December 3, 2010

End-of-Course Ratings: Lessons from Faculty Who Improved

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Two researchers used end-of-course ratings data to generate a cohort of faculty whose ratings in the same course had significantly improved over a three-year period. They defined significant improvement as a 1.5-point increase on an 8-point scale. In this cohort, more than 50 percent of faculty had improved between 1.5 and 1.99 points, another 40 percent between 2.0 and 2.99 points, and the rest even more.

The researchers surveyed this group, asking the faculty members to respond to several questions, including this most important one: “Your student ratings have increased for at least three consecutive semesters during the last three years in your [Course Name] class. What factors led to this change in your teaching performance?”

The slightly more than 200 respondents most frequently attributed the increase in ratings to changes made in one or several of these five areas:

  1. more active/practical learning, including efforts to make the content’s relevance apparent to students;
  2. better teacher/student interactions, exemplified by learning students’ names and having individual conferences with them;
  3. making expectations for learning outcomes clearer while still maintaining high standards;
  4. being better prepared for class; and
  5. revising the evaluation policies and procedures used to assess student work.

The first three of these categories accounted for almost 50 percent of the faculty responses. A bit surprisingly, 5 percent of the respondents whose scores had improved didn’t list anything they’d done or they indicated that they were not aware of having implemented any changes.

This cohort of faculty included full-time tenured faculty (actually this was the largest group, 56 percent), full-time nontenured faculty (12 percent), and part-time appointees (35 percent). The researchers note that this indicates how faculty in all kinds of positions can improve. That so many in the already-tenured and part-time categories did so is especially noteworthy and encouraging.

In addition to the survey, 30 faculty from 10 of 12 colleges at the institution were interviewed “to gain a better understanding of the change process.” (p. 167) Several interesting findings emerged from the interviews. For many faculty members, the most difficult part of the process was being willing to admit that they needed to change. “Humbling” was an adjective used to describe the feeling. Often there was some sort of triggering event—frequently it involved end-of-course ratings results. After teaching a course seven times, one faculty member received his lowest-ever overall course rating. He was shocked but reported that he decided to find out why. Others talked about an overall lack of excitement in the course and their own motivation to change and do better.

In the interviews, almost 80 percent of the faculty indicated that the effort required to implement the changes was minimal. It seemed that for most it was more a matter of fine-tuning their teaching. The researchers conclude, “The results of this study should be encouraging to faculty members who feel they cannot improve.” (p. 171)

Reference: McGowan, W. R., and Graham, C. R. (2009). Factors contributing to improved teaching performance. Innovative Higher Education, 34, 161-171.

Reprinted from “Teachers Who Improved.” The Teaching Professor, 23.10 (2009): 2.

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