Team teaching in the age of e-collaboration


F. Manganello Università Politecnica delle Marche Dipartimento di Ingegneria Informatica, Gestionale e dell’Automazione

Last revision: September 3, 2009


1. Introduction: background, motivations, aims
The aspects of cooperation and interaction are fundamental in online teaching and learning. Cooperation is important for both teachers and learners as it allows to organize online learning activities to consolidate students’ learning and to apply teaching strategies activating students’ participation and reaction to the learning stimulus. Therefore, the aspects of cooperation and interaction are key issues even in online teaching, as they are able to determine the construction and consolidation of knowledge, thus deciding the success of a learning process. If interaction among students and between students and teachers represents a traditional pedagogical issue, as well as a goal in any learning process (enhancing students’ motivation, participation and active involvement), the aspect of cooperation among teachers has not to be neglected. This issue needs to be carefully investigated to understand its great didactic and pedagogical potentialities, with specific reference to online teaching, both synchronous and asynchronous, and also with an example of institutional education in technical domains. It is a fact that cooperation among teachers is not so easy to be established, as teachers are traditionally very independent and autonomous in their classrooms. Cooperation and collaboration among teachers can take place at different levels of the instructional process: design, evaluation, management, knowledge sharing, and reciprocal help [Trentin 1998]. In such a context, a team of teachers could become able to support co-ordination and co-decision processes [Trentin 1998]. If the activation of team teaching in online synchronous teaching can have strong didactic and pedagogic implications, it also needs to be supported by a suitable collaborative virtual environment. The adoption of Web Technologies exploits the possibilities of cooperation and collaboration, allowing teachers from different places to work together. Team teaching


becomes conceivable both in classroom and at distance, and it can be managed either synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous team-teaching happens when coordination and cooperation in teaching activities is implemented within the synchronous classroom [Chen 2004]. Many are the approaches specifically concerned with technology enhanced teaching and learning: Computer Supported Collaborative Learning [Lehtinen, Hakkarainen, Lipponen, Rahikainen, Muukkonen 1999], Computer Supported Collaborative Work [Stamper, Kerola, Lee, Lyytinen 1991], Collaborative Virtual Environments [Churchill, Showdon, Munro 2001], Most of them are based on Web 1.0 design approach [Flew 2005]. Within the new scenario of Digital Collaboration or e-Collaboration [Kock 2007], a well defined (inter)relations’ model among actors of instructional ecollaboration (teachers, students, and experts) is needed. Moreover, Web 2.0 [O’Reilly 2005] and e-Learning 2.0 [Downes 2005] bring changes in the role of teacher, focusing on more participant student-centered learning, with the role of a teacher becoming that of facilitating, scaffolding and supporting learning [Attwell 2009]. An online common teaching space is desirable: an online cyber space which allows teachers to support their digital collaboration for planning (i.e. a virtual learning environment); a synchronous cyber classroom which allows teachers to conduct team teaching activities with students (i.e. virtual classroom), in some cases the asynchronous access to specific appliances and facilities enabling learning (see i.e. the “immersive telelaboratories”, Fabri et al. 2008). The knowledge of the online learning environment is essential for teachers. Therefore, the capability to build well-balanced teaching teams can guarantee the quality of teaching; the different members working in a team may have different but complementary competences allowing them to cope with many aspects of online teaching, especially in the synchronous modality


(technical problems, use of platform functionalities, domain expertise, tutoring ability, etc.). The aim of this report is to investigate how to design a synchronous team teaching model for an online cyber classroom inspired to a socioconstructivist teaching method, built as a real learning community, and based on problem based learning and collaborative student-led discussion.

2. What are the potential benefits/advantages of teamteaching?
Team teaching concerns the creation of teams of teachers, each team composed of different members working together. The teachers in team work together for designing, implementation and monitoring of the same learning activity (a course, a unit, a task), sharing the workload according to different modalities. Especially when referring to online teaching, and specifically to online synchronous teaching, it is important to stress that a single teacher would hardly bear the teaching load implied in the organization and delivery of a learning activity. Moreover, it would be really difficult for a single teacher to have all of competences (technological, didactic, pedagogic, domain expertise, tutoring, etc.) needed to guarantee the quality of teaching, which would dramatically reduce. Therefore, team teaching is a powerful tool helping teachers to reduce the teaching load by sharing it among the members of the team as well as a creative methodology to apply innovative teaching strategies. Team teaching can be organized according to different models, in order to establish clear roles and responsibilities in the group. It is important in a team to assign a role of coordination, supervision and control to one of the members in order to guarantee the correct development of the team work and avoid confusion and misunderstandings, which may affect the confidence and collaboration in the team of teachers.


Especially in learning design and in classroom management, teamteaching promotes a collaborative approach and allows for more interaction between teachers and students [Manganello, Pennacchietti, Pistoia, Chen 2008]. Moreover, when inspired by socio-constructivist theories [Vygotskij 1934, Bruner 1997, Varisco 2002], team teaching can also provide empowerment for each member of the learning community: in fact, cooperation could be applied both as an educational strategy for the students and as a work method for the teachers, to improve their competences, their knowledge and their abilities. Why using team teaching during an online synchronous cyber

classroom? According to Chen [2004] two are the main reasons:

sharing teaching load: when the need is to deal with many things at the same time in an online synchronous classroom and, more in general, in a multimedia environment;

promoting innovative teaching: such as collaborative innovation and peer learning community.

With reference to the student-teacher interaction, an important concept to be mentioned is that of the possible teacher’s cognitive load [Sweller, 1999]. Specifically in the case of synchronous learning, teachers activating a cyber classroom are required to play different roles at the same time. This fact may influence the quality of the teacher’s performance [Feldon, 2007]. Teachers are required to play the teaching role, they are also in charge of classroom and time management, they should follow the interaction required by the online students asking for clarifications or suggestions thus playing a tutoring role, they are required to assess the performance, they can be required to monitor the work of the different groups, should a group work be foreseen in a synchronous cyber classroom session. Therefore, cooperation among teachers represents an opportunity for them to share the teaching load within a unit, a task or a training path and has very important practical implications on teaching. Indeed, team-teaching is


also “a creative and thoughtful mechanism for fostering a dynamic studentcentred learning environment” [Partridge and Hallam, 2005]. In this sense, team teaching represents an opportunity for teachers to acquire new professional competences and to put into practice a more student-centred teaching modality than ever before. In fact, team-teaching gives learners many opportunities for an immediate, individualised feed-back from their teachers. On the other side, the teachers working in team can constantly monitor the students’ behaviour and structure more individualized teaching activities, based on the students’ real learning needs. Moreover, the adoption of a team teaching approach involves the whole teaching/learning process, from the phase of instructional design to the implementation of the learning path/unit/activity designed and, finally, to the monitoring and evaluation of its efficacy. Chen [2004] identifies some possible team teaching targets for synchronous team teaching: preparing content; control and navigation; response and guidance; knowledge sharing; showing scenario. Two are the key features for supporting synchronous team teaching [Chen 2004]:

common shared workspace: online chat; shared whiteboard; joint web browsing; desktop sharing; remote control;

concurrent multiple access: multiple users can take actions at the same time in the common shared workspace and synchronized display of the same information to all users.

In particular, most of the collaborative applications in Web 2.0 are designed on the concept of “shared virtual workspace”: team/project management, environment, co-authoring, collaborative concept searching, mapping, semantic brainstorming, applications, learning immersive

worlds, crowdsourcing. Therefore, the advantages of team teaching may concern many aspect:


diversity of expertise and/or perspective (competence in instructional design, domain expertise, tutoring expertise, technological expertise, multi/trans-disciplinary know-how, coordinating ability, multi/transdisciplinary know-how etc.). Team teaching allows a greater diversity of approaches and options in the creation of the learning materials. Instructors who have a very high expertise in a specific domain allow the creation of richer contents. The possibility to have more than one expert working in the creation of the learning materials brings different perspectives on similar issues and the student can live a more stimulating learning experience. Moreover, the presence in a team of other forms of expertise (technological, coordinating, tutoring, etc.) allows the team to share the teaching load and organize more individualized training paths, thus understanding, monitoring and responding to the students’ learning needs.








interaction, etc.). Students learn differently, according to their different learning styles. Therefore, the possibility to have different teaching styles in a team of teachers may be helpful to them. Different teaching styles could make teaching more inclusive for students.  Reduction of the workload by sharing it and stating roles with a certain flexibility (tutoring role, coordinating role, instructional designer, lecturer, technological support, etc.). The definition in a team of different roles (technological, coordinating, tutoring, lecturing, etc.) allows the team to share the teaching load and organize more individualized training paths. This also allows teachers to understand, monitor and respond to the students’ learning needs. The possibility to give an immediate feed-back to the students is a key issue, as it keeps their motivation and their interest alive. Besides, with online teaching and, specifically, with online synchronous teaching, it is important for the team to have a


technological competence (each member should have it, indeed) in order to be ready to cope with possible unforeseen problems. The knowledge of the learning environment tools is also essential for the team and, in this case, a specific expert in the team could help the other teachers to use the most appropriate tools in performing their role.

Guarantee teaching mentorship, collaboration and support (tutoring and coaching competence). The definition of a tutoring role in a team of teachers allows the team to monitor the students’ behavior and get the pulse of the learning situation. This is really important should specific measures and/or course modifications and integration be required, such as: the creation of more interactive activities, the indication of further examples, the creation of other learning materials, etc.). The possibility to establish a direct dialogue also allows to establish a continuous monitoring activity, which is essential in any learning activity. An immediate feed-back can be given to the students asking for further clarifications and information. Moreover, owing to the possible problems caused by the teaching overload, especially in reference to synchronous cyber classroom, the presence of a facilitator can facilitate the teacher’s work, thus allowing him/her to focus his attention on the teaching issue. A facilitator could follow good meeting practices (timekeeping, keeping an agenda and a clear record of the session); a facilitator should also have other important skills, such as managing and assisting the learning group, keeping it on the right track to achieve its goals within the time stated, providing help to the group, asking questions to stimulate thinking, paraphrasing or repeating an individual contribution to confirm understanding and make sure that the whole group has heard it, evaluating the performance of the meeting to reinforce the students’ learning, etc. [Kaner, Lind, Toldi, Fisk, Berger 2007].


Team-teaching in online synchronous and asynchronous modality allows the creation of international teams of teachers, in which different cultures, styles and practices may contribute to the acquisition of new competences and professional qualifications.

All the aspects illustrated above are fundamental to the creation of a well-designed learning activity and that reflection is essential in any step of the process, from instructional design to implementation and, finally, monitoring.

3. Design an online team teaching plan
Technology in educational contexts will produce positive effects only when part of an education model. The assumption is that "all technology makes pedagogic assumptions, whether these are explicit or implicit" [Attwell 2009]. Team teaching model refers to a pedagogical and organizational model that is not merely an alternative way to conduct a lecture; team teaching is a pedagogical strategy, that finds its educational roots in mastery learning, in constructivism, and that finds its practical learning applications in cooperative teaching and learning, problem-based learning, task-based learning, studentcentered discussion. In defining any team teaching action, it is needed to take into account these two variables at the same time, and focus on the two of them at the same time to conduct an analysis of team teaching:

the model of team teaching, depending on learning needs and objectives;

the level of usage of technology (in our case, cyber classroom and its tools) adoptable to support that team teaching strategy. At the organizational level, a key issue for the success of the team

teaching is to involve some “stakeholders”, first of all the institution management. This is a need to promote team teaching and to enroll teachers


by an appropriate remuneration and with high level of motivation. It is also important to define a clear work model for the teachers, aiming to collaboration (from design to evaluation) and to knowledge sharing. Teachers could work together as a community of practice [Wenger 1998; Wenger, Mc Dermott, Snyder 2007]. At the instructional design level, teachers define the objectives, design the learning activity and the evaluation criteria, choose the pedagogical model to be adopted. The pedagogical model plays a decisive role to select the technological tools and the relations’ model. Coordination among teachers is also relevant in this phase and it concerns: definition of profiles, assignment of roles and tasks/activities; leadership management; implementation of a “script”. Elements and strategies of Project Management may support the work in this step. At this level, a collaborative virtual environment may help teachers to design and to define the course: this should be a distributed digital environment capable to support both asynchronous activities (this is 3C - Collaborative Cyber Community) and synchronous activities (this is Home Meeting). In the figures below (from 1 to 5) some samples of digital collaboration among teachers are represented.


Figure 1 – A teachers’ “meeting” to discuss about the course design. Home Meeting.

Figure 2 –Another “in itinere” meeting is needed to refine some aspects related to course evaluation and management. Home Meeting.


Figure 3 – Asynchronous communication’s flows allow teachers to remain in contact and prepare to synchronous meetings. 3C.

Figure 4 – An online digital archive is important to share and to exchange information and documents. 3C.


Figure 5 – During the first online cyber classroom, the “two-teacher model” is adopted to lecture. Home Meeting.

In the table below (table 1) some key concepts used to design a synchronous team teaching inspired to a socio-constructivist teaching method are highlighted: Lecture design
Table 1 Student centered approach based on discussion and formulation of questions (also in form of problems/tasks) and hypothesis

Class organization Learning materials

Students are divided in groups Learning materials are provided to promote activation [Merrill 2002] and to stimulate discussion, then interactive contents are generated by teachers and students through collaborative discussion. According to the meaningful learning model [Ausubel 1968; Novak 2001], new concepts to be learned can be incorporated into more inclusive concepts or ideas. Peer evaluation with the supervision of the teachers The students work together under the guidance of the teachers, who act as resource for the students and eventually as a model of imitation to facilitate the activities.

Evaluation Collaboration


The team teaching model adopted for this team teaching plan is the two-teacher model [Chen 2004]. The online collaborative learning environment is Home Meeting. The online cyber classroom starts with a quick lesson overview provided by the first teacher (teacher A), who comments some slides on the whiteboard. Then teacher A introduces a poll activity to the class and passes the token to the second teacher (teacher B). Teacher B becomes the token holder and implements the poll, then publishes the result on the whiteboard and comments them with teacher A. This first phase of the lecture is crucial to immediately engage the audience and to clarify the learning objectives. Then, teacher B starts to lecture introducing the learning material, using the slides already uploaded by teacher A, while teacher A helps him by highlighting key concepts in the text chat. Students are invited to ask teacher A for help or more explanations. This part of the lecture, thus expositive, lasts 30 minutes and its aim is to activate existing knowledge in the students. During the second part of the online cyber class, the class is divided in two small groups: one group works with teacher A, the other one with teacher B. Students are asked to work in group for a task-activity to collaborative discussion and reflection about the learning material just lectured in the main class. Teacher A moves with his group in the small group discussion room A (Adobe Connect), whilst teacher B moves to room B (Adobe Connect). In each room, the discussion starts by watching a short video-clip in each small class. After about 60 minutes for small groups’ discussion, each group comes back to the main class and one member of each group reports the outcome of the discussion (15 minutes for each group). Some methodological considerations. Moving from the first to the second part of the lesson, the pedagogical model changes from a quite directive one (teacher lectures while students listen to him) to a more collaborative one. In fact, during the first phase of the lesson, the two teachers actively share the instruction of content and skills to all students,


although acting different roles: this could be considerate an example of traditional team teaching. During the second phase of the lesson, the class is divided into two groups and each teacher is responsible for teaching the same material to his smaller group: this could be considerate an example of parallel instruction where the students are involved in a student-led discussion (let’s say a kind of smart web-seminar), as the teacher can monitor, gives students support by scaffolding and acts as facilitator. This particular teaching design could be very pedagogical meaningful: in fact, dividing students into groups for discussion can maximize everyone’s engagement. In the table below (table 2) some team teaching elements and tools used for the this plan are reported: Team-teaching model adopted Team teaching targets achieved Two-teacher model Team teaching in preparing content YES. Team teaching in control and navigation  YES Team teaching in response and guidance  YES Team teaching in knowledge sharing  YES Team teaching in showing scenario.  NO Tools used to exploit “common shared workspace” Online chat  YES Shared whiteboard  YES Joint web browsing  YES Desktop sharing  NO Remote control  NO
Table 2

The proposal here is an attempt to define in the table 3 a classification of a/synchronous team teaching model related to different pedagogies, along











collaborative and student-centered. More Directive Team-teaching More Collaborative Team-teaching

Synchronous activity  Online cyber classroom

o Two-teacher model: one

Asynchronous/Distributed activity  Learning Management system

concentrates on lecturing, the other one concentrates on responding to questions in the text chatroom [Chen 2004] one concentrates on lecturing, the second one concentrates on responding to questions in the text chatroom, the third one concentrates on preparing material to the whiteboard [Chen 2004]

o Two-teacher model:

teachers act as tutors to support students into a learning community or a community of practice

o The three-teacher model:

Synchronous activity  Online cyber classroom

o Two-teacher model:

teachers act as facilitators to support student-centered discussion (typical example is a web seminar)

Table 3

4. Challenges and difficulties for adopting online team-teaching
In some cases, collaborative teaching approach could fail: conformity, loss of time, lack of initiative, conflict, lack of understanding, compromises. Difficulties can be related to practical or interpersonal issues, rather than to clashes in ideology or personality. Geen [1985] found that there are serious difficulties encountered when teachers are expected to work together in one class: the time and energy consumed in planning; the reluctance of some teachers to teach before colleagues; and differences between team members. Many unforeseen problems can arise during an online session, owing to different factors [Manganello, Pennacchietti, Pistoia, Chen 2008; Pennacchietti, Manganello, Pistoia, Leo, Kinshuk, & Chen 2009].









connection, with pc functionalities and technical defects may arise during a session, impeding the correct development of the activities. It would be really important to have a member with a specific technological competence in the teaching team, in order to solve any possible technological problems and/or be ready to adopt alternative solutions. Knowledge of the platform tools. It is essential for the teachers to have a good competence in the use of the online tools available in the online learning environment. This is a key factor determining the success or failure of an online session. Each teacher should be capable of choosing the most appropriate tool to implement an activity, given a certain range of possible tools available in the platform. Moreover, in case of arising problems, the teacher should be able to adopt alternative solutions, by using other tools. Teachers’ coordination. Coordination among the teachers is easier in the asynchronous modality, while in the synchronous session it is quite hard to keep all aspects under control, in order to be ready to cope with possible problems. A teacher should clarify objectives and steps in the lesson by announcing them to the students, in order to keep their attention alive and prepare them to the forthcoming activity. The use of both verbal explanation and the text chat room to explain an interactive activity that is about to start helps the students understand how to interact positively in the implementation of the activity. Possible misunderstandings. The organization of multi-tasking

activities is quite complex and requires a high level of attention and concentration on the part of the teachers and of the learning group. The capacity to keep under control different factors of the learning process developing at the same time is fundamental. Time management and lesson rhythm. The management of time is a key element in the teaching/learning process. A good time management allows the teaching team to realize the learning goals of a specific lesson.


Time is very difficult to manage in online synchronous sessions, especially when unforeseen problems and difficulties arise. The capacity to react immediately and find alternative solution is essential. The technical difficulties and the relatively scarce experience in the use of the synchronous teaching/learning tools in 3C (on both the students’ and the teachers’ sides) led to a fragmented lesson. This puts motivation, concentration and attention at risk. Interactivity and collaboration. Interactivity can be facilitated by the tools in the platform but, as stated before, it is necessary to have a good competence in the use of the synchronous teaching tools. Moreover, synchronous teaching allows an immediate feed-back on both the teachers’ and the students’ sides and interactivity is strongly enhanced and intensified. The students may be asked by the teacher to use specific functions, to give opinions, etc. during the online session. In the case of asynchronous teaching, even if interactivity exists, it happens with a different rhythm and with a shift in time. The reaction to a question can be postponed of some hours or days. Collaboration concerns three aspects:  Collaboration in the teaching team: it is essential from the planning of the activity for the definition of the topic, the creation of the learning materials and, finally, the definition of the interactive activities. Then, in the implementation of the online session, collaboration allows the teachers to focus on specific students’ needs and on specific aspects of teaching (for example, as it happened in the case analyzed, on presentation and on text chat, students’ assistance, etc.). The capacity to establish a continuous dialogue in the teaching team is essential.  Collaboration in the learning group: students should be accustomed to cooperation. They may be asked to develop tasks in group and, in this case, they should be able to use other tools such as Skype, Messenger or the Small Group Discussion Room available in the 3C


platform. In this case collaboration as well as interaction may be strongly enhanced.

Collaboration between the teaching team and the learning group: a student should feel free to ask for questions and clarifications; the creation of a continuous dialogue with the teacher/s is really important to discuss specific aspects of the topic and solve any possible doubt. The teacher, on the other side, can have the immediate perception of the situation and take appropriate measures while proceeding with the online session. The synchronous cyber classroom and, in particular, the Small Group Discussion Room (SGDR) for interaction and discussion and collaboration are really interesting tools to assign different tasks to different sub-groups at the same time. They will develop their task separately and then meet in the main online classroom to exchange the results of the discussion. Nonetheless, the SGDR was not used in this specific case as the teaching team did not feel confident enough with this new tool.

Other more general aspect are:

Instructor’s workload. The workload in team teaching is very heavy and sometimes continuous meetings and discussions are necessary for the team to organize the work and to define the different roles. Any aspect has to be considered in order to allow teachers to cooperate effectively, without wasting time and doing the same thing twice.

Student’s experience. Students are usually accustomed to a lecturer’s teaching style and a change may cause learning difficulties at the beginning. Moreover, in very populated courses, it is very difficult for the instructors to get to know all the students and sometimes at the end of the course, if some traditional classes are not foreseen, the teacher does not succeed in establishing a


connection with his/her students. Besides, with online teaching (especially in the synchronous modality) it is essential for students to know the platform in which they are working in order to be able to give immediate feed-backs to their teachers. This is also part of a student’s experience.

Administrative issues/course structure and development. A team of teachers needs a coordinator. Nonetheless, consultations are essential to develop the work in team. The administrative issues to organize a course held by a team of teachers are heavy but also essential to maintain a certain academic rigor. This part adds a lot to the real teaching load.

5. Conclusion
Team teaching could be an essential experience both for teachers, as stated above, and students, who must get accustomed to online teaching, develop multi-tasking abilities, acquire competences in the use of the online synchronous classroom tools available. From the teacher’s point of view, it is important a clear definition of activities and then the choice of a pedagogical model. Only after this is possible to proceed with the definition and the implementation of the technological tools. A clear definition of an (inter)relations’ model among actors is also needed to support teachers’ coordination and leadership management. At this step, an analysis of teachers’ profiles and definition of roles is fundamental. The modalities with which this interaction can be improved can be further investigated, as well as the students’ reactions to online synchronous teaching in a team teaching context, in order to be able to facilitate learning and improve interaction with the different teachers in future. In particular, it would be really interesting to investigate the students’ reaction to the presence (even if virtual) of different teachers, how the different roles are


perceived and if they are perceived and, finally, how they can be better perceived by the learning group in a team teaching context. In fact, some students may feel frustration and discontentment about having more than one teacher. Nonetheless, team teaching represents a great opportunity for the personal and the professional development of teachers, who are required to make a step forward and to develop new competences and new work practices, requiring cooperation and interaction with other colleagues. Collaboration is a process that happens if particular instrumental abilities subsist, not only related to the technology. Behavioral aspects of digital collaboration and communication are also important. Team teaching requires the most mutual trust and respect between teachers and requires that they are able to mesh their teaching styles [Friend & Cook 2003]. The creation of a community of practice to support teachers within the educational institution may help. It could happen in either informal or formal manner, but the support of the management is crucial.


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