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Gathering Evidence of Teaching Excellence

While most disciplines have arrived at some measure of agreement on what constitutes evidence of strong or superior research, we do not have similar consensus about criteria for demonstrating excellence in teaching. There is general agreement that student evaluations of teaching are one means of determining teaching excellence.  However, there is also general agreement that the current instrument for student evaluations of teaching is flawed and out-dated and thus in need of serious revision. There is also agreement that relying totally on student evaluations, however valid the instrument, is inappropriate, since students are not qualified to make judgments about all aspects of teaching performance; thus, other measures, to be determined by individual departments, are needed for a nuanced picture of teaching.

Recommendation 1: Replace the current student ratings of instruction (SRI) instrument with a more appropriate, reliable, and valid instrument. An example of an SRI can be found in Appendix C.  It should be noted that this example is meant to demonstrate some possibilities, not prescribe a specific evaluation instrument.

Changing the forms for student ratings of instruction (SRI) will require extensive work. Core questions should include student information (to assist in interpreting scores), overall instructor and course ratings, and diagnostic instructor and course questions. In addition, an SRI should incorporate:

  • Multiple forms (for discussion, lab sections, studio classes, writing courses, graduate seminars, etc.) with additional diagnostic questions chosen by the instructor or department members.
  • An option of a paper copy or a computerized version of the instrument.
  • An improved procedure for reporting results and interpretations to the faculty member.
  • A means for faculty to understand the relationship between student ratings and classroom learning objectives.
  • Means of reducing the possibility of, and means of dealing with, potential bias toward women faculty, international faculty, and faculty of color in these evaluations, particularly for courses whose content includes sensitive or controversial materials and discussions.

 

Recommendation 2: While a revised and nuanced instrument for student ratings of instruction will be used throughout the university, each academic department should establish its own criteria and procedure for gathering evidence of excellence in teaching that does not rely exclusively on the student evaluations as evidence of good and effective teaching.

These additional methods of evaluation could include formative (for the benefit of the instructor alone) as well as summative (for PTR, merit, etc) evaluations, and could include the evaluation of all faculty on schedules considered appropriate by that department: teaching assistants, part-time instructors, assistant professors, associate professors, full professors. We recommend what is often called the 360-degree approach that includes the use of a (new and improved) student evaluation of teaching, peer (faculty in the department or program) and professional (Institute for Teaching and Learning) observations, the use of a teaching portfolio, and a summary evaluation using all evidence by the department head, designated mentor, PTR committee, or whomever the department decides is appropriate in that instance.

We include information about teaching portfolios in Appendix D, and peer and professional observation in appendices F and G, but these are intended as suggestions that would assist a department in setting its own standards for gathering evidence of teaching excellence. Obviously, the content of a portfolio or what is considered important in a teaching observation will vary by discipline and according to the values of the individual department.

Any method of gathering evidence about teaching that is used for promotion, tenure, and reappointment must be clearly understood by the candidate and explained in writing in that department’s promotion, tenure, and reappointment procedures and recommendations.

Recommendation 3: That every department and program recognize and celebrate good teaching in their ranks, from teaching assistants and adjuncts through full professors, in the ways that they see fit. Many already do, and we hope that departments can learn from each other’s methods of recognition and celebration.

 

      
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