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What I (a Faculty Member)
What I (a Chief Academic Officer)

Learned From Team Teaching
in Both a Classroom and
a Distance-Learning Environment

John Tarjan, CSU Bakersfield


David Spence, CSU Office of the Chancellor


Almost two years ago, Dr. David Spence, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer of the California State University, and Dr. John Tarjan, Professor of Management at California State University, Bakersfield, found themselves engaged in a unique collaboration--team teaching two courses, an undergraduate course and a graduate seminar in organization theory and design at the Bakersfield campus. Drs. Spence and Tarjan had become acquainted through their work with the Academic Senate of the CSU. Dr. Spence is the Chancellor's representative to the Senate and Dr. Tarjan is one of two representatives from the Bakersfield campus. In private discussions about how to facilitate communication between faculty and the central academic administration, Dr. Tarjan indicated that having administrators participate in the classroom might be one effective strategy. Dr. Spence agreed, noting that the schedules of most central administrators would make full participation difficult. However, when Dr. Tarjan's teaching rotation included these two courses, Dr. Spence accepted the invitation to team teach both.

The classes met twice a week during the evening. The MBA graduate seminar met in an instructional television studio on the Bakersfield campus, with additional students participating in studios in Ridgecrest and Lancaster. The undergraduate class met in a traditional but technologically up-to-date classroom later in the evening. Dr. Spence had no experience as a classroom instructor. However, he did much of his graduate work in the field of organizational theory and he has been a guest lecturer many times during his career as an administrator in three state systems of higher education. The use of distance-spanning technologies such as television, the Internet, and e-mail in the graduate seminar was especially valuable given the backdrop of increasing enrollment pressure in the CSU system and the unlikely probability of funding new campuses in the near future. Technology is being examined as one way that access, affordability, and quality can be maintained in the face of resource pressures.

Many of the things we "learned" from this experience are in fact ideas and concepts that were not new to us, but which we came to feel more deeply or came to understand more fully. The experience resulted in a number of insights that might not have been gained in other ways or under different circumstances. We felt it would be important to share these ideas with a broader audience of both faculty and administrators. To maintain our separate perspectives, we developed our comments independently and then edited them together.

What I Learned about Students

Tarjan: During discussions with Dr. Spence I began to reflect on the teaching and learning experience, and I realized a few things. Grading is an extremely sensitive issue. Faculty are in positions of great power because of their ability to critique and evaluate students' work, while students have little prospect of appeal. Students' self-esteem, careers, and plans for the future can all be impacted by interim and final grades. I also learned from observation that students respond very well to examples of practical experience. I often draw upon my own experiences, but the participation of David and other executives served to reinforce the lessons and helped students to evaluate better the relative importance of the points and principles we studied.

Spence: I was reminded that our CSU students are so hard working and busy. My educational experience was as a full-time student. I am amazed at how much our students are able to get done. They juggle full schedules, including school, work, and families. This is particularly true of graduate students. I noted that several of our graduate students were either unemployed or underemployed and that their education is particularly important as a vehicle to a better future. Students trust us to provide a quality education and they place faith in the value of their education. Our students demonstrate they are willing to defer their other needs while completing their education.

I generally saw more intellectual growth and development in our graduate students than in our undergraduate students. The graduate students seemed better equipped to study and learn. They also had a higher appreciation of the value of the material covered in the course. I am now even more convinced that critical thinking and communication abilities are the most important skills that students get through the educational process. Critical thinking, writing, and speaking are fundamental. Developmental feedback is essential in helping students to progress. In this regard, I noticed that graduate students progressed much faster in the skill-development process than undergraduates. I think that undergraduate students are not as ready to be receptive to learning objectives and to the teaching and learning process. They take less responsibility for their learning outcomes. It is vital that instructors reinforce thinking, argumentation, logic, decision making, problem solving, writing, and speaking in courses. The importance of developing these skills cannot be overstated. I should mention that I perhaps had a skewed view of this process because I taught only with John and was only exposed to the approach taken by this one business professor. I have also had a chance to reflect on the fleeting nature of content. I worked hard preparing to teach these courses, becoming fully immersed in our texts and other supporting materials and preparing intensively for class. But the details and particular modes of presentation of the subject matter faded within a couple of months for me. I imagine the same is true for many of the students. The skills that were reinforced through the content are what endure for them and what they build upon in their careers and other endeavors.

What I Learned about Faculty

Tarjan: I think that we do not spend nearly enough time evaluating our performance, strategies, and objectives in the classroom. Team teaching with an inexperienced instructor forced me to reexamine and reassess my goals and my strategies for achieving them to a much greater extent. In order to prepare for class, we needed to discuss goals and strategies systematically. I realized that it had become too easy for me to teach courses that I have done before without reassessing what I hope the students will accomplish and how I will help to guide them towards the outcomes. I also came to a greater realization of how strange a schedule we keep at a commuter school. The evening from 5:30pm to 11:30pm is not a typical "core" work period for most professionals. Students are more tired and have more emergencies at night. I don't think we have addressed that fact very well.

Spence: I came into this experience with a high regard for faculty and the difficult and challenging process of teaching. I had always respected my teachers and professors. They were very helpful to me. I realized how hard it was to get through a Ph.D. program and then successfully go through the tenure process--often at great sacrifice. A faculty member needs to be a particular type of person. While I was working in the Georgia and Florida systems I also had a lot of contact with faculty, and I already had a lot of respect for them when I came to this system. Before I began team teaching, I already appreciated the difficulty of developing effective pedagogy and was aware of the concern our faculty have for their students. But I am even more impressed now at the amount of time and effort required to teach a course effectively. My own preparation during the summer months before the class began was time consuming, even though I was already familiar with many of the concepts we were to cover. John worked during the summer to prepare, well before the class began, even though he had taught the material before. He made changes in approach and coverage. He probably didn't invest as much time as when he first taught the courses, but he used his previous experiences as a basis for the changes.

An interesting aspect of the classes was the amount of time and effort involved in assessment. Some students were given feedback every week. A rotating subset of students received feedback in conjunction with every class session. Formative feedback was constant in the courses. It is very time consuming. I should note that we used no objective examinations in the courses.

I was impressed at the amount of interaction the students had with us in and outside of class, even outside of office hours. Of course, John had the bulk of this contact. With the use of technology such as e-mail, cell phones, and so forth, professors are available at almost all times or with relatively short delays. In fact, I believe that both the amount and effectiveness of student interaction with faculty has probably increased as a result of the use of technology. Again, my impressions may be overly reliant on this one experience. I think that the amount of concern for individual students and their development probably varies, especially when faculty have to deal with large sections. Let me end by saying that this was a very valuable experience for me. I found that teaching is very challenging and emotionally draining, especially when students don't respond exactly as one plans.

What I Learned about Administrators

Tarjan: I learned that while many faculty believe that the jobs of administrators are fun, filled with perks, and rewarding, many administrators view the jobs of faculty in the same way. Perhaps this is a case of the proverbial grass being greener on the other side of the fence. But faculty have one perquisite that stands above all others that administrators do not: intimate, constant contact with students. Each new academic term means renewal, new faces, new challenges. As the term progresses, relationships are formed and growth is seen. Administrators miss this. What they do involves slower and less distinct feedback and they miss a lot of fun. Secondly, I believe more strongly now that administrators really do care about teaching and learning in the CSU. It is the University's core mission and the administration believes in it. Finally, many of us--especially administrators, perhaps-- talk about technology in abstract terms. Too abstract. Too few administrators have been in the classroom enough to relate to some of the issues involved in teaching and learning and the use of electronic technologies.

Spence: Of course faculty have a right to expect administrators in my position to have respect and regard for students, but I learned even more about them by being in a teaching situation. I guess that I learned that we administrators miss much of the nuance of the things faculty say about teaching and learning. I have always tried to defer to faculty on curricular, teaching, and learning issues, and heading into this experience I had a healthy respect for both faculty and the process of teaching and learning. What I learned, or at least appreciate more fully, is that first-hand experience with teaching is fundamental to informing the judgments and decisions we academic administrators need to make. I am even more convinced that administrators need to remain involved with faculty, teaching, and learning in order to avoid losing perspective. Administrators should "rub shoulders" with faculty to remain engaged in the process. Having never been a traditional faculty member, I've gained perspective from this experience. I gained a great deal even though my experience was imperfect--I was unable to carry my full share of the load and I was not able to call upon prior experiences in developing and delivering the courses. The most important thing I learned about academic administrators is how much we need to be constantly aware of the difficulty and effort involved in teaching effectively.

What I Learned about Technical Support People

Tarjan: We have some great technical support people who in many cases are perhaps even more conscientious and helpful than the faculty they support. However, they are not experienced in pedagogy, teaching, and learning. A wall separates us. It arises from differences in training, job function, language, and so forth.

Spence: The staff was very helpful, but I discovered that there are inherent limitations to technology that even a great support staff cannot overcome.

What I Learned about Team Teaching

Tarjan: One thing I learned through team teaching is how vitally important learning objectives are. While most instructors have these vaguely in mind, they don't always make them explicit to their students or they don't focus on them nearly enough. Team teaching forced me to develop learning objectives for each session well in advance, whereas in the past I developed them chapter-by-chapter. I think defining the objectives in advance helped me to steer the course toward those objectives more effectively and to focus more consistently on the most important objectives. I was also forced to formally address the types of skills that I was attempting to develop and reinforce to a greater extent. I became more aware of the trade-offs that I was making as a result of practical considerations. I was reminded how satisfying and fun teaching can be. In one graduate class session conducted from Long Beach, an organizational communications professor from San Josť State joined us as a guest instructor. After a stimulating and enjoyable class session David, the communications professor, and I sat around and talked about the teaching process, the course objectives, and some of the hard issues we face in the CSU system. I couldn't remember a more enjoyable night--not necessarily because I was more effective or successful in my teacher role, but rather because the uniqueness of the team-teaching setting carried with it new challenges and rewards. I became aware that team teaching is more time consuming: not as much can get done in the classroom (at least not the first time through as a team). Also, I understand better that students like variety. Videos, student presentations, and activities are helpful, but often just having another instructor can help the material seem fresh and interesting. Team teaching is more difficult. I tend to over-script classes, include too much detail on my syllabuses, and focus my assignments very narrowly. But I typically develop my session notes, handouts, and other materials only a few days in advance of class at most. Team teaching required me to prepare for class much further in advance, which was just plain difficult. Team teaching is more tiring and stressful. I greatly enjoyed teaching with David but I have to be honest and admit to relief a couple of times when David was unable to come to campus. I was able to get through the material more smoothly while expending less energy. Of course, I'm not sure that I got through it more effectively, but it was more efficient and easier for me.

Spence: Both courses were delivered through team teaching. This approach is difficult and challenging but has the potential to be a very effective way of teaching from the students' point-of-view. Our situation was somewhat ideal because I made it clear to both John and the students that my role was not equal. I didn't do much evaluation. John developed the syllabus and assignments. He took primary responsibility for sensing the flow of the courses through the term and making adjustments in terms of content and scheduling. John was responsible for regular office hours and spent a lot of time on the office phone and cell phone with students. Although I was available to students, I only had limited interaction with them outside of class. I deferred to John by design and necessity. But we still had to work hard to teach together and to respond to students effectively. I think that our relationship was very good. He showed a lot of respect for my contributions. I know that we had to work hard to determine who would assume what responsibilities for the topics and flow of the class session. I feel it was an ideal situation because John was very accommodating in these matters. He allowed me total freedom to select the areas and topics I felt most comfortable covering. However, even in this ideal situation, with little clash of egos and no equity issues, it was still a challenging experience for us, but I am confident the team-teaching approach was good for the students.

Authors' Note: In the following section, developed during the editing process, we decided to depart from the previous format. After having read and reread each other's comments, we included a couple of common impressions below.

Tarjan and Spence: We both feel strongly that the collaboration was a great success. Since it proved so enjoyable for both of us, despite being our first team-teaching experience, we initially took our personal compatibility for granted. We realized only upon reflection how important personal compatibility was in making it our experience a success. We committed to this undertaking only after having developed mutual respect and having discovered our basic compatibility.

What I Learned about Teaching

Tarjan: In the parlance of organization theory, teaching is a craft technology. One becomes better through experience rather than through other modes of learning. The most effective instructors are those who are constantly trying new things, tinkering with and fine-tuning their methods. Instructors become better over time, as long as they are analytical and reflective and are willing to change. It takes time to learn how to pace a class session with its attendant discussion, presentations, and exercises. I had forgotten what an advantage experience is in helping me to structure time effectively in a course. Finally, I am becoming more and more convinced that content per se is much less important relative to skills, competencies, and aptitudes. This experience drove the point home more forcefully than any other by forcing me to reexamine what the appropriate course objectives should be.

Spence: Manageable class size is very important. It is difficult and time-consuming to evaluate students and give them developmental feedback on how well they are meeting educational objectives. Instructors need to require written work and orally presented assignments. Face-to-face contact is essential to complete the evaluation/feedback cycle for many types of assignments. That is the only way to ensure improvement. When I was in school I had lots of face time and good feedback from my professors. It was very important to me. I was able to see how much the students crave it now, particularly the graduate students. In the courses John and I taught together, both the undergraduate and graduate classes, there was a lot of emphasis on written assignments and discussion. I was impressed with how much growth I was able to see in the students over the ten weeks of class meetings. This experience gave me the opportunity to test some of my ideas. For example, I have felt for a long time that skill development is enhanced when writing and critical thinking are infused throughout the curriculum. In fact, major courses in which students have an inherent interest are probably better vehicles for teaching skills than courses that focus primarily or exclusively on those skills. Certainly a basic foundation is needed in English communication, mathematics, and so forth. But the skills can be developed more fully within the context of subject matter. While I've had some of these thoughts for a long time, the experience of teaching with a faculty member who stresses skill development in his courses has convinced me of the validity of this perspective.

What I Learned about Teaching with Distance-Spanning Technology

Tarjan: I learned quite a few things about teaching over instructional televisions. The first is that it chews up time. It requires more instructor effort and more student effort. It devours class time. Transitions between technologies and devices, accommodation of student presentations, delays in responses, lack of eye contact, and loss of nuance, not to mention mechanical or electronic malfunctions, meant that we had to cut case discussions, topical discussions, and in-class exercises. I estimate that 20-25% less could be accomplished in the graduate course as a result of the use of television. The technology had a significant impact on pedagogy. There were some things that I felt were essential to the course that either could not be done or could not be done as well. I guess I have concluded that I don't like teaching on closed-circuit television. Our challenge is to figure out how to serve people who do not have easy access to a campus environment and how to do it well. Finally, and very importantly, the local students in the studio didn't like the experience. They paid quite a price for our attempts to serve students at a remote distance.

Spence: While I am not very technologically oriented, we taught the graduate course using closed-circuit, interactive television and other computer and audio-visual technology. We taught the course with about 25 students in the Bakersfield studio, six at the Antelope Valley center and one in Ridgecrest. I was lucky. I worked with a faculty member who was adept at computer and telecommunications technology. We had good support at all locations. We also taught a couple of sessions from the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach and John taught from Antelope Valley College once. I was also fortunate in that I had the opportunity on many occasions to compare my experience during the evening in the broadcast studio with the environment of a traditional classroom. I reached a couple of conclusions. First, as advanced as the technology is, there is a long way to go: Distance education does not match the effectiveness of a more traditional face-to-face classroom. Second, the experience for the students who were remotely located appeared to be very worthwhile, and they were grateful for the educational opportunity, yet the studio-based students in Bakersfield were disadvantaged and felt that they did not receive as good an experience as they would have in a traditional classroom setting. Perhaps we need to consider more carefully how we integrate technology into instruction, taking into account the specific needs of students.

I also have a few other observations. I could tell that John was frustrated at times, not necessarily with any inadequacy of the technical support, but rather with the inherent limitations of the distance-spanning technology. He certainly seemed to feel that quality suffered at times because of the use of the technology. However, I have come to see the use of e-mail as essential. While it places increasing time burdens on the faculty, it holds great promise of improving quality as it increases direct access to faculty.

Conclusions/Points of Agreement

It is interesting to note how many conclusions we share, given the fact that we approached this experience from different backgrounds and developed our thoughts independently. Dr. Spence has worked in higher education administration for virtually his entire career. Dr. Tarjan has worked in private industry and has taught at the university level for 20 years and has only a little over a year of part-time administration experience. We both agree that

  • Faculty need to work very hard--and they do--to ensure that learning objectives are accomplished.
  • Academic administrators can benefit greatly from participation in classroom settings, even though it is difficult to find the time given their busy schedules.
  • Distance-spanning technology can greatly increase faculty workload.
  • Instructional television can adversely affect the learning experience of on-campus learners.
  • Team teaching can result in an increased workload and requires a great deal of effort and cooperation to function smoothly.
  • Team teaching requires a basic compatibility of personality.
  • Skill development is a more important student outcome than content mastery.
  • Developmental feedback is critical.
  • Motivating students to achieve learning objectives is much more difficult with undergraduate students.

Posted September 26, 2003

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board.
©2003 by John Tarjan and David Spence.

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