University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Instructors pack punch into student learning experiences through team teaching

From duelling specialists to an evolving mentorship, University of Calgary Teaching Awards recipients challenge convention

Dr. Soren Boysen and Dr. Serge Chalhoub's duelling specialists approach to team teaching keeps their students engaged. Photo by Adrian Shellard

Soren Boysen and Serge Chalhoub's friendly in-class banter provides their Clinical Presentation students with a rich learning experience. Photo by Adrian Shellard

By Jillian Zatka and Jessica Snow, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

One might envision meeting Dr. Soren Boysen and Dr. Serge Chalhoub from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the drab pastel green or blue surgical uniform typical of any medical profession. So when Chalhoub causally pulls out their red and black velvet smoking jackets, it quickly becomes evident that this pair are going to be anything but boring. These University of Calgary Teaching Award recipients for Team Teaching have now become known as the infamous Duelling Specialists for their banter-filled take on their Clinical Presentation course.

A friendly duel between equal partners

Their complementary specialties (Boysen is an emergency and critical care specialist, small animal, and Chalhoub is an internal medicine specialist, small animal) motivated them to challenge the traditional structure of the Clinical Presentation course. Their strong dynamic allows them to share delivery of the material and bounce ideas off each other to provide a new perspective of medicine to students.

Chalhoub notes, “I realized that students like it when we banter, as they see a side of medicine that they may not get in academia.” As duelling specialists, they challenge each other to support their diagnostic reasoning. According to both Boysen and Chalhoub, when students witness their sometimes heated debates, it encourages class discussion and creates a psychologically safe learning environment where students can ask questions, take a position themselves, and learn to think critically. It is through this approach that students see a “human side” to medicine and learn it is not all black and white.

A natural evolution in the instructor and teaching assistant relationship

A short walk through the atrium of the Health Science Centre leads to the third floor office of Dr. Heather Jamniczky, assistant professor in cell biology and anatomy in the Cumming School of Medicine and recipient of the University of Calgary Teaching Award for Full-Time Academic Staff. Jamniczky saw the opportunity to implement a team teaching approach with doctoral student and teaching assistant, Sarah Anderson, who is a recipient of the University of Calgary Teaching Award for a Graduate Teaching Assistant.

Under Jamniczky’s mentorship, they co-deliver the fourth-year Human Anatomy course. According to Anderson, “The first couple of years, I was more of an observer in the lecture. Then I would go to labs to contribute and clarify certain points. We always had an ongoing dialogue.” Now Anderson delivers approximately half the lectures in the course, which has given her invaluable first-hand teaching experience. As their team teaching approach evolved, both Anderson and Jamniczky respond to student feedback each semester and use it to improve and create a more engaging learning experience.

Forget the lonely professor: How to start team teaching

  • Be comfortable with not knowing: As with Boysen and Chalhoub, a key to Jamniczky and Anderson’s team teaching success involves losing the fear of making themselves vulnerable in front of their students. “Seeing us put ourselves out there, and honestly say ‘I don’t know,’ helps the students become more comfortable with not always having an answer,” says Jamniczky. It comes down to making a safe learning environment for students.
  • Nurture the partnership: With this teaching approach comes challenges, such as finding the right chemistry, professionalism and respect between instructors in and out of the classroom. Another factor that Boysen and Chalhoub mention is picking up on each other’s non-verbal cues — essential for seamless content delivery. Jamniczky notes that a lot of care and thought needs to go into choosing a team member, as it could have an impact on the whole class — reflecting the importance of having a mutual willingness and commitment for team teaching.
  • Students are part of the team: Both team teaching pairs agree there is a significant impact on student engagement through this approach. In Jamniczky and Anderson’s Human Anatomy course, they attribute the high level of student engagement to their strong relationship. “We are all here as a team, including Sarah and I, and by the end of the class it’s a lot less of a formal environment for students” says Jamniczky. Integrating discussion questions into every lecture pushes students out of their comfort zone to the point of collaboration — fostered through the team teaching approach.

About the University of Calgary Teaching Awards

The University of Calgary Teaching Awards honour outstanding contributions to student learning across 13 different categories. The awards recognize excellence in diverse learning contexts, by individuals and teams and through curriculum design and educational leadership.

The deadline for the 2017 University of Calgary Teaching Awards is Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to nominate individuals and groups. More information on eligibility, nominations, and adjudication can be found on the University of Calgary Teaching Awards page, located of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning website.