Expanding your comfort zone: Transforming curriculum through co-teaching

30 May 2019 9:44 AM | Anonymous

By Matthew Mulvaney, Ph.D., and Rachel Razza, Ph.D., Syracuse University

Co-teaching (or team teaching) can be an effective approach for faculty to work collaboratively to deliver new courses that reflect their combined expertise. Here we discuss the approach that we took to develop a course from a co-teaching perspective. The two of us (both faculty in a Human Development and Family Science department) wanted to ensure that our graduate students would be trained in structural equation modeling (SEM). Our context for developing this team-taught class was based on our shared belief that graduate students in our program need to learn the basics of SEM, along with our observations of the limited options available for learning SEM on our campus. We had to be creative in constructing such an opportunity, however, as neither of us are trained methodologists and thus we felt unequipped to tackle this course alone. Therefore, in order to cultivate this opportunity for our graduate students, we pushed ourselves to develop this course via a co-teaching approach.

The idea for this course and our team teaching approach originated from a Graduate Student Research Seminar Series in our department that was initiated by one of us, but ultimately presented as a collaborative effort. The seminar series consisted of four, 2-hour sessions where students explored the basics of SEM using key variables that we constructed using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The seminar series was more successful than we imagined, as we routinely had 10-12 graduate students per week who were eager to participate and learn with us! We took away three important lessons from this seminar series. First, it was clear that the students would require more advanced training in this analytic technique, especially if they planned to build more complex models in their own research. Second, it was evident that in order to provide them with this knowledge, we also required additional training. And third, we were eager to continue this journey as collaborators, as having someone to help prepare, test, and teach the material proved to be critical in the seminar series. Thus, we identified a summer grant from our university that would allow us to create and teach this course. We spent a significant amount of time consulting with faculty at peer institutions on course design and assisting each other in strengthening our understanding of the material. We met once a week for approximately 8 weeks to select readings, prepare the syllabus, build models to test, and create assignments. In addition, one of us completed additional statistical training in SEM and shared his new knowledge and skill as we prepared this course.

The course we constructed was taught over two weeks in the summer, with 5-hour days of teaching. We both attended all sessions but alternated primary responsibility on an every-other day basis, split up the grading of the homework, and co-constructed exams. The daily course routine was consistent. Each session included a lecture based on a chapter from an introduction to AMOS textbook. After the new material was presented, students participated in a guided activity where they constructed models in AMOS and ran the analyses that were included in the textbook chapter. In preparation for class, students also read examples of journal articles that reflected the specific approach to modeling that they were learning in the chapter. These articles were chosen by us during the course-planning phase and we used class time to dissect the models and discuss the results of these current studies. The daily sessions wrapped up with time for questions and an introduction to the homework. The homework assignments paralleled the skills that were taught that day but were based on a secondary data set that we constructed with the help of our external consultant. Thus, the students were practicing on one data set during class time and transferring their skills to a different data set for the homework assignments.

Previous work has identified critical features necessary for the development of team-teaching approaches, including a shared commitment to the co-teaching process and commitment to constructive, reflective discussion throughout the design and delivery of the course (Lock et al., 2016). We would concur that our ability to openly discuss our challenges with the content at all stages of development and delivery, while building off each other’s strengths, was essential. We could both be honest about the challenges we were having and then use the other for more effective support. This dialogue also infused itself into the classroom, where it provided students an opportunity to observe a model of a collaborative professional relationship where different techniques and teaching practices were implemented simultaneously in a supportive learning environment (Chanmugam & Gerlach, 2013). The co-teaching approach seemed to work very well and the feedback was very favorable overall for the class.

For those who are interested in pursuing co-teaching opportunities, we would put forth the following suggestions. First, identify a need or potential area of development within your department or across departments and then consider potential collaborators. Obviously, selecting an effective co-teacher is essential. Co-teaching is an intense process and you need to find someone that you can feel comfortable working with, who will be committed to the process, and who is as excited as you are about developing the project. You should also survey the supports that might be possible to develop the course. Institutional support is critical to facilitating team taught courses (Morelock et al., 2017). Costs to consider include those associated with course preparation and course delivery.

While we are not aware of any instances of graduate students and faculty together in co-teaching approaches, it may be a potentially fruitful area to explore. The benefits of co-teaching extend to the instructors who teach it, as it allows them to develop their knowledge and skills in a particular domain (Carpenter, Crawford, & Walden, 2007; Marshall, 2014). Thus, we think that further explorations of such models may be beneficial for developing graduate student teachers and simultaneously moving forward innovative curriculum.


Expanding your comfort zone handout


Carpenter, D. M., Crawford, L., & Walden, R. (2007). Testing the efficacy of team teaching. Learning Environments Research, 10, 53-65. doi:10.1007/s10984-007-9019-y

Chanmugan, A., & Gerlach, B. (2013). A co-teaching model for developing future educators’ teaching effectiveness. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 25, 110-117.

Lock, J., Clancy, T., Lisella, R., Rosenau, P., Ferreira, C., & Rainsbury, J. (2016). The lived experiences of instructors co-teaching in higher education. Brock Education Journal, 26(1), 22-35.

Marshall, A. M. (2014). Embedded professional development for teacher educators: An unintended 'consequence' of university co-teaching. International Journal of University Teaching and Faculty Development, 5, 17-30.

Morelock, J. R., Lester, M. M., Klopfer, M. D., Jardon, A. M., Mullins, R. D., Nicholas, E. L., & Alfaydi, A. S. (2017). Power, perceptions, and relationships: A model of co-teaching in higher education. College Teaching, 65(482-191. doi:10.1080/87567555.2017.133661

Author Bios

Dr. Matthew Mulvaney is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at Syracuse University. He teaches courses in parenting, child development, and family theories. He is currently serving as the chair of the SRCD Teaching Committee.

Dr. Rachel Razza is a an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at Syracuse University. She has served as the department’s Graduate Director and as member of the Teaching Committee for SRCD. Dr. Razza has received several grants focused on curriculum development and pedagogy in higher education and was honored with the Syracuse University Teaching Recognition Award in 2014.

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