By Victoria Downey
Dr. Walter Schultz, professor of philosophy and scholar-in-residence, and Dr. Lisanne Winslow, professor of biology, have spent the last four years formulating a rhythm for team-teaching courses at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul.
Since the spring of 2013, Schultz and Winslow have team-taught 4 classes at Northwestern, including Metaphysics, Science and Theology, The Problem of Evil and Jonathan Edwards. This fall marks the duo’s third teaching of the Jonathan Edwards course.
Schultz and Winslow have used three main methods to organize their dually-taught classes. Winslow said, “The method we use depends on the content of the course that is being taught. For some classes, we divide individual lectures. For others, we have divided the course into six sections, where we take turns and each teach three. For our current Jonathan Edwards course, we have divided it at the quad.”
Even though both teachers may not be teaching each day, they are still actively involved in what is going on in the class. When it is possible, both professors are sitting in the classroom, able to gauge what the students are thinking and how they are responding to the course material. Winslow noted, “We are often able to remind each other of things that happened in class, that whoever was teaching may have missed, and that we need to expand or address. Once, we even recreated a syllabus halfway through a semester because we felt that the natural conversations of the class were headed so strongly in one direction, we would be foolish not to pay attention to that.”
“Our classes are very choreographed,” continued Winslow. “We are very intentional with each class period, and it takes a lot of prep work to plan a day in class. Our goal is to offer professional-level material to our students, and to offer grace to each other in every decision that is made for the class.”
Schultz said, “What makes these courses successful, from our end, is our dedication to debriefing every single class period.” These debriefs give both professors time to assess where students are at, gauge the trajectory of the course, and truly focus on individual student needs.
Both professors mentioned that by team-teaching, they are each able to enjoy breaks from teaching throughout the semester. “We are free to critically think of the course while being immersed in the course,” said Schultz.
When a student thinks of a cross-curriculum course, Jonathan Edwards may not be the first topic to come to mind. Schultz has taught a course on the theologian every semester since he began teaching. “My main research is on Jonathan Edwards, and understanding how science and math create mechanisms for us to understand how God acts for (God’s) glory. It is very rooted in God’s acting, and a deep scientific and theological understanding. I noticed that a lot of the themes that (Dr. Winslow) was studying aligned with my own work, and we began a research project together. I found a strong understanding, background and experience in her, and knew immediately that there was insight she could offer to the course I had been teaching for years that I had never been able to before.”
Northwestern students are searching out cross-curriculum, team-taught classes. Every year one of these classes have been offered, students have continually given exclusively four’s and fives’s on the course evaluation. Schultz said that, “Every semester, our learning objectives are higher than projected. It is nice to hear from students of what works for them in their education.”
Emily Schrag, a senior violin and vocal performance major is one of those students in the class this fall. “(The class) definitely has a different environment than other classes. There are some aspects that they don’t agree with each other on. You see them, as professors, challenge each other’s ideas. In most classes, it can feel as though you’re filling your mind with one viewpoint – the teacher’s – and regurgitating it for a test. We get to hear both professors talk and defend ideas, and students get to think for themselves through discussion. It’s a wonderful glimpse into what the real world is like.”
Winslow included, “It is a goal of mine to see more cross-curriculum classes offered at Northwestern. Especially as students seek to fill out their general education credits, I would like to see an increased understanding of what a classical liberal arts education can include.”
“We see scholarship as worship,” concluded Winslow. “Our learning and research aren’t divided into neat little squares, and neither is God. It spans curriculum, culture and academia. It is diverse. And if we are able to introduce students to that through these courses, then we have a job well done.”