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This is a question that I originally posted to matheducators.stackexchange.com but it was suggested that I might get some more answers here.

My department is considering using more than one lecturer (sequentially, not in parallel) to give lectures in our large first-year classes (e.g. 500 students doing engineering mathematics).

In other words, one lecturer does the first 4 weeks, a second does the next 4 weeks and a third does the remaining 4 weeks.

There is enough content of disparate nature (e.g., linear algebra, calculus of various types) to split into three distinct blocks so that each lecturer teaches a coherent block.

Is there evidence, ideally published research studies, about the effectiveness of such an arrangement, and whether the students view it favourably or otherwise.

My inability to locate for myself any research studies may be due to the large number of different meanings of the phrase "team teaching" or "joint teaching" or "co-teaching". Just to clarify, I am not talking about dividing a large class into sections, nor am I talking about two lecturers in the same class. Just the material being divided up and presented in separate blocks by different lecturers.

Given this inability to locate research studies, I am also interested in anecdotal evidence if you have any horror stories or great successes to comment on.

(My suspicion is that the precise details of who the lecturers are, and whether they are good lecturers etc is more important than the distinction between "one lecturer" and "two lecturers", but I'd like to have some evidence one way or another.)

Added in response

Thanks for all the useful responses, which lead me to believe that we can proceed with caution. In what follows, a "unit" is a 12-week class that occupies 1/4 of a student's time, what other countries call a "class" or a "course" or even a "paper" (in NZ).

In our situation, the unit's content is defined by a unit reader that was collectively written when the unit was first designed, and each lecturer would need to cover a specified set of chapters / sections from the reader.

While the contents of each lecture is not specified down to the last page, we know from previous years approximately how much can be covered in each lecture. So different lecturers cannot really deviate much from this if they are to complete the same material in the same time.

The final exam will be written, again with many years of past examples at hand, by the unit coordinator, and marked (mostly) by casual teaching assistants, to a fairly rigid rubric. So the lecturers will not really affect that.

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    I think arxiv.org/abs/2302.05904 is not describing precisely what you want, but might go at least into that direction.
    – mlk
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 13:05
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    I'm voting to close as opinion based. It seems to me, as you mention yourself, that there are a lot of variables and it's going to depend on the details, including cultural ones. I'd also add the cautionary point that just because the students like something doesn't make it a good idea. I had several lecturers who were (superficially) dull or boring compared to others, but who, in hindsight, provided clear explanations of concepts. I had a couple that were very entertaining but were not good at explaining concepts. Commented May 23, 2023 at 6:36
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    Looks like a perfect opportunity for a poll. Commented May 23, 2023 at 7:27
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    @StephenG In terms of quality of education, it is my experience that students like the dull-but-good instructors better than the entertaining-but-bad ones. On a purely personal level, they may like the entertaining ones more, but when you ask a student whether they ‘like’ a teacher, they will generally assume you mean whether they like them as a teacher and answer accordingly. Commented May 23, 2023 at 13:53
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    @StephenG-HelpUkraine Actually I asked for references to research studies or empirical observations / data from people who have actual experience with joint teaching. Some people have answered with what appears to be their opinion without citing specific evidence, but I didn't ask for that. But in fact, when I look at the front page of this forum, almost every question is a variant of "What should I do in situation X?" whose entire purpose is to canvass opinions from the general forum. Commented May 24, 2023 at 4:19

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I can't point to any research but given that you ask for anecdata:

This approach is fairly common in the UK and related systems. A module (class) may be a single entity for administrative purposes, but in practical terms it may be split into several pieces taught by different people. I have even seen modules where every single lecture is given by a different person.

In general this approach works well. There needs to be one person who has oversight of everything, and who can act as a defined point of contact for student queries that don't fit elsewhere. In the UK this person would likely be known as the 'module convenor'.

The teaching team need to make sure they are all very clear about exactly what is to be covered by each person. If there are any ambiguities about nomenclature, notation, etc, the team should agree their approach. This is probably the biggest source of legitimate student complaints - inconsistencies, holes or duplication between different lecturers. You also need to consider how you're going to handle disruption to your schedule: what happens if - for whatever reason - someone isn't able to cover all their material in their allotted time? Is this going to cause a cascading series of problems for subsequent teaching?

The second issue that can exercise students is assessment: make sure that multiple lecturers does not equate to a (perception of a) greater assessment burden for the students. Note that some students may attempt to play one lecturer off against another ("Oh, but Prof. X told me that I didn't need to do this exam!"). To avoid this, it may be desirable for all 'significant' administrative matters (extensions, dispensations, notification of examination arrangements, etc) to be handled by the module convenor.

A final consideration is the need for synthesis. This will vary between topics, but chopping a class into pieces risks losing sight of the bigger picture - how do they all fit together? Where are the important similarities and differences? Lecturers may require encouragement to think of their segment within the broader context of the class, and not as a stand-alone entity. In some cases it may be appropriate to have one or more lectures at the end of the course that try to draw together all the different threads developed elsewhere.

Edited to add: One significant potential pedagogic benefit of using multiple lecturers is that it can help signpost - and enforce - the division of a topic into distinct logical units. A change of personnel sends a clear visual message that one chapter has finished and a new one has begun. It may also encourage weaker or struggling students to attempt to re-engage: psychologically, at least, it offers an opportunity for a 'fresh start'.

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    That all sounds sensible-in this case the unit is a list of topics required for engineering students who will only specialise later (into civil, mechanical, electrical etc) and so it can easily be divided into parts that don’t overlap. Commented May 22, 2023 at 7:51
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    (Also in the UK) I've only seen every single lecture given by a different person at Masters or postgrad levels. But splitting a module into clearly-defined sections with different staff is reasonably common. When I've seen this, and especially when I was involved, one academic - often but not necessarily a senior one - had overall responsibility for the course. That included the synthesis material at the (beginning and) end. It was apparently well-received when I had the junior role in such a setup
    – Chris H
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 8:48
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    I see a further problem: exam content and grading. The Convenor, as you call it, should be very clear about what's the scope of the exam, otherwise you may give a false perspective to students on how they will be tested and graded. An anecdote from my old Uni days as a student: the Italian university system had just underwent a reform and new courses were being created. The "old" Electronic Engineering course was split in 3 courses: "new" Electronics Eng., Computer Eng. and Telecom Eng. (5yrs master-level degrees, at the time Italy didn't have a lower level degree corresponding to BSc). ... Commented May 22, 2023 at 15:49
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    ... This required some classes content rearrangement and shuffling. The 2nd year "Physics II" exam became a juggernaut class with all the "leftover" modules of other classes. Some modules were taught by different people. We had a 2-week crash-course module on quantum mechanics, covering 1D potential barriers. At the exam one exercise required to solve a 2D problem about a free electron hitting an infinite slab of copper! Ofc. none of the ~100 students could solve it. ... Commented May 22, 2023 at 15:50
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    ... Later the person who had "taught" us QM said in front of us with genuine puzzlement "No one could solve the exercise. Funny, it was a simple generalization of the 1D problem we examined in class." and the "Convenor", who was present, was so embarrassed that he couldn't keep a straight face (he seemed like he was about to do a double-palm-face, but he didn't say anything to the lecturer). Commented May 22, 2023 at 15:53
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No problem - at least with 2 lecturers on the same course unit.

It's common enough in engineering for some time. And it can happen across courses that run for 1 semester or across two with a single exam.

Often the main lecturer will teach in the part that is his field of research while the other will do likewise with the other topic on the course.

The main problem is the obvious one - the quality of teaching.

So where one lecturer X is sloppy, students will be saying that Y should have carried the whole course, at least he can put stuff across, etc, etc.

The latter situation can often occur when the second "lecturer" is a postdoc fellow and is being given a chance of getting some teaching practice in an area familiar to them through their research. Often they just don't get (or want to do the donkey-work involved in ?) the task of bringing students rationally and sensibly from point A (that they are already at) to point B (where the course is supposed to take them).

But this situation should not be problematic if the individual lecturing is adequate.

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    "The main problem is the obvious one - the quality of teaching." Agree completely. In my experiences teaching jointly one of my biggest challenges has been making sure the other teacher and I are on the same page. It mostly has to do with student expectations. If both teachers can align on those it shouldn't be a problem. If not, the students will pick up on it quickly and the experience is degraded.
    – Raydot
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 17:44
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I don't have research to point to, but I think we need to make a distinction between introductory topics and specialised topics.

For specialised topics, dividing the lectures can be very much in the interest of the student. During my Master course, we had classes where almost every lecture was given by a guest lecturer who was a world-class researcher and teacher in the speciality. The official course-responsible lecturer would introduce the different lecturers, take care of the exams, and of course make sure that there was a clear thread throughout the lecture series making up the class. It worked great.

For introductory topics, it would seem the division might be there not to benefit the students, but to benefit the teachers (less teaching load). In the best case, benefiting the teachers indirectly benefits the students. But there is a risk that this approach is not beneficial to the students. Maybe we can split up the lectures OK — but someone should take the lead to take overall course responsibility for synthesis, examination, etc. Otherwise one might be better up teaching the class as multiple classes, so students can expect differences.

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I had a similarish experience in my past, and I found it that from POV of student, the main point is that all the courses play into each otehr. For example, if you are talking about the Jacobian in Calculus, but haven't covered all the operations one can do with Matrices in the Linear algebra class, then it would be quite awkward.

If the lecture courses play into each other they can be quite good. But, at the same time, there is a chance of overloading the student if they play into each otehr too well, since one would need to do good in one course to do well in others. For this, one remedy would be to give reviews of topics, eg, a topic done in a linear algebra course could repeated back in the calculus course.

Tl;dr: Check for curriculum clash, make sure each course can is complete in some sense, and so on.

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Something like this can be highly beneficial for some subjects, but probably neutral or even negative for others. The negative part comes from students needing to adjust to a new lecturer and their teaching / grading style. For some this might not be a problem, for others it can be highly distracting and disruptive to their learning.

Where you can get a lot of benefit is in the social sciences in classes that highly benefit from disparate perspectives. For example, I took a course on Judaism where there was a constant stream of guest lecturers. It worked really well because you got to see interpretations on the subject from highly religious Jews, atheist Jews, Jews highly critical of Israel, ones that were big supporters, etc.

For lower level math courses like LA and calc I would much rather just have one good professor, even if it wasn't their specialty, than to have to adjust to new ones. I would only prefer having a new one come in if the new lecturer was much better at teaching. But the reverse is the worse case scenario. If the new lecturer was much worse than the previous it would be incredibly irritating.

Relatedly to the last point, there's also the issue of dropping. At the start of the course you have the option (at most places for these level of classes) to drop the course or switch sections if you have reason to think the professor isn't going to work for you (hard to understand, etc). But you would have no such option if there's a new one in the middle of the semester.

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  • As a student I once had a math course where they switched professor mid-semester. It was the best thing which ever happened to us because the second professor was able to explain things we’d never understood in an intuitive and clear way. The original professor didn’t even understand our question.
    – Michael
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 7:59
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I experienced this in my first year physics lecture ("Physics for Engineers"). It didn't feel weird, professor A would present topic X (mechanics, IIRC), then professor B would take over for topic Y (probably optics).

It didn't feel any different to professor A doing the lecture "XYZ 1" one semester, then professor B doing the lecture "XYZ 2" the next semester.

Liking or disliking is usually up to the individual professors and students. A student who doesn't like the way professor A teaches will probably welcome the switch of lecturers halfway through the class, while another student, who likes his style of teaching, will probably be disappointed. E.g. with the physics lecture I mentioned, I would have loved to keep professor A for the rest of the lecture, as he was using the blackboard and the lecture notes were less text and more figures. With professor B, we had lots of text (and formulas) and less figures. The latter was much harder to revise before the exams.

And, as most others have already mentioned, make sure that in exams etc., all parts have the same or at least similar complexity. It's annoying to have different classes with different requirements, but within the same class, it's a big no-no.

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I had my second course on General Relativity taught jointly by two professors and I absolutely hated it. One of the lecturers used handwritten notes and the other provided a pdf with infinite typos in it. It is a frustration not having a complete set of lecture notes taught continuously from start to finish.

That being said, student experience of a joint course/module depends only on who teaches it and not on mode of teaching, provided both lecturers are willing to put efforts into communitaing with one another so the course runs smoothly during transition. As you said the course under consideration is a large first-year class, I would imagine it is of no difference whether it is taught by a single lecturer or 2 to 3 jointly.

This brings me to the second point: my GR course was a small one, and having two lecturers literally mean they get to know you less. But this really is not on the student experience side of things but on recommendation letter issues.

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