Oct. 19, 2005
Professors across the Stanford campus, in virtually all schools and fields, appear unanimous about the rewards of team-teaching.
"What was beautiful was that I suddenly realized this is a great learning experience for me," recalled Andrea Nightingale of the Classics Department. She taught an Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) course with environmental historian Richard White last year, and the duo is repeating the class, Representing Nature: The Boundaries of the Human, this quarter.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
One administrative hurdle frequently remarked upon by instructors was that they don't get full credit for a team-taught course. The rules vary from department to department and from school to school. Depending upon one' s discipline, one gets full credit, half credit or no credit at all.
School of Education instructors receive full credit for teaching together if they both attend all sessions, or if it is the first time the course is taught, or if the course has at least 20 students enrolled.
At Humanities and Sciences, decisions on teaching credit are made by individual departments.
In the School of Engineering, teaching load decisions also are handled by the individual departments and, at least according to Dean Jim Plummer, team-teaching requests are generally resolved amicably. The jointly appointed members of the faculty, of whom there are quite a few, work out their teaching loads with their two home departments, but that too generally runs smoothly, he said.
School of Earth Sciences Dean Pamela Matson said instructors there receive full credit for team-teaching.
"I'm learning environmental history. He's learning about philosophy," Nightingale said. "I'm sounding more like a historian and he's sounding like a philosopher. He's talking about Descartes, and I'm saying, 'Wait a minute, that's supposed to be me!'"
David Holloway, professor of history and political science and former director of the Stanford Institute for International Studies, said one of the many people with whom he has taught Peace Studies was American historian Bart Bernstein. "We used to joke that we had a lot of common interests, but we only talked about administration," Holloway said. "Teaching together allowed us to talk about the substance of our interests. Team-teaching allows you to actually be present with a colleague. It's intellectually interesting. It's fun."
While almost all faculty involved in team-teaching say the experience was a good one, most also agree that the institutional culture common to most universities can present obstacles.
"This is an area where Stanford could be doing a better job," said Stefanos Zenios, a health care expert at the Graduate School of Business who in spring 2005 taught a three-way class cross-listed in the Engineering, Medical and Business schools. He said he believes a better, more supportive infrastructure would draw more faculty in.
"You have to create the relationships on your own, and in that respect it's the same as setting up relationships with people at other universities. For me, Stanford's Medical School is the same as UCSF or the University of Chicago. I managed to set up a great collaboration, but it felt like it was more difficult with people across the street than across the world."
Zenios did cross the street—in fact, he crossed the campus. But despite the unique physical proximity of Stanford's seven schools, the physical impediments to collaboration can rival the administrative ones. Many describe their intellectual cross-pollination as the result of serendipity. They met at a conference. They both jogged. They had a common friend, or a common student. Or perhaps, if the Clark Center's strategy bears fruit, they met at one of those long lunch tables in the cafeteria.
Overcoming the obstacles to team-teaching is an exercise well worth the effort, many professors say.
"There may be an issue that faculty disagree on, and that's a wonderful thing, because students see two intellects at work addressing a problem to which the answer is uncertain, and that's utterly healthy," said Elliot Eisner, the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, an authority on arts education. "If the university is interested in team-teaching, it ought to make it clear that it has to be encouraged, not penalized, and that people who engage in team-taught courses should not have to compensate their department or school with additional work on the basis that they're teaching with someone else."
Eisner himself was compensated for his groundbreaking Education 200, The Work of Art and the Creation of Mind, but the host of arts faculty members who worked with him did not receive teaching credit. Holloway said he could team-teach only because he had a lighter load as director of the Institute for International Studies. Otherwise, he said, it would have been difficult. "I think there ought to be more flexibility than there is," he said.
At the Philosophy Department, formerly chaired by Provost John Etchemendy, instructors receive full credit for one team-taught class per year. That allows Lanier Anderson, a specialist in Nietzsche and late-modern philosophy, to work with Josh Landy of the Department of French and Italian, whose most recent work is titled Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception and Knowledge in Proust. The pair appear to be two of the university's biggest fans of team-teaching, and they certainly have worked the concept to admirable limits. Their class, Philosophy and Literature Gateway, is a required course for the new Philosophical and Literary Thought track. The track itself is their invention, the result of several years of friendship and collaboration in reading groups and in a workshop sponsored by the Humanities Center.
Like their counterparts across campus, they said learning to think in someone else's terms is part of the process. But in their case, the intellectual dialogue worked so well that they began thinking in the same terms. Multidisciplinarity, in other words, became interdisciplinarity. That could have undermined the IHUM class he and Landy were teaching by reducing the intellectual friction, Anderson said, but they managed to solve the problem: "I learned things, and I integrated this new knowledge into philosophy, but then we couldn't argue anymore! So we had to pretend!"
Is teaching a class with a colleague from another department half the work? Not according to School of Earth Sciences Dean Pamela Matson, whose instructors also receive full credit for team-teaching. In fact, she said, teaching together can be so much work that some professors find themselves unable to find the time. Matson herself has often team-taught, most recently a freshman seminar with Suki Hoagland, executive director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (IPER), called A Transition to Sustainability: Development and Environment in the 21st Century.
Nor does particle physicist Patricia Burchat, winner of a 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship, think a team-taught class is an easy ticket. Burchat began meeting with colleagues from biology and engineering a full year before their Science, Math and Engineering Core class had its first session. Together they developed a pedagogy that worked for all four of them, and throughout the course they continued meeting every week with a diverse group of teaching assistants.
Giving faculty half-credit for a team-taught course is "not a good way to travel," Eisner said, "because in fact there's more work involved, not less." Referring to Education 200, he noted that this was not a case in which a guest lecturer made a cameo appearance and then walked off stage. Just about every instructor—representing drama, music, visual arts and education—was present at just about every session, he said. "For most instructors, this was an additional responsibility for which they got no compensation and, perhaps, no adulation either from their colleagues."
Nightingale also recalled that at first the workload exceeded what she was accustomed to. She and White read each other's lectures in advance every week and often found themselves altering and rewriting their presentations in reaction to each other's work. "The amount of work outside the class is huge," she said. "There's a lot of work at home to keep the coherence of the course. Our lectures answered each other; they were a dialogue."
Such a dialogue often has to overcome mutual unintelligibility. Biologist Dafna Elrad, who co-teaches a course with chemist Richard Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Sciences, noted that chemists tend to think more quantitatively than biologists, who are more interpretive. Burchat, the physicist, recalled that she and her colleagues would often interrupt each other during class to ask, "When you say that, is that the same as when I say this?" Philosophers think literary scholars are wishy-washy, and the lit people think philosophers are dry, Landy said, "and they're both right."
Geologist Stephen Graham, who co-teaches a unique course on reservoir characterization with a statistician and an engineer, noted there are engineers "who have never seen rocks" and geologists who don't know how to develop computational models. They not only have to learn how their colleagues do things; they have to learn how they think and speak. Composer Mark Applebaum, who has co-taught with a philosopher and also participated in Education 200, remarked of the collaboration: "All the teachers became students of their colleagues."
Maybe that doesn't sound like work. Some departments, said Zare, who is the winner of the 2005 Wolf Prize in chemistry, can be "very parochial" and regard classes such as the one he co-taught with Elrad more or less like a hobby. He can afford a hobby, he conceded; junior faculty usually cannot.
Some people think that "if it's not in the department, it can't be serious," he noted during a brief break in his and Elrad's freshman lab last spring. "Departments have names. Scientific problems don't have names on them."
That line of thinking, adjusted for the discipline, was the inspiration for all the team-taught classes whose instructors were consulted for this article. "There are good institutional reasons for disciplinary boundaries, but creativity takes place at the interstices," Applebaum said, remembering Education 200. "I leaped at the opportunity" to work with Eisner.
Nightingale also recalled the thrill of working with someone whose work she greatly admires, in this case White, the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History and a MacArthur Foundation fellow who is considered one of the world's leading environmental historians. Her research of late had veered away from Plato and Aristotle to examine the philosophy of ecology. White heard about her work and invited her to join him in teaching IHUM 53, Thinking with Nature.
What does an expert on the American West have to say to a classicist who loves Walden? Endless amounts, it turned out. "There were times when we disagreed with each other, and of course that's the purpose of IHUM, understanding that there's a scholarly debate with radically differing perspectives. But this didn't create friction; it created pleasure."
Graham, who has been associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Earth Sciences since 1999, has team-taught several courses. His current offering, which has existed for nine years, is a "poster child for interdisciplinary team-teaching," he said proudly, a poster child "born of necessity." It is a graduate survey course with no prerequisites that offers geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering students (all within the School of Earth Sciences) an integrated overview of petroleum reservoirs and their management. Resources, he said, are very complicated: "It's not enough to just drill. Very diverse technologies are involved, far too many for a single person to absorb." So the course cross-trains students, showing them all the difficulties and capabilities of neighboring disciplines.
Graham and his colleagues—geostatistician Andre Journel and engineer Khalid Aziz—wanted the course to mimic the graduate students' future careers. The world, after all, rarely conforms to departmental boundaries. So the petroleum engineers and geologists head off to a corner of Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County to work in a geologic system that Graham said is a good analogue for a petroleum-rich area. At the end of the quarter, they present oral and written reports, just like they would if they were working for a company. They make friends, they appreciate each other's efforts and challenges, they learn how to collaborate and, not coincidentally, they become vastly more marketable.
"Petroleum companies love this course," Graham said, so much so that they fund it with no strings attached. Companies used to be silo-based, he noted, using the term often applied to universities and their departments. But extraction requires teamwork; companies were quicker than universities to respond by replicating that team spirit.
Anecdotal evidence points to greater problems pairing faculty from disparate disciplines and schools than collaborating with close colleagues. Graham, Journel and Aziz are all at the same school and thus avoided potential institutional obstacles to team-teaching. The three professors also all receive full compensation and, according to Graham, are heaped with praise.
They also, presumably, had a relatively easy time discovering their commonality. At a university as decentralized as Stanford, how do people find intellectual soul mates in departments other than their own? The proliferation of interdisciplinary institutes, centers, programs, websites and newsletters are allowing more and more of those encounters to take place. Faculty from all seven schools are affiliated with the graduate IPER, for example, and with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (formerly the Stanford Institute for International Studies). Scholars might hear of each other's work and be intrigued enough to propose a partnership, as in the case of White and Nightingale.
A course on eco-tourism, taught by Bill Durham of the Department of Anthropological Sciences and Bill Barnett of the Business School, is in many ways typical of how a new collaboration comes into being, a story featuring a succession of seized opportunities. Durham met Barnett when they were fellows at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. They were running partners, they exchanged information and later ended up organizing a conference on eco-tourism at the Business School. The dean took an interest, sat Durham down for lunch and said, "You know, this would be an awfully good thing to have a class on. Ever thought about teaching it?" Durham said he had no business expertise, the dean said leave it to me, and the next thing Durham knew he received an e-mail from Barnett saying we've got a package.
Sometimes there is a matchmaker involved. In the case of Applebaum's seminar, Etchemendy, a philosopher of language, was the dissertation adviser for Brian Epstein, and he suggested to his student that he speak to Applebaum about natural language and music. Etchemendy "had an intuition I could help him," Applebaum remembered. "But he never could have predicted that a year later our conversations would be so robust and would engender a team-teaching opportunity," a seminar on indeterminacy in music. (Epstein now teaches at Virginia Tech.)
It was a former statistics student of Zenios, who teaches at the Business School, who alerted his former professor to the research of the people at the Medical School with whom Zenios ended up collaborating.
IHUM, which requires that its fall quarter classes be team-taught, also acts as a matchmaker, in part to ensure that the program has enough faculty. Basically, they set people up; a professor of something is put into contact with a professor of something else, when those two would be unlikely to run into each other or know of each other's work any other way.
Another matchmaker was biologist Sharon Long, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, whom Zare credits with promoting his and Elrad's freshman seminar on Light, Pigments and Organisms, which was cross-listed in chemistry and biological sciences and which they have taught twice. If it were not for Long, Zare said, the class would not exist.
"I'm a bit surprised at how specialized everything is," said one of Zare's students, Jason Regalado, now a sophomore and apparently a quick convert to interdisciplinarity. "People don't see the whole picture. It's almost like political science, like the Middle East. You don't just want to focus on the Middle East, you need to think about the whole world. The world of science is like that, with different regions. You have to have your biology, your chemistry, your computer science. If you just zone in on the region, creativity gets very limited."
The structure of the university registrar's database makes it impossible to quantify how many classes are team-taught every year (apart from the mandatory IHUM classes), but an unscientific investigation reveals that team-teaching at Stanford is still the exception, always highly valued by participants and, with a few exceptions (Peace Studies and Graham's course among them), unlikely to last for long.
In some cases, departments or schools specify that instructors will receive credit for a course only the first time it is taught.
Burchat's course, Light in the Physical and Biological Worlds, a co-production that involved biology, physics, math, psychology and engineering, was part of the defunct Science, Math and Engineering Core, an experiment aimed at making non-science students science-literate. Enrollments were low and the program was discontinued.
Education 200 also has disappeared. Eisner attributes its demise to the extra burden it represented for faculty. "It's still on the books, but it's not taught. I'm retiring after [this] year, and I'm not sure anybody has the appetite to take it on," he said.
But, despite individual setbacks, collaborative teaching appears to be slowly on the rise. Durham last winter quarter launched a new team-taught course on Environmental Change and Emerging Infectious Disease. The senior scholar said he and his junior colleague Jamie Jones had been talking and realized they had complementary interests:
"He comes from demography and population biology, and I come from conservation and ecology," Durham said. "Jamie's brand-new and I've been teaching a bunch of years. I said, 'Hey, why don't we teach together? Why not put our interests together?' It bubbled up from that conversation. Neither of us knew enough to put a class together on this subject on our own. It seemed a great way to share the benefits of years of experience with a brand-new teacher. And it has worked smashingly."