Teaching a Cross-Listed Course

What is a cross-listed course?

BalassianoRosentrater, and Marcketti (2014) describe a dual-listed course as one “comprised of two courses with different course numbers” that is taught by one teacher at the same place and time to undergraduate and graduate students. A cross-listed course, on the other hand, is a course “offered by two different departments that are taught together” (p. 20-21). While much of the literature differentiates between a cross-listed course and a dual-listed course, a “cross-listed course” is defined by AU academic regulations and guidelines1 as an umbrella term to encompass both definitions. Whether you’re teaching an inter-departmental or inter-level course, the following tips will help you create the best learning experience for all your students, regardless of academic need, level, or background. 

Differentiated Teaching 

Research often recommends differentiating teaching in cross-listed courses because it allows for students at different stages of their learning to collaborate and engage with course topics without sacrificing rigor. Differentiated teaching is a learner-centered approach and set of practices that had its start in the K-12 setting to increase student engagement and meet students’ differing learning needs. According to McCarty et al. (2016), it allows teachers in the college setting to “manipulate any one or more of the four teaching/learning factors: (a) the content studied; (b) the teaching process implemented; (c) the product generated by students; or (d) the nature of the learning environment” (p. 3). With this flexibility in course design, differentiated teaching is an excellent framework to apply in a cross-listed course to maximize learning opportunities, deepen students’ understanding, and increase attainment of learning outcomes (Duncan et al., 2015; Huss-Keeler and Brown, 2007). Additional information about differentiated teaching can be found at Vanderbilt University’s IRIS Center.  

Below are strategies to incorporate differentiation into your teaching as you design and teach your cross-listed course. 

 1. Be clear about expectations and outcomes, and explicitly weave them into each activity or session according to student levels. 

In a cross-listed course between differing student levels, it is important to determine whether higher-level students will need additional expectations or outcomes to frame their learning. To avoid an imbalanced set of expectations that may feel too high for some and too low for others, tailor outcomes for each specific student group. Huss-Keeler and Brown (2007) found that the students in their study appreciated a ‘divide-and-conquer’ approach on the first day. In other words, address different student levels at different times during the first class to set expectations and avoid confusion as to which groups are expected to meet specific goals. To maximize learning time, create an activity for student groups that are not being addressed. 

Similarly, when lecturing it is important to be receptive to what is needed in the moment. Ask, should I provide a step-by-step process or a general overview for my students? Is it possible to do both without using too much class time to meet each student group’s experience level?

2. Provide an adequate prerequisite review of the material for all student groups by utilizing open educational resources (OER).

Whether you are teaching a class with more advanced learners or students with little knowledge on the subject, prerequisite material can aid students in contextualizing the topic at hand. Duncan et al. (2015) found that supplemental readings or literature that replaced a traditional textbook enhanced learning. Likewise, Huss-Keeler and Brown (2007) noted that in-depth course materials and opportunities for reflection, especially for more advanced learners, were necessary to meet student needs and foster academic growth. For instance, providing a list of prerequisite skills and links to relevant readings and videos prior to a session may mitigate gaps in knowledge among students.  Additionally, students were able to ask questions on prerequisite material, which encouraged discussion between the teacher and other students (Battle et al., 2020, p. 7).

3. Make use of informal assessments of learning to better understand student comprehension and course structure. 

Pre- and post-tests graded on completion can be an effective tool to gear activities and assignments to the level students are at. Sobek and Cole (2017) contend that when implementing these informal assessments, taking away the pressure of a letter-grade can mitigate bias (such as using outside sources to answer an online quiz question) and permit an accurate assessment of student comprehension.  

By surveying students, we can tailor assessments to better guide them toward intended learning outcomes.  Balassiano et al. (2014) also recommend, after receiving this data, giving students assessment options such as adding the choice for students to opt out of an exam and work on a project or presentation.

4. Create opportunities for collaborative group work and discussion.

The differing student levels and academic backgrounds in cross-listed courses may also be used as an teaching advantage. Balassiano, et al. (2014) posit that “besides offering an opportunity to practice interpersonal communication skills, diversity among students facilitates more creative thinking and learning” (p. 22). Research has shown the benefits of collaborative learning among students when they have the chance to share and brainstorm ideas, provide constructive peer feedback, and engage in partnerships with each other (Surendran et al., 2005; Huss-Keeler and Brown, 2007). To ensure collaborative activities are productive, be sure to prepare strategies “for student groups who are often reluctant to participate with the opportunity for involvement at their own pace” (Duncanet al., 2015).  

Additionally, it is helpful to arrange that each group has a balance of skills and knowledge, and that students have explicit rules, roles, and activity-specific objectives. Establishing learning circles at the beginning of the course is an effective option. For example, in one study of a healthcare management course (cross-listed for nursing and engineering students) learning circles were created in which a few students from each discipline gathered to engage in peer-to-peer learning by utilizing their differing perspectives to enrich their understanding of the content (Sobek and Cole, 2017). 

5. Implement active learning techniques into your course. 

Active learning techniques such as role play, games, debate, and small group discussion are key to deepening student understanding, gaining wider perspective of learning outcomes to real-life applications, and enhancing intended skills. One study by Duncan et al. concluded that debate and small group discussions were particularly helpful techniques for students, while gaming was perceived as less effective.  If gaming appeals to you as an teaching technique, make explicit connections to the material and how it enhances students’ overall learning to ensure that games are an effective teaching strategy and not simply an enjoyable activity. For more examples of approaches to active learning, visit our page about active learning teaching tips.

6. Maximize learning by utilizing LMS capabilities, such as Canvas, to facilitate discussions and asynchronous materials. 

Learning can and should happen outside of the classroom, and technology is key to facilitating that learning experience. Battle et al. (2020) contend that student use of asynchronous course material allows for flexibility of learning and provides time for students to digest material at their own pace. Likewise, Berg (2003) found that the use of technology enabled students to “personalize a course’s content and collaborate with the professor [and peers to shape their] direction and focus” (p.46).  They conclude that, in online discussions, it would be beneficial at times for teachers to facilitate the online space so that discussions are meaningful and engaging. 


Balassiano, K., Rosentrater, K., & Marcketti, S. (2014). Student perceptions of dual listed courses. Journal of Effective Teaching14(1), p. 20-32. Retrieved from https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/aeshm_pubs/56  

Battle, L., Mitra, A., & Risser, S. (2020). Teaching cross-listed mathematics courses online. In Howard, J. P., & Beyers, J. F. (Eds.), Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online (p. 3-16). CRC Press. https://doi.org/10.1201/9781351245586  

Berg, P. (2003). Using distance learning to enhance cross-listed interdisciplinary law school courses. Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal29(1), p. 33-52).   

Duncan, L., Duncan, B., Burkhardt, B., Benneyworth, L., & Tasich, C. (2015). Getting the most out of dual-listed courses: Involving undergraduate students in discussion through active learning techniques. Journal of College Science Teaching45(1), p. 24-31. https://doi.org/10.2505/4/jcst15_045_01_24  

Huss-Keeler, R., & Brown, S.(2007).Meeting diverse learning needs: Differentiating instruction in graduate early childhood mathematics classes.Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education,28(1), p. 41- 57. https://doi.org/10.1080/10901020601184390  

McCarty, W., Crow, S., Mims, G., Pothoff, D., & Harvey, J. (2016). Renewing teaching practices: differentiated instruction in the college classroom. Journal of Curriculum, Teaching, Learning and Leadership in Education1(1), p. 35-44. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/ctlle/vol1/iss1/5  

Sobek, D., & Cole, K. (2017). Educating for healthcare improvement: The effectiveness of an interprofessional course. Proceedings of the 2017 Industrial and Systems Engineering Conference, p. 1550 – 1555. 

Surendran. K, Ehie, I., & Somarajan, C. (2005). Enhancing student learning across disciplines: A case example using a systems analysis and design course for MIS and ACS majors. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 4, p. 257-274. https://doi.org/10.28945/276