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Main Strategies for Developing and Assessing Teaching

Student Evaluations

Student evaluations are in process of review, and we have collected data from trial runs of various online evaluation services. Recommendations on changes to our student evaluation process will be forthcoming this academic year.

Peer Observations

Problems.  Although reports of class observations are currently required for reappointments, inconsistency in the conduct of observations and reports thereof is a major problem. In some cases reports of class observations are detailed and careful, in some cases the reports are simple summaries of what occurred, and in other cases the reports are very general and brief. Furthermore, some observers hold pre-and/or post-observation conversations with the instructor being observed; some hold no conversations or perhaps conduct just a short exchange in the hallway after the observation. Finally, our the requirement for observations fails to distinguish between developmental mentoring and observation for the purpose of evaluation.

Specific Suggestions. First, colleagues should have the opportunity to receive feedback from a mentor, without the threat that what the mentor sees will become part of a performance evaluation; instructors need to be able to experiment-and sometimes fail-under the tutelage of a trusted mentor. Second, to encourage more conversations about teaching, we encourage all faculty to visit one another's classes. For example, when an instructor undergoing review is going to be visited by a colleague, it might be helpful to do reciprocal observations; watching a colleague who is going to watch you, creates opportunities for mutually instructive conversations (and may even lead to more proposals for team teaching). Third, peer observations, whether for formative or evaluative purposes, should involve at least three parts: (1) a conversation prior to the visit (in which the instructor and observer discuss plans for the content, structure, and methods of the class to be observed, the place of the class in context of the whole semester, etc.); (2) the observation (during which the observer should be looking for particular features as well as general impressions), and (3) a post-observation conversation (during which the instructor and observer should work together to discuss strengths, weaknesses, and possible actions to take in future classes). In this packet, we supply some sample forms for use during an observation; others arc available online.  When such forms are used, there is a risk of encouraging teaching to the form, so \rye want to use forms that are simple and focused only on features that all can agree are essential in all good teaching.

Teaching Portfolios

Problems. Frequently PSC will read general statements about the strengths and weaknesses of an instructor, but the committee is at a loss to understand the comments without some concrete context. Student comments on evaluation forms may complain about "unclear assignments," but the validity of such comments is hard to judge without seeing some sample assignments. PSC frequently has no way to answer such questions as: How does a person prepare for class? What is the nature of out-of-class contact with students? What kind of assignments are given, why are they given at particular points in the course, and how are they evaluated? What evidences are there of student learning? How does a person test? What do sample artifacts of student work look like? The current system of evaluation does not provide the materials that allow for a multi­-dimensional and concrete understanding of an instructor's actual practices.

Specific Suggestions. The danger in collecting portfolios is that they become too long for anyone to sort through and find the telling details. To avoid that problem, an instructor could assemble materials that typify his or her work: e.g., one course syllabus, one formal writing assignment, an in-class exercise, a copy of a graded assignment. The instructor could treat these samples as a case study and use them to explain how the materials in the portfolio illuminate his or her pedagogical distinctives. And chairs could use the portfolios to make more concrete comments on teaching in their letters.

Possible Additional Strategies

Student advisory boards. Some departments (Biology and Education, for example) have relied on student advisory boards, groups of majors with whom faculty members discuss departmental teaching. These are best used to comment on teaching in a department, focusing on particular questions about departmental teaching, and not to judge individual faculty members.  

Ongoing, systematic self-assessment. Instruments such as the "Faculty Inventory'' that is included in this packet allow faculty members to assess their teaching; they could then tie such self-assessment to student evaluations, and peer observations, and find consistent themes.

Faculty Learning Communities. Small groups (8-12) of faculty members who work together through a long period of time (typically a year), holding regular meetings, sponsoring seminars, presenting ideas and recommendations to other faculty¡ etc. These can be cohort based or topic based.

Microteaching. A practice teaching session in which a colleague presents a short (5-10 minute) teaching for a class of colleagues.  Microteaching provides opportunities to practice new strategies¡ to get feedback from colleagues, to assess videotape of a session, etc.

A Note on Faith in Teaching and Learning. In a process separate from what has been described up to this point in this document, the deans, provost, and PSC will be looking at how the college can better develop and assess faith, teaching, and learning in the classroom. A taskforce at the 20A7 chairs' retreat made recommendations that will be discussed and expanded during the coming year.