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Planning and Implementing Shared Teaching: An MBA Team-Teaching Case Study

Marilyn M. Helms, John M. Alvis, Marilyn Willis

ABSTRACT

Team teaching is a popular trend in business education. In an attempt to integrate seemingly disparate functional disciplines, a number of business programs have combined courses. Regardless of the courses combined (marketing and finance, management and accounting, economics and strategy, or production and cost accounting), the teaching pedagogy shares a number of challenges in both planning and implementation. In this article, the authors review the experiences gained from team teaching in an MBA program and offer suggestions for adoption, improvement, and implementation in other business programs.

The Manufacturing Applications I course that served as the basis for this case study used a team-teaching methodology to combine material from two diverse topic areas. In this case, we combined production and operations processes and manufacturing strategy from a management perspective with product-costing techniques from an accounting viewpoint. Regardless of the functional business courses combined or the location within the undergraduate or graduate business curriculum, the implementation of team teaching offers a number of challenges and benefits.

Combining Business Courses for Team Teaching

A review of the existing business education literature reveals a dearth of current research on combining business functions into one course even though arguments for its use have been supported in the past. For example, Mason (1992) agreed business schools have long been criticized for not addressing the needs of the business environment and suggested cross-discipline team teaching provides key areas for implementation. Geary and Rooney (1993) called for the accounting profession to complement the emphasis on sensate thinking with a strong emphasis on the development of intuitive thinking. The authors agreed that working on actual case studies combining several disciplines would be an effective way to advance students' intuitive thinking. In supporting for team teaching, Heinfeldt and Wolf (1998) found that the stakeholder approach to business education must apply the perspectives of multiple constituencies to functional areas, including accounting and management. In a study of accounting team teaching, Steadman (2000) found that accounting should be team taught and suggested the inclusion of health-care-related topics to address the increased national attention on health care issues. In their study of the work and communication needs of new auditors, Goby and Lewis (1999) found that accountancy graduates entering the profession lack some important communication abilities, including interpersonal, oral, and written skills. Their solution to the communication problems calls for the use of more case studies as well as the introduction of cross-disciplinary team teaching.

Researchers considering the effectiveness of graduate business programs stress that the most effective schools combine interpersonal communication in managerial skill-building or professional development. Team teaching is a way to integrate the core of many MBA programs and blend separate functional courses to show how the different disciplines interact ("Do You Speak MBA?", 1996).

Dumas, Blodgett, Carlson, Pant, and Venka (2000) as well as Hancock (1998) supported team teaching as a way to revitalize the business curriculum. Because business problems are cross-disciplinary, complex, and even "messy," the team-teaching approach is important and supported by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), the premier accrediting agency of undergraduate and graduate business programs ("The Boom in Entrepreneurial Studies," 1996). Watkins (1996) outlined the changed MBA core in his case study of an MBA program that evolved from functional area courses to a much-needed integration through team-teaching combinations.

Team-Teaching Approaches

When considering team teaching, three distinct models are presented in the literature in addition to being observed in practice. They are the interactive, the participant-observer, and the rotational models (Nead, 1995; White, Henley, & Brabston, 1998).

In the interactive team-teaching approach, used by the authors in the present case study, two professors are in front of the class simultaneously. This model is the definition one traditionally considers as true team teaching. Both professors actively participate by commenting on most or all of the scheduled discussion topics, with lively interactive dialogue and debate (Galley & Carroll, 1993; Nead, 1995). The participant observer team-teaching model requires both professors to be present for all classes; however, one professor presents independently with little or no dialogue from the observer partner (the professors alternate the observer and teacher roles). Alternate views are not actively given but are available if students ask questions or if the observer professor offers a viewpoint (Flanagan & Ralston, 1983).

Under the rotational team-teaching model, the individual professors teach classes separately and will attend class only when teaching their specific areas of the course (Morlock, 1988; Nead, 1995). This approach requires less time but may require the senior professor or class coordinator to develop the syllabus, schedule the team's rotation, and manage testing, grading, and evaluations.

Benefits of Interactive Team Teaching

Offers Multiple Viewpoints for Learning

In team teaching, the professors involved contribute their unique backgrounds, areas of strength, and expertise to the course. The combination of varied expertise and viewpoints can produce a synergy in the classroom that is not possible when only one professor is present. Multiple professors can have a positive impact on student learning-the students have access to more faculty resources outside the classroom and are exposed to more knowledge within the classroom. This is important because each professor has the opportunity to present a personal perspective on new and controversial issues. Presenting students with contrasting views on a topic can promote creative thinking and allows students to explore alternative positions. With simultaneous coverage in team teaching, students begin to see how both views interrelate when making business decisions. In their study of a team-taught cultural diversity class, Smith, Hornsby, and Kite (2000) found that interdisciplinary classroom interventions do have a positive effect on students' attitudes. This finding was also supported by Nead (1995), who determined that students in team-taught business courses felt better prepared for future business courses than their counterparts in traditional courses.

Ayadi and Crawford (1996) agreed that the traditional method of instruction focuses on individual courses and does not stress the interconnectedness of subject matter and future implementation. In fact, researchers agree many interdisciplinary courses should be team-taught (Galley & Carroll, 1993; Slater, McCubbrey, & Scudder, 1995). Nixon, Helms, and Fletcher (1997) discussed the challenges of integrating team teaching in a business setting yet stressed the benefit of such activities. Fish (1994) also agreed that integration is challenging, but important.

Reduces Redundancies

The use of team teaching stresses the links between functional areas, production and accounting in this case, and reduces the "silo effect" of learning within business disciplines. Many business schools are shifting their focus to interdisciplinary business education to reduce this functional nature (Boyer, 1987; Drucker, 1992; Hartenian, Schellenger, & Frederickson, 2001; and Slater et al., 1995). This integration better reflects the decision-making process in industry and reduces redundancies that occur in many business programs. Business students often complain that some topics are presented time and again in different courses (including Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities and-Threats [SWOT] analysis, breakeven analysis, leadership theories, ratio analysis, and learning curves). By combining courses, instructors can eliminate redundancy of topics and coverage and devote more time to introducing new material.

Builds Teamwork and Communication

Students at business schools need more emphasis on building communication and collaboration skills in order to better integrate the material they are presented (Reeve, 1992; Slater et al., 1995). The teaching partnership represents an opportunity for students to observe a team approach to decision making firsthand. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that employers consistently rank communication and teamwork skills near the top of most desirable skills in prospective employees (Andrews & Wooten, 2005). Kagan (1994) agreed that it is difficult to imagine a job that does not include cooperation or interaction with others. Thus, replication and practice of teams and teamwork in the classroom are worthy objectives (Seitz, 2002).

When asked to comment on the success of General Electric, a multi-business company with operations around the globe that has been successful for 120 years, former Chairman and CEO Jack Welch attributed much of the company's progress to teamwork (Welch & Welch, 2005). Welch agreed that the ability of employees to work in teams remains increasingly important as global trade grows and companies continue to adopt new technologies and business practices. Feedback from such employers of business school graduates is causing this change in business education (Ahmadi & Brabston, 1998; Porter & McKibbin, 1998).

Offers Multiple Styles

Another benefit of team teaching is combining a mix of teaching skills and styles. Each professor brings to the class a unique combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and examples honed over a career. The professors have different sets of presentation skills they prefer: multimedia, statistical interpretation, or computer applications, for example. This variety has many advantages, particularly because students have a variety of learning styles and presentation preferences.

Creates Interdisciplinary Scholarship

Finally, team teaching can lead to the creation of a more collegial and robust faculty. Inter- and intradepartmental team building can be a positive benefit. There is also the possibility of cross disciplinary research and enhanced publication opportunities, as well as the opportunity to help newer and younger faculty hone their skills. Booth, DixonBrown, and Kohut (2003), for example, found shared or team teaching as a way to balance teaching and research and found the approach also offers professors more concentrated time for their research.

Learning from the Team-Teaching Experience

The impetus for the team-teaching efforts outlined here was a result of the College of Business' MBA program revitalization at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In this process, the curriculum committee reviewed the program in detail and recommended several courses for combination and team teaching. The graduate faculty was then asked to volunteer to teach in the combined courses.

Text and cases

The first issue for the new teams was locating appropriate textbooks and course materials. Because the courses covered at least two subject areas, it was difficult to find a single, appropriate textbook. This is a familiar challenge in team-taught classes. Often it is addressed through combining relevant portions of a functional area textbook in custom publishing or by gathering cases and readings and other materials in lieu of a textbook. Students, however, complain when custom textbooks differ greatly in print size and writing style and pages are not numbered consecutively, since it makes referring to materials a challenging task. In some courses, professors used two textbooks, but a caution here is not to combine two three-credit hour courses into one threecredit hour course without considering the workload on the students. In some cases, covering two textbooks in one course was too aggressive for both the students and faculty.

Syllabus

Grafting the syllabus required each team member to relinquish ownership in order to develop a course that served the students best. Timing of class assignment, readings, exams, class presentations, and reports, within the confines of the travels of each professor, proved to be a difficult, yet possible task. Once the class schedule was developed, the two professors met to establish the point distribution and weight for the various components of the course. Given the learning curve experienced in team teaching, the syllabus and course content changed each semester. In particular, the professors adjusted the workload to better reflect the course combination.

Quizzes, Exams, and Evaluation

Quizzes and exams should reflect the team-taught nature of the course and should consist of questions from both functional areas rather than having two separate tests. When possible, questions or cases that address all of the combined functional areas should be included and graded by both professors. This supports the view of Gopinath (2004) who found that, while graders had areas of disagreement as a result of varied interpretation of answers, students benefited from a process that involved multiple graders, particularly on analyses of cases.

The instructors included class contribution as a significant component of this graduate-level course. Interestingly, class participation and contribution was easier to accurately assess with the additional professor available to record participation points. The instructors also used seating charts to facilitate the recording. With the proliferation of digital cameras, having a photo seating chart of students with their names, majors or concentrations, and current work experience noted is helpful in calling on students, recording points, and learning their names more quickly. Because communication and teamwork were goals of the course, the class included a final team project and presentation. Students were allowed to choose their own team members as well as their company to study. Team members completed team evaluation forms to rate the performance of their own contributions as well as those of the other team members. In addition, the student audience also completed a presentation evaluation form.

Preclass Planning and Grading

Both professors met in planning sessions numerous times prior to teaching the first class, finalizing material, content, and teaching and learning assessment mechanisms and discussing the respective weights of each activity. Both further agreed that interrupting each other during the class time to present ideas and views from the other functional area would be both necessary and encouraged in this team-teaching partnership. The interruptions would also reflect how business meetings are conducted with multiple viewpoints jockeying for position and consideration. Handling back-and-forth discussion and debate is a positive feature of team teaching as are the asides or interruptions, particularly when they are managed and presented in an appropriate location in the lecture material.

The instructors also facilitated the distribution of effort by weekly meetings prior to class. The professors often had dinner together before the evening class to review the materials and discussion outline. These meetings helped to leverage the skills of the two professors to enhance the students' learning experience. At the end of each semester and before the beginning of the next semester, the professors reviewed the materials, the student evaluations, and made adjustments to the course, further streamlining the process.

From the beginning, the instructors created single quizzes and tests, representing a combination of accounting and manufacturing issues. Each professor graded the relevant part of the quiz or exam and transferred the entire test to the counterpart in a timely manner so grading could be completed and recorded before the next class meeting. The final presentation report was graded by both professors and assigned one grade. This supports the research of Goinpath (2004), who found that multiple graders lead to improved student satisfaction.

Teaching Evaluations

Teaching evaluations were adapted to the team-teaching environment. Because the professors were making joint presentations at each class meeting, students could either view the separate teachers as an inseparable unit or evaluate them as single professors. It is possible, however, to separate the comments into a course evaluation to rate the content, materials, books, testing, and delivery and have two additional evaluations for each of the two instructors in the team. Students can be directed only to focus on issues related to the teaching style and presentation of the faculty, as separate from the course, in the individual evaluations. This allows each team member to have individualized, constructive feedback. For this reason we chose the separate evaluations.

Administrators must note that often team-teaching courses are experiments or works-in-progress and may have lower initial teaching evaluations than traditional course formats. Any new teaching model is an experiment and involves taking risks and trying new approaches and should be rewarded and encouraged even if the student comments are not at the same level as for individual instructors in non-team-taught courses.

Power Struggles

Handling disagreements was not a problem in our team of tenured, full professors because each worked in separate departments (accounting and management), neither was part of the other's promotion and tenure committee, we did not differ in rank or title, and, until the combined class, we had previously not interacted on more than a personal basis. However, in teams structured with faculty from the same department or with a mix of senior and junior faculty, disagreements may present more of a problem and may require assistance from the department chair(s) to resolve.

Gender and Diversity

In our case study, the production professor was female and the accounting professor was male. This mixed gender team teaching supports the model proposed by Reha (1979) as a way to prepare women for management roles by introducing them to team teaching with male and female instructors. Her research found this method would provide a more objective view of business as well as serve as an example of teaching men and women to relate to each other as business equals.

While both professors in this case study came from similar cultural backgrounds and shared similar teaching philosophies, researchers have noted that team teaching with someone from a different culture presents other challenges in styles and teaching format (Napier, Hang, Mai, Thang, & Tuan, 2002).

Joint Research

At the beginning of the course, neither professor was proficient in the other's discipline and made few add-on discussion comments. However, during the subsequent offerings of the course, more interdisciplinary comments and observations were possible. As learning improved, the professors began to be able to address students' questions in each subject area and not just their own. The combination also led to joint research ideas combining the disciplines. The professors developed several research projects leading to presentation and publication as a result of the shared teaching experience.

Student Feedback and Assessment

The team-taught class was delivered to on-site MBA students and MBA students in a distance-learning environment linked by two-way audio and video in two remote sites 100 miles away, in a weekend (Friday afternoon and Saturday) executive-MBA (EMBA) format, and in a distance-learning EMBA format. The same syllabus was used in all formats. Professors alternated sites each week in the distance-learning environments but always taught in the same location together.

The EMBA class, which met at the employment location of the student cohort, was complimentary of the unique, fresh approach offered by the team model. These students tended to form very effective teams and enjoyed common company time and resources when preparing their presentations. In particular, they rated the team project and presentation as the most effective part of the course.

Traditional MBA students rated the course as too difficult and stated it required about the same effort as the two separate courses. This supports the findings of Lilyestrom (1999), who agrees students feel more time is required to be successful in a team-taught class and often cite more homework and difficulty adjusting to different teaching styles in team-taught classes. The MBA students worked for a number of different area companies and teamwork was more difficult for them outside of the scheduled classroom time. Because the MBA classes were evening classes and the majority of students worked full time, many did not like focusing on two major business disciplines (accounting and manufacturing) in the same course in the same semester.

Quantitative and qualitative assessments were conducted every semester. Students completed a computer-scored form assessing a series of 6-point Likerttype scale questions about the teaching effectiveness, class content, class format, suitability of the textbook, and use of class time. In general, team-taught courses averaged about one rating point lower than sole-professor led classes (4.5 from a traditional mean of 5.5) for the statement "This was an effective course." For the team-taught classes in the graduate MBA program, the accounting and manufacturing combination received quantitative student satisfaction ratings ranging from 25% to 50% higher than the other team-taught course combinations over the 4-year period under study. This team stayed together while other teams varied the faculty combinations so the learning curve difference may account for the evaluations.

The students' specific qualitative comments, noted on the back of the evaluation form, mentioned the larger than expected workload and time constraints, particularly in the first year of the team-taught course. The graduate students also commented on the desire for the team to teach the class less like a seminar and to include more lecturing, even though the format of the class was discussed in the syllabus. The students seemed to feel the structure was more of a facilitating role and they were used to a lecture-testing format in the past. Overall, the students were favorable about the class content, class structure, and each professor's effectiveness.

The students particularly liked the real-world discussion of manufacturing applications. They appreciated the team's growing knowledge of subject matter, the case study format, and the lively exchange and interaction during discussions. The comments on the textbooks and the cases as well as the one visit early in the semester to a manufacturing facility were also positive. In addition, the students reacted favorably to the group project, a study of an external small manufacturing company's production and accounting processes.

Earlier in the team-teaching life cycle, the students felt the instructors did not present an equal amount of time and saw the initial attempts to integrate the material as interruptions. The dean and the two department chairs involved supported the team-teaching experiment and realized the transition and learning would take time and did not focus on the student evaluations.

Conclusion

The combined course was deemed a success by both students and the business faculty. As business schools work to cover more material, make room in the curriculum for electives and emerging special topics courses (including ethics and international business), and streamline duplicated material, the team-teaching concept makes both practical and intuitive sense. It is a way to replicate business processes in practice and supports the move to participative management and team decision making. The need to consider the qualitative and quantitative implications of all business decisions supports the combination of courses.

Further study is needed on team teaching in a business school environment. Other case studies of colleges and universities' successes and failures with team teaching and course combinations are needed, particularly articles that detail the specifics of the course delivery and the various course combinations used. A comprehensive survey of undergraduate and graduate business programs using course combinations and team teaching on a longitudinal basis is also needed. In addition, we suggest study of the use of such combinations in the noncredit environment for continuing education courses for professional development.

 

 
 

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