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This question is about my attempt to give the administrators at my institution some feedback on how to better help them assess faculty teaching effectiveness.

My institution is soliciting input from faculty on how to improve the way teaching effectiveness is evaluated and assessed at the administrative level (e.g., by department heads, deans, etc.). Currently, as is probably fairly common at many institutions in the US, the administrators at my institution rely mainly on student evaluations of teaching to gauge whether an instructor is effective in the classroom or not.

One of the main problems with having administrators relying solely on student evaluations of teaching to gauge teaching effectiveness is that the average student is not equipped with the necessary skills to adequately assess an instructor's teaching effectiveness. Further, as highlighted in this question, if an instructor wants to boost their student evaluation ratings, one possible way to do that is to lower the standards in the course. The problem with that is, for those instructors who actually care that their students come away from the course with some tangible benefit (e.g., better prepared to move on to the follow-on courses, better prepared to enter the workforce, etc.), lowering standards is obviously not the correct course of action.

What's more, in this question, research is cited which basically concludes that student evaluations of teaching are not accurate tools for assessing an instructor's teaching effectiveness.

While I am a bit skeptical that my institution is really sincere in their claim that they want to improve this situation for faculty, I would nevertheless like to give some good feedback on how the teaching evaluation process can be improved such that the administrators more accurately assess faculty teaching effectiveness.

Are there any practical alternatives to relying solely on student evaluations of teaching, which are better at giving administrators a more accurate measure of whether a teacher is effective in the classroom?

Note:

  • I am not asking for how to evaluate my own teaching in the classroom, or even how to improve my teaching.

  • I am looking for alternatives to student evaluation of teaching that will help the administrators at my institution more accurately gauge faculty teaching effectiveness.

Both personal accounts and research references of better teaching effectiveness assessment alternatives are welcome. If one provides an answer with several alternatives, a listing of the relative upsides and downsides of each would also be very helpful.

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I am a recent part-time faculty at community college level. In our campus students as well as peers evaluate faculty teaching. We have only one student/peer evaluation per year. In my case, I got feedback from a professor who taught that course for more than 25 years. His recommendations were not that different from what student's suggested in their evaluation.

Another option would be to test students understanding by assessing Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). For example, I give my class a questionnaire assessing their knowledge in SLOs on the very first day of the class and plans to give the same SLO questionnaire at the end of the course.

Hope this helps!

  • 3
    Could you expand on what's an SLO? – Ébe Isaac Aug 27 '16 at 7:32
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    Did that professor attend your lectures? How many? – Massimo Ortolano Aug 27 '16 at 7:46
  • SLO = Student Learning Outcomes – PhysicsProf Aug 28 '16 at 16:05
  • Yes, the senior professor was there for the whole time, took notes and gave me really good feedback after my class. This is a community college BTW! – PhysicsProf Aug 28 '16 at 16:06
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Our university has something called Teaching Triangles for PhD students. It could be applied to faculty as well.

In this program, you form a group of 3 with PhD students from other departments (it is best to find people you don't know personally from related fields). After a session where you learn to give good feedback, you specify for your group the topics on which you are hoping to get feedback. Then you take turns observing (one time) and evaluating each other's courses. You meet with each member of the triad to exchange written suggestions for improvement. I have found both the observing and receiving feedback helpful.

The university does not give negative consequences for poor performance on Teaching Triangles, but does give credit for successful completion.

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As it turns out, teaching is actually a teachable skill, and there are entire schools dedicated to either teaching teachers how to teach or improving their teaching technique. As such, it would probably be a good idea to borrow from their appraisal techniques when working on improving your own skill. I am not a teacher, but my wife is, so my knowledge comes from watching her having gone through education school.

  • If you do nothing else, I strongly recommend you do observations. Almost any elementary/secondary/high school teacher will regularly be "observed" by someone from the administration or another faculty member. The person observing will often just enter an ongoing class/lecture/lab/what have you—sometime having notified the teacher beforehand, sometimes not—and simply watching their technique. They will take notes on what they see and then speak with the teacher afterwards about the good and bad. This is a regular process and is done for all teachers... the brand-new ones and those who have been doing it for 30+ years.

    If done properly, this is an immensely valuable tool. Someone with sufficient teaching knowledge themselves watching you teach and giving feedback is critical to improving your skill. As with many other areas in life, its very difficult to tell whether you're doing well. Unlike other areas, you're talking to a class, and there are things you will certainly miss. Another person in the classroom—who after five minutes will be invisible to the students, particularly if the students have sat through numerous observations before—will definitely see things you miss. If done improperly, it can be highly damaging, as the person giving feedback either doesn't know what they're talking about, is insulting, doesn't give useful feedback, or what have you.

    If just starting this I strongly recommend finding people from your university's education department to perform the observations, as they'll likely have the most useful feedback. Your own teachers may not know how to perform one properly or usefully.

  • On the topic of education school, have you every actually studied the science of teaching? Yes, it is a science, and there's a lot there. Maybe just take a class or read a book on teaching. There are a lot of them. I won't make a recommendation because I'm not an expert here, but there are this who are. Find them and read their stuff.

  • I'm not sure whether this is implicit in your question, but student grades should definitely factor in. Not just the final grades... grades from assignments, labs, tests, etc. Effective teaching will definitely be visible in effective knowledge transfer. Obviously there are lots of confounds here—assignment difficulty, self-study, bad students, the material being taught—but generally speaking, more effective teachers will be transferring knowledge better than ineffective ones.

  • This answer focuses more on the topic of "how do I improve my teaching" (which my question has very little/nothing to do with) and less on the "alternatives to student evaluation of teaching" that my question is really about. – Mad Jack Sep 18 '16 at 17:53
  • @MadJack - I see your edit now. I had read the question as referring to the individual, not the administrators. You're right, after the edit this is entirely off-topic. Its a shame that answerers don't get notifications of edits to the question... I never saw your earlier edit. – eykanal Sep 18 '16 at 23:43

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