each of the disciplines of history, art, and literature (the course could be cross-listed in each of these disciplines, as well). Each faculty member teaches his or her section of one-third of the students twice a week. Then on the third day of the week, everyone comes together for a class that explores the interlinking of the disciplines on this theme (McDaniels and Colarulli, 1997).


In summary, successful team teaching requires the active institutional and faculty commitment of time, resources, and careful planning. By so doing, team teaching can enhance the teaching and learning experiences of students and faculty and fulfill the purposes of university education by helping participants integrate disparate disciplines and perspectives.


__________, 2006. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, 15(4).

Austin, A. E., 2002. “Preparing the Next Generation of Faculty: Graduate School as Socialization to the Academic Career.” Journal of Higher Education 73, 94-122.

Belenky, M. F., B. M. Clinchy, N. R. Goldberger, and J. M. Tarule, 1986. Women’s Ways of Knowing. New York: Basic Books.

Benjamin, J., 2000. “The Scholarship of Teaching in Teams: What Does It Look Like in Practice?” Higher Education Research and Development 19, 191-204.

Cochran-Smith, M., and S. L. Lytle, 1992. “Communities for Teacher Research: Fringe or Forefront?” American Journal of Education 100(3), 298-324.

Cochran-Smith, M., and S. L. Lytle, 1993. Inside/Outside Teacher Research and Knowledge. New York: Teachers College Press.

Davis, J. R., 1995. Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching: New Arrangements for Learning. Phoenix: ACE/Oryx. Also retrieved on 11/17/08 at

Brigham Young University Faculty Center, 2002. Focus on Faculty Newsletter, 10(1).

Freire, P., 1971. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seaview.

Harris, S. A., and K. J. Watson, 1997. “Small Group Techniques: Selecting and Developing Activities Based on Stages of Group Development.” To Improve the Academy 16, 399-412.

Helms, M. M., J. M. Alvis, and M. Willis, 2005. “Planning and Implementing Shared Teaching: An MBA Team-Teaching Case Study.” Journal of Education for Business 81(1), 29-34.

Johnson, D. W., R. T. Johnson, and K. A. Smith, 2000. “Constructive Controversy.” Change 32, 29-37.

Klein, J. T., 1990. Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, and Practice. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Laufgraben, J. L., and D. Tompkins, 2004. “Pedagogy that Builds Community.” In Sustaining and Improving Learning Communities, eds. J. L. Laufgraben and N. S. Shapiro. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Letterman, M. R., and K. B. Dugan, 2004. “Team Teaching a Cross-Disciplinary Honors Course: Preparation and Development.” College Teaching 52(2), 76-79.

McDaniel, E. A., 1987. “Faculty Collaboration for Better Teaching: Adult Learning Principles Applied to Teaching Improvement.” In To Improve the Academy: Resources for Student, Faculty and Institutional Development, ed. J. Kurfiss. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

McDaniels, E. A., and G. C Colarulli, 1997. “Collaborative Teaching in the Face of Productivity Concerns: The Dispersed Team Model.” Innovative Higher Education 22(1), 19-36.

McLaughlin, M. W., and J. E. Talbert. 1993. Contexts that Matter for Teaching and Learning: Strategic Opportunities for Meeting the Nation’s Education Goals. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching.

Quinlan, K. M., 1998. “Promoting Faculty Learning About Collaborative Teaching.” College Teaching 46(2), 43-48.

Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning, 2006. Speaking of Teaching Newsletter, 16(1).

Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning, 2007. Speaking of Teaching Newsletter, 16(2).

Shulman, L. S., 1986. “Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching.” Educational Researcher 15(2), 4-14.

Smith, B. L., 1994. “Team-Teaching Methods.” In Handbook of College Teaching: Theory and Applications, eds. Prichard, K. W. and R. Mclaran Sawyer. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Wadkins, T., R. L. Miller, and W. Wozniak, 2006. “Team Teaching: Student Satisfaction and Performance.” Teaching of Psychology 22(2), 118-20.

Recommended Readings

Creamer, Elizabeth G. and Lisa R. Lattuca, eds., 2005. Advancing Faculty Learning Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Haynes, Carolyn, ed., 2002. Innovations in Interdisciplinary Teaching. Westport, CT: American Council on Education/The Oryx Press.

Submitted by

Taylor Halverson, Ph.D.
Teaching and Learning Consultant,
Brigham Young University

Team/Collaborative Teaching


Experienced teachers often recall team or collaborative teaching experiences as their best and worst experiences in a classroom.  Like any form of collaborative scholarship, successful collaborative teaching integrates the strengths of multiple viewpoints in a synthetic endeavor that no single member of the project could have completed independently. It also provides an expanded number of teaching styles that may connect with more student learning preferences.

At its best, collaborative teaching allows students and faculty to benefit from the healthy exchange of ideas in a setting defined by mutual respect and a shared interest in a topic. At its worst, collaborative teaching can create a fragmented or even hostile environment in which instructors undermine each other and compromise the academic ideal of a learning community and civil discourse. Kathryn Plank, editor of Team Teaching: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy, describes team teaching as a rough and tumble enterprise. Read Plank’s blog entry about team teaching.

The video below shows one example of team teaching. Both courses were titled “Economic Analyses of the Law” but one was taught to graduate students at the William & Mary Law School and one was taught to undergraduates in the College’s economics department.

Below is a short introduction to how team teaching is conducted at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Three Models for Collaborative Teaching

There are three models that the CFT describes here for faculty and student consideration as you contemplate collaborative teaching: traditional team teaching, linked courses for student learning communities, and connected pairs of courses meeting at the same time.

Traditional team teaching involves two or more instructors teaching the same course. The instructors are involved in a collaborative endeavor throughout the entire course. Some team teaching is more like tag-team teaching, in which only one instructor meets the class to cover a segment of the material. Tag-team teaching has its benefits, but it misses out on the benefits of dialogue and the give and take engaged by the team of instructors.

Advantagesof this model include potential deep student learning because of exposure to the connections across the disciplines of the instructors, the ambiguity of different disciplinary views, and the broad support that a heterogeneous teaching team can provide during the entire course.

Challenges include the misfortunes that could occur if the team is not well organized and connected. One challenge is determining the amount of credit each of the team members receives for teaching the course. Sometimes an instructor receives only a fraction of the credit that he or she would receive for teaching a course solo, while in reality team teaching usually requires each instructor to engage more work than when being the only instructor.


The linked course approach involves a cohort of 20 or so students, traditionally but not necessarily first year, together taking two or three courses that are linked by a theme. For example, the theme could be “the environment” with the 3 courses being introductory biology, political science, and English. Once each week the instructors of these linked courses provide a one-hour seminar for the cohort in which the instructors jointly discuss connections, similarities, and differences between the content and objectives of the courses.

Advantages, based on the research on student learning communities fostered by linked courses, include increased student retention—particularly for students academically at risk; faster and less disruptive student cognitive intellectual development; and greater civic contributions to the institution.

Challenges include finding students for the cohort and aligning the student schedules (this is usually undertaken by the student affairs division and the registrar). Another challenge is sometimes the cliquish behavior when the student cohort is embedded in a larger class.


The third model involves a pair or series of connected courses arranged and connected by the instructors to meet at the same scheduled time so that the classes can meet as a whole when the instructors think it is appropriate. The instructors can illustrate and emphasize the interdisciplinarity of certain topics or approaches appearing in both courses.

For example, a connected pair could be an introductory political science and an introductory biology course where the role of public policy affects the biological environment. There is no student learning community cohort involved, so the support generated by a learning community is not available. Thus the connected instructors should include some community building in their courses and during joint meetings. Forming small groups in each course and then mixing these across the courses could build the needed community.

Advantages of this model include the student encounters with different disciplinary connections and related ambiguity. This model is easier to set up than the student learning community linked course model because there is no cohort to form.

Challenges may include finding a space for the joint class meetings.

Cultivating Colleagueship

Finding (or cultivating) a good fit in personality, expertise, and pedagogical philosophy is important to functioning as an effective instructional connection. Strong mismatches in these areas could pose serious obstacles or, on the other hand, provide a variety of learning experiences and opportunities for students. The following questions may be useful as you consider any type of collaborative teaching with a colleague:

  • Do we share a mutual respect for one another?
  • Are we free to disagree respectfully without putting our careers in jeopardy?
  • Are our areas of expertise more likely to complement each other or compete for dominance in the course?
  • Are we both willing to compromise on issues around which we are used to having a high degree of autonomy (eg. grading standards, course content, and classroom management in the case of team teaching)? (These are not of such concern for linked courses.)

Team teaching also cultivates collaboration between teachers and students.  In the article Team Teaching: The Learning Side of the Teaching – Learning Equation, Eison and Tidwell (2003) advocate sharing power with students and including them in some of the decision-making about their own learning. We believe this facilitates critical thinking and students’ ability to see themselves as constructors of knowledge.

Constructing Team-Taught, Linked, or Connected Courses

Even the most complementary pairings will find it difficult to be successful if they are not working toward the same overall goals.  Proper course design is a pragmatic step for any courses, but it is particularly important for team-taught, linked, or connected courses.  By exploring individual assumptions about the goals and methods of a course and reaching a consensus, linked or co-instructors dramatically improve their chances of offering compelling, coherent courses.  Conversely, by not working together in such a course design process, linked and co-instructors run the risk of outcomes such as the following:

  • Serial or parallel teaching splits time between two fundamentally different approaches that can leave students confused; moreover, it fails to take advantage of the opportunity for instructors to build community and model rigorous, courteous academic discourse.
  • Linked or co-instructors who improvise policies or assignments independently create an environment that promotes triangulation (students playing one instructor against the other) and inconsistency.
  • If there is a power imbalance involved among the instructors that is not addressed such as between senior and junior faculty, students will recognize the inequality and their learning from one of the instructors may be compromised.

The CFT’s teaching guides on Course Design and its Course Design Working Groups offer advice and resources for instructors as they develop or refine their course offerings.

In addition to the normal challenges of developing course content and procedures, linked and co-instructors must decide how to share the teaching responsibilities.  Two heads may be better than one at modeling academic discourse, presenting ideas in a variety of ways, facilitating student discussions, and evaluating student work, but they also may be prone to replacing student discussion with expert opinions, contradicting one another, and getting caught up in debating minor points to the detriment of student learning.

As a part of course design, linked and co-instructors should consider the following questions:

  • What responsibilities will be shared by the instructors?
  • What responsibilities will be divided generally (across the semester) or specifically (on particular days)?
  • What are the responsibilities of the instructor “in charge” of a particular event or assignment?
  • How can the other instructor(s) facilitate student learning by assisting the instructor with the primary responsibility for a given event or assignment?
  • How will instructors handle disagreements about content or procedure without undermining one another or compromising student learning?
  • How and when will instructors meet to discuss the course or linked courses and consider changes to content or procedures throughout the semester?

Additional Resources


Center for Teaching Library:

  • Bess, James L.  Teaching alone, teaching together: transforming the structure of teams for teaching.  San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 2000.
  • Davis, James R. Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching. Phoenix: American Council on Education/Oryx Press Series on Higher Education, 1997.

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