Integrating Environmental Science and the Humanities Through Team Teaching

Dr. Tina L. Hanlon
Dr. Carolyn. Thomas

Ferrum College

See also
Science 141 and 143: Humans Within Ecosystems and Our Home/Our Habitat
Bibliographies Nature and the Environment in Appalachian Literature and Picture Books about the Environment
Appalachian Cluster of general education courses at Ferrum College

Benefits of Team Teaching:

By engaging in true team teaching, we were able to fulfill the goals of the Council of Independent Colleges Environmental Studies Project and a goal of the Science 2000 program—i.e., our course is truly interdisciplinary, integrating science and the arts and humanities throughout the course.

The best way to make the course truly interdisciplinary is for students to see the professors interact in the classroom. This interaction constantly leads to new insights about parallels in the disciplines involved.

It is beneficial for students to see the professors as learners as well as teachers. Students who lack confidence in one field or the other have the empathy and support of the professor who is not an expert in that field, and students see us demonstrate that learning is a lifelong endeavor.

The level of classroom discussion is improved when another professor is there asking questions and asking for clarification. This interaction provides good examples of how to ask questions and participate in class discussion, which is beneficial for students who might have trouble articulating their questions or may lack the confidence to question the professor who is the expert.

Students see evidence that faculty members in different departments really do have consistent educational and intellectual goals, that becoming an educated person does not just involve learning information about separate disciplines. Since too many students believe that getting through college involves figuring out how to satisfy the idiosyncratic requirements of individual professors, working in teams can help convince them otherwise. Both positive and negative comments on our student evaluations show that we need to do more at Ferrum to show students that their required courses involve an integrated body of knowledge and skills (and to be sure they are integrated).

It is beneficial for students to see models of different teaching styles in the same classroom, and helps them develop their own methods for their oral presentations.

Students have good models of collaborative learning when they see professors working together in and out of the classroom.

Working with new people and learning more about another discipline is very stimulating for the faculty members and their enthusiasm makes the classes more interesting.

Team teaching gets faculty members into other buildings to get better acquainted with colleagues we often have little contact with, and more familiar with their programs.

Disadvantages of Team Teaching:

The schedules of both professors are more hectic because they need to attend the classes together and meet regularly out of class to coordinate class preparation and grading.

There can be occasional confusion when students don’t know which professor has their makeup work or papers, but they also have the advantage of having two professors available at different times for consultation and questions.

Some students misunderstand the interdisciplinary nature of the class. For example, students seeking credit for a science class sometimes object to writing requirements and grading standards involving writing quality, and they tend to blame the English professor if they don’t like their work load or grades. But overcoming these biases is one of our important goals in all kinds of classes, whether we are team-teaching or not.

It is expensive to pay two professors to teach one class.

It would be disastrous if the professors weren’t compatible, and faculty should never be forced into something like team teaching.

What we did in Science 141: Humans within Ecosystems, Spring 1996 and Fall 1997:

We taught a half-semester Science 2000 course (2 credit hours for lab science) developed by the committee working on the CIC Environmental Studies Project. We attended a CIC conference in May 1995, our course proposal was prepared by August 1995, and it was approved by faculty in the fall.

We met in the fall about once a week to prepare for our class the first time it was taught, in the first half of spring semester.

During the seven-week course we both attended all class meetings and labs.

We scheduled meeting times in our own weekly schedules for planning the classes.

We decided before class how we would divide up the class periods and which of us had primary responsibility for each segment of the class.

Grading: We both read the journals and papers submitted by the students. On most of the formal papers, Carolyn assigned a content grade and Tina determined a mechanics grade (but also made some comments about content). On the short paper on literature Tina determined the content grade also. Together we discussed each oral report, decided on a grade, and wrote down comments for the students.

The final exam was divided as follows: 1/3 contained an essay and three paragraphs on the literature (as it reflects views on the environment). The rest contained short answer questions on ecology and an essay in which students designed an ecology lab. We each prepared a study guide and graded our portions of the exam separately, but we both had the opportunity to look at all parts of the exam and consulted on the final grades.


We believe that the advantages overwhelmingly outweigh the disadvantages. We have both had experience with courses in which different professors taught at different times but did not engage in true team teaching. Some of the same benefits listed above can be achieved by having professors sit in on or visit classes taught by someone else, but simply dividing up a course among different professors has many pedagogical disadvantages. However, despite the considerable resources and efforts required to do team teaching effectively, it has many worthwhile benefits for students of all kinds and faculty.

This page created 6/10/02. Last update: 06/11/02
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