News and Events

Creative Curriculum: Team Teaching Spices Up the Classrooms

This article was originally printed in the February 2006 issue of CLASnotes.

Professor of German Franz Futterknecht andAssistant Professor of Italian Mary Watt recentlymerged their courses on the ProtestantReformation and the Renaissance, strengtheningthe curriculum with their combined expertise.

Professor of German Franz Futterknecht and Assistant Professor of Italian Mary Watt recently merged their courses on the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance, strengthening the curriculum with their combined expertise.

Professor of Political Science Leann Brown’s (right)graduate course on crime in Jamaica features aseries of guest lecturers to broaden classdiscussions.
Professor of Political Science Leann Brown’s (right)
graduate course on crime in Jamaica features a
series of guest lecturers to broaden class

When UF Pharmacology Professor Allen Neims was attending medical school at Johns Hopkins University, he never imagined himself teaching a college course on “cosmic dance,” but that is just what he is doing this semester alongside Religion Associate Professor Shaya Isenberg and Sociology Associate Professor Monika Ardelt.

But the course isn’t how it sounds. Don’t expect to see these distinguished professors donning leotards and moving to the new age tunes of Enya. The course focuses on the integration of science and religion—taking its name from the 2000 book written by quantum chemist Giuseppe Del Re, The Cosmic Dance: Science Discovers the Mysterious Harmony of the Universe.

To adequately teach a course that attempts to bridge the gap between science and religion, the faculty members involved felt it was important to each bring in their own areas of expertise—Neims in hard science, Isenberg in religion and Ardelt in human development. The result is a multi-dimensional classroom that features the lecturing of all three professors.

“The class is designed to encourage students, in academic and experiential ways, to take an inner journey and examine how their personal and individual belief systems or worldwide views impact their being and doing,” says Neims, director of the UF Center for Spirituality and Health. “A critical component of the course is co-teaching because each of us—from careers in religion, sociology and biomedicine—model ways for people of different, yet overlapping, worldviews to participate in mutual inquiry.”

The course is one of several being co-taught by multiple CLAS faculty this year. This creative way of enhancing the curriculum seems to lend itself particularly well to the humanities, where students can benefit tremendously from hearing complementing sides of critical issues.

“I find it very exciting that CLAS faculty are involved in these creative teaching efforts, involving an interdisciplinary approach,” says Associate Provost Sheila Dickison. “Students will find an interdisciplinary perspective offers fresh, new insights into issues. I am certain that lively interactions among students and faculty are a characteristic of such classes. I applaud the faculty members who have taken the initiative to provide these cutting-edge experiences for students. I know we have all found that it often is not easy to try something new at UF!”

As German Professor Franz Futterknecht prepared to teach a course on early modern German literature last fall, From Luther to Lessing, he worried how he was going to teach Martin Luther’s Reformation without exploring how he was influenced by the Renaissance—an area Futterknecht has not studied since living in Italy 30 years ago. “I knew I needed more, so I walked down the hallway and asked our resident medievalist, Mary Watt, if she would co-teach a course with me that focused on the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Baroque.”

Watt, an assistant professor of Italian and co-director of the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, says “It worked perfectly because I had been teaching a course for several years on Rome and the city’s continual transformations and had noticed how the fortunes of Rome so often interacted with the fortunes of Germany. I had always felt, however, that my knowledge of Luther’s reaction to Rome, for example, and the role such reaction played in the Protestant movement was not extensive and certainly not my area of expertise. I had often thought how helpful it would be to have someone to comment on the German side. It was a perfect fit.”

In creating the course, Watt simply offered her course Italy and Pilgrimages and had her class move to the location of Futterknecht’s Luther to Lessing. Both professors attended every class and lectured tag-team style. While their students had separate assignments and exams, all benefited from the teachings of both faculty.

“With each of them bringing in their knowledge of the countries’ cultures, you get a much wider picture,” explains Dominik Jaschke, a master’s student in German. Journalism graduate student Mike Tyler says, “They have two different wells of knowledge, and it has been interesting to see both the Italian and German perspectives on things.”

In Cosmic Dance: The Integration of Science, Religion and Compassionate Love this spring, Isenberg, Ardelt and Neims all attend the weekly seminar class and contribute to the lecture. A number of religion and sociology majors are enrolled, but students from varied fields—including finance, education and medicine—are also in attendance. The course is funded by the Center for Spirituality and Health.

Political Science Associate Professor Leann Brown is experimenting with another creative way of spicing up the curriculum this semester. In her graduate course on governance and crime in Jamaica, she turns her podium over to other experts from across campus each week and moderates as the classroom dives into critical discussions on related topics, including human smuggling and trafficking, US foreign aid, governance and democracy, drugs, and identity issues.

“Most of the presenters’ work is not specifically about Jamaica,” Brown says. “But this will help my students think more clearly about their own work, and that is what comparative work is all about. It forces you to think outside the box.” The course is one among several activities the UF Working Group on Advocacy in Jamaica has undertaken in partnership with Management Systems International, a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The group is awaiting funding from USAID to allow several students in the course to benefit from internships this summer in Jamaica to work with USAID to help alleviate crime in the island country.

“One of the reasons I am so excited about this course is because of its innovative format,” says political science master’s student Jessica Peet, who interned in Jamaica last June and is enrolled in the course. “I feel that having a guest lecture every week will enhance the learning experience and contribute to greater, more comprehensive understandings of the subject matter. If there is one thing I learned about Jamaica when I visited there last year it is that it has an eclectic mix of cultural influences. I feel the format of this class will bring that to the forefront while keeping things interesting.”

Greek studies instructor Nicholas Kontaridis also is offering a podium of rotating expert lecturers this semester in his course, Greece: Yesterday and Today, with nine speakers scheduled to share their areas of expertise on the subject matter, including Greek tragedy, the Olympics, Greek science and technology, ancient Greek religion and more.

Whether interested in partnering with a colleague to co-teach a course or bring in different lecturers each week, faculty interested in stepping away from tradition when planning their courses should start by having a talk with their department chair. In some cases, courses need the CLAS Curriculum Committee’s stamp of approval.

For faculty thinking of following in her footsteps, Watt offers some words of advice. “While it might seem like it would be easier because you’re sharing the teaching load, it’s not,” she says. “The teaching hours are the same, but it is a lot more work. You have to research each other’s topics, and meeting weekly to plan the lecture is an additional time constraint you don’t normally have.”

At the same time, Watt and other co-teachers agree the experience can be deeply rewarding. “I learned from this course,” Watt says. “I am a student in Franz’ class and he is a student in mine. To actually learn from another professor is not typically part of the teaching experience. For me, it is the most rewarding aspect of co-teaching.”



Buffy Lockette


photos by Jane Dominguez (Futterknecht)
Jeff Stevens (Brown)

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