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Collaborative Teaching: Reflections On A Cross Disciplinary Experience In Engineering Education

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.146.1 - 3.146.4



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Mark A. Shields

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3661

Collaborative Teaching: Reflections on a Cross-Disciplinary Experience in Engineering Education

Mark A. Shields University of Virginia


Most of us know a lot more about cooperative learning than about collaborative teaching. We are also far more sympathetic to the former than the latter. The principled virtues and practical benefits of having our students work together in teams seem altogether less attractive when we envision ourselves joined in (chained to?) a common teaching enterprise. While collaborative learning seems to offer an ethically compelling alternative to the competitive model of individualized achievement and assessment, the notion of collaborative teaching unnerves many of us because it implies a loss of professional autonomy–and, indeed, may suggest (to our colleagues, at least) that we’re not up to the task of doing our own pedagogical thing.

Likewise, while we may regard cooperative learning as good preparation for the real world of working in teams, collaborative teaching may well seem naively oblivious of the real-world academic promotion-and-tenure system that judges us on our individual teaching (and scholarly) merits. Finally, if cooperative learning offers practical benefits to us as teachers in reducing the number (and improving the quality) of assignments we have to read and grade, the coordination of teaching effort that collaborative teaching entails may actually increase the amount of time we spend teaching. All of this is complicated by a lack of research and shared practices for knowing how to do collaborative teaching–again, in utter contrast to a burgeoning database of experience and research in cooperative learning.

Is collaborative teaching, then, really worth the risk and trouble? Yes. . . but only when it promises both to enrich student learning and–equally important–provide a fulfilling collegial experience. For several years now–at Georgia Tech and the University of Virginia–I have experimented with cooperative learning approaches and pursued collaborative teaching efforts. At Georgia Tech, I had my students in a few courses undertake at least one cooperative learning project each quarter. This usually involved a team paper project, lasting for two or three weeks. I also taught a graduate course in Social Theory for historians of technology with another sociologist. Since coming to UVA’s engineering school in 1994, however, I have gone c- crazy–cooperative learning projects in every course as well as two consecutive years of collaborative teaching with engineering colleagues outside my own discipline of sociology. This paper briefly describes one of my UVa collaborations–why we did it, what we did, and how it turned out. It draws extensively on other publications where the collaboration is discussed in much greater detail. 1, 2, 3, 4

I should say at the outset that collaborative teaching can take many forms and degrees of collaboration–I have no model to sell, just my own story and reflections on it. My story happens to be quite positive and upbeat, but I’m well aware that collaborative teaching may not be good

Shields, M. A. (1998, June), Collaborative Teaching: Reflections On A Cross Disciplinary Experience In Engineering Education Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--6967

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