|Duke Endowment Funds Expand Team-Taught Course Offerings
April 23, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Davidson’s curriculum has for decades reflected the common wisdom that two heads – or even more – are better than one.
The team teaching approach that brought so many bright professorial minds to bear on the study of Humanities through the years is also employed occasionally in other special offerings. Now a grant from The Duke Endowment is helping to support Davidson's initiative to offer ten team-taught courses per year, starting this semester.
|Mike Parsons '08 chats before his political science class with team teachers Shelley Rigger and Pat Sellers.|
Davidson faculty eager to take advantage of the grant submitted proposals to work with their colleagues on a broad range of courses, including environmental studies, ethics, Latin American cities, Catholic/Protestant perspectives on religion, and legislatures around the world. The courses take different pedagogical form, but all feature the advantage of bringing multiple perspectives and knowledge to bear on the subject at hand.
And the teachers insist that their teamwork is not advantageous for just students. It gives professors an opportunity to learn from each other, and to build stronger relationships through their collaboration.
“We’ve always valued team-teaching, but we had to ask faculty members to do it as an uncompensated sixth course during the year, or we would lose a course from the regular curriculum to accommodate it,” explained Clark Ross, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty. “The Duke Endowment funds now allow us to pay faculty for accepting an overload course, or to hire someone from the outside to teach the offering we would otherwise lose.”
He continued, “We’ve managed to accommodate a few team-taught courses through the years, but we always had to pinch and scrape to make that happen. Now we have specific money designated for the purpose.”
Some of the team taught courses this semester involve faculty from different departments, and expose students to interdisciplinary perspectives on a subject. An “Introduction to Environmental Studies” course for thirty students involves a biologist, an economist, and an English professor. “We want students to understand how science, culture, society, economics, ethics, and politics all interact to affect the environment,” said David Martin, professor of economics.
His collaborators on the project, which is the college’s initial offering in a new environmental studies program, are Pat Peroni, professor of biology, and Annie Ingram, associate professor of English. Ingram noted, “For a course that’s explicitly interdisciplinary, having teachers from natural science, social science, and humanities brings perspectives to class that any one of us alone couldn’t.”
Creating the course and gearing material appropriate to seniors as well as first-year students, took a lot of work. “It’s not a time saver at all,” said Ingram, “but the rewards are worth the effort.”
The class is Martin’s first experience with team teaching, and he pointed out one obvious difference from the traditional teaching model. “When I’m teaching a class at 9:30 alone, I can decide at 9:25 to change my lesson plan,” he said. “But I can’t do that in this class. We all have to communicate. Because we’re trying to integrate our participation, it takes more time to manage.”
The Duke Endowment grant gives added impetus to the faculty’s existing enthusiasm for team teaching. The environmental studies course is actually Ingram’s third team-taught class of the year. She co-taught the English department’s senior colloquium in the fall, and is now teaching a “W” first-year writing course with Ed Daugherty and Mike Goode of Davidson Outdoors on “Environmental Writing and Wilderness Leadership.” Students are engaged in writing three hours per week, and in wilderness skills training for three hours.
Ann Blue Wills, assistant professor of religion, and Mary Thornberry, professor of political science, worked outside the grant to combine two formerly separate seminars into one interdisciplinary offering this semester on “Religion and Politics in the U.S.” Wills noted that team teaching is an effective educational experience for professors as for the students. “I’ve learned a lot,” she confessed. “We’re doing a lot of Supreme Court cases now, and I knew nothing about that. Sometimes when Mary’s lecturing I’m just part of the student body in the room.”
Wills continued, “I’m very interested in pedagogy, and it’s a treat to see how Mary runs a class. We usually get to see other professors teach only in the context of a review or evaluation, but this is much more relaxed and engaging. She’s helped me refine my descriptions and definitions in the political realm, and I hope I’m helping her refine her references in religion.”
Political science colleagues Pat Sellers and Shelley Rigger are teaching one Duke-funded class on legislatures this semester, and a non-Duke grant course in “Methods and Statistics in Political Science" in which they simply combined their two classes into one, enrolling a total of sixty students.
Sellers hailed the experience for promoting more collegial relations. He said, “Everyone here goes seventy miles per hour every day, and we have less extended interaction than you might think. Team teaching involves a lot of time together planning and talking outside of class, and gives us a common experience to discuss."
He added that team teaching is simply more enjoyable. “We argue!” he exclaimed. “When we do, students get a better idea of what’s fact, and what is in dispute within the discipline. It’s two people talking back and forth rather than one person giving a lecture, and I think that’s always more interesting for a student.”
Some team-taught courses are offered through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and do not count for credit toward a major. Some of those which focus more closely in one area do count toward major requirements, such as the “Legislatures” course.
The Duke Endowment grant has allowed Cynthia Lewis, Dana Professor of English, to enhance her regular upper level Shakespeare course. During the Royal Shakespeare Company residency, the class enjoyed three visits from members of that company to talk about the plays they were presenting, “The Winter’s Tale” and “Pericles.” The rest of the semester is featuring guest appearances by nine Davidson professors to discuss those two plays from their perspectives as experts in art, English, philosophy, religion, theatre, history, and music.
All the guests receive a modest honorarium for their participation. “It’s not much, but acknowledging their contribution in that fashion makes all the difference,” Lewis said.
Other team taught classes this semester involve historian Jane Mangan and Spanish Professor Magdalena Maiz-Peña offering “Latin American Cities,” religion faculty members Andrew Lustig and Tim Beach-Verhey offering “Catholic/Prodestant Perspectives on Religious Issues,” and philosopher Sean McKeever teaching an upper level seminar in “Metaethics” with visiting philosopher Daniel Boisvert.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz