Team teaching

Listening to only one person talk can be boring. Listening to a discussion is much less so. “Team teaching” can mean many things, but in this case we are referring to two instructors are both actively involved in lecturing at the same time, as some sort of conversation between them. It is a form of co-teaching.

When it works well, it makes a lecture much more dynamic and engaging, and reduces the load for each person to plan everything because you can rely on two minds to do it live. The difficulty is that it’s our nature to keep talking while teaching, making a conversation difficult.

Basics

We can’t claim to know the best way to do this yet, but we have seen ways that work and don’t work.

The basic idea is that you want to keep a constant conversation going. This can be a mutual discussion, one person explaining big concepts and one the details, one person asking questions and the other answering, or some other combination.

There is less need for the instructors to prepare every single thing, since you can rely on the wisdom of the group to get you through areas you haven’t perfectly prepared. In fact, this is good, because then your learners will see things go slightly wrong and your live debugging. Still it can be useful to agree with your co-instructor on the choreography of your session (more about this below).

We propose two basic models, but of course there is a constant continuum. And in either model it can be good to switch roles every 20-30 minutes.

Model 1: Guide and demo-giver

One person serves the role of guide, explaining the big picture and possibly even the examples. The demo-giver shows the typing and does the examples, and could take the role of a learner who is asking about what is going on, the person who actually explains the details, or an occasional commenter. Anyway, the guide is the one navigating through the course and bringing up material in a logical order for the audience.

Hands-on demos and exercises work especially well like this. Here, the guide would follow the outline and serve as the director (see below).

Model 2: Presenter and interviewer

In this case, it is the presenter who is mostly explaining and giving the demos, and generally trying to move the forward through the material. The interviewer serves as a learner or spotter, fills in gaps by asking relevant questions, and tries to comment to the presenter when things are going off track.

This is closer to normal teaching, so feels more natural to do. The big disadvantage is that it’s the tendency of the presenter to keep talking, and the tendency of the interviewer to be nice and not interrupt. This negates most of the benefit you would hope to have, but is much better than solo teaching.

Here, the presenter would follow the outline and serve as the director (see below).

Hints

With more than one person, there is a risk of seeming uncoordinated when the team doesn’t know who is supposed to move the lesson forward. It’s not bad to have short discussions to decide what to do next, it makes the show seem interactive. But if it happens too much, it becomes noticeable. You could adopt a principle which exists in many domains: at any time, only one person is in control. Implemented in team teaching, it becomes: you explicitly know who is in control (the director). The director is responsible for understanding the current situation and checking with other instructors, but in when you just need to something and no one has strong opinions, you don’t debate, the director decides. The main difference of Model 1 and Model 2 above is “is the director the one mainly explaining new material, or the one asking questions”.

We can’t tell you what works best for you. But the models above and thinking about who the director is should let you have an efficient discussion to decide your model. The need for a director is why we don’t recommend fully equal co-teachers. Instead, divide the course into parts and use the two models for each part.

  • Of course, there are other roles in a workshop.

    • The HackMD watcher pays particular attention to the audience questions. They can interrupt anytime.

    • The Meeting host manages the meeting itself (note this is different from the “host” role above).

    • The Director could be completely separate from the people on screen, and somehow sending signals to the teachers as needed. But, unlike scripted media, the course reacts more to the audience and it is better for the director to be in the lecture.

  • If you ever go off-plan, that’s OK. You can discuss during the lecture so the audience can know what you are doing and why. You want to adjust to the audience more than you would in a solo course. But at the same time, be wary of deviating too much from the material that the watchers have, since it will be disorienting.

  • Two people works well. With three, it’s hard to allow everyone to speak equally and people tend to jump on top of each other in the gaps - or no one talks, to give others a chance to say something. You could have particular segments where different pairs of people adopt the main roles, and others speak up if they want.

  • Of course, it helps to have a good plan of what you are going to do. But if only one person knows that plan, this strategy can still work, especially if that person is the presenter in model 2.

  • The less preparation you have, the more useful it is to strictly define the roles of each person (to ensure someone is in charge of moving it forward).

Please send us more suggestions to add to this list.

Preparation

This is one proposed model for preparing for team teaching:

  • Talk with your co-teacher. These hints assume a two-person team.

  • Decide what material will be covered, overall timing, strategy, etc.

  • Divide up the material. In each section, decide the model to use and roles.

  • Decide who will be the director for each part. Perhaps a good idea is to keep it consistent: the host is always the director.

  • At least one person prepares the outline (the order of topics to be presented, key questions to ask, etc.). The guide or presenter should be comfortable with it (and could even do it mostly alone), everyone can give comments and make sure to read it at least once.

  • Run as above.

  • you don’t need to plan every step in detail but it can be useful to prepare the session together and step through the choreography (e.g. “now I will show this and then give you the screen and then ask you to do this … you will lead this 20 minute block and then I will lead that 20 minute block and please ask me questions while I present X”).

Then, just go! Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, if either person wonders what to do next, just pause some or ask the other. This imperfection is what makes it more dynamic and exciting, and in almost all cases the audience has been impressed with the co-teaching strategy, even if it’s not perfect.