August 20th, 2012

Transforming Teaching through Supplementary Evaluations


Incredible changes have occurred in the brief 25 years I have spent as a professor in higher education. In the area of technology alone, significant innovations have impacted the way people work, play, and learn. The benefits these technological advances bring to faculty and students are incalculable.

Yet, some areas of higher education have undergone very little change. In particular, the methods used to evaluate and ensure that quality teaching is occurring in traditional and online classes. Yes, there are those required course evaluations dutifully and anonymously completed by students at the end of every term, but these are typically viewed quantitatively and do little to transform instruction. The quality of teaching is rarely given serious attention. Basically, if a professor simply shows up to teach class (and sometimes even if she doesn’t) she receives a satisfactory rating without consideration of how well she did her job. In other words, the methods used to evaluate teaching in higher education are as outdated as cassette players and floppy disks.

Routinely taking for granted that satisfactory teaching at the college level is acceptable requires us to ignore a significant body of research on this subject. Scholars agree that good teaching requires time, effort, commitment, knowledge, presence, and ingenuity (Weimer, 2010). Good teaching does not just happen. So how do we invoke change in a system that has been in place since dissertations were written on manual typewriters?

Faculty can bring attention to the need for a better system of evaluating teaching by demonstrating excellence even when it is not required or even expected. Documenting and sharing evidence of quality teaching serves as a reminder to administrators (as well as colleagues) that there is more to teaching than showing up. Submitting a report with additional teaching-related information is a good first step. For example, faculty members can report on course load, number of students enrolled in each class, grade distribution, and the number of tests and other graded assignments. Further documentation may provide information on less quantifiable items such as the type and quality of feedback given to students, use of technology to teach content, and creative delivery methods.

Faculty members can take the voluntary evaluation process one step further by implementing supplemental evaluations of their teaching. The following section offers five suggestions for supplemental evaluations that provide meaningful feedback that can be used to improve teaching.

Midterm Course Evaluation – Student learning and experience with the class can be gauged halfway through the course through an anonymous evaluation. The instructor can review the feedback and immediately make adjustments if there is a general consensus about an issue in the class. The midterm course evaluation may also provide information about the type of lessons and assignments that students feel are beneficial. Surveys may be formal with specific questions answered on a Likert scale or it may ask open-ended questions which allow students to elaborate in more detail. This type of evaluation has obvious advantages over those required at the end of the term because students can benefit directly from the feedback provided.

Questionnaire Following Exam – Feedback from students about the format, content, and level of difficulty for specific questions can be useful in making changes to an exam or the lessons that were given in preparation for the exam. This same technique can also be used at the conclusion of a major assignment or project. Ask students: “1) Were instructions clear? If not, what additional information would have been helpful? 2) Was the exam or assignment beneficial to learning and retaining course content? 3) Please share other constructive comments.” Faculty can then use the information to make changes prior to the next exam or project.

Interview Students – Invite the highest achieving students to participate in an exit interview at the end of the semester. Why the highest achieving? These students will provide the most accurate and honest perspective of how to improve the course. Prepare questions in advance and be specific. For example: “If one assignment had to be removed, which should it be? Which assignment should definitely be kept in the course? Why?” Reflect on their responses and decide how information can be used to improve the course.

Peer Evaluations – Peer feedback typically takes the form of classroom observations but can also include reviewing course materials and assignments with a colleague who can give suggestions. Faculty should choose a colleague whom they trust and respect as a teacher to conduct the peer evaluation.

Self-Evaluation – When examining one’s own teaching behavior it is imperative that the faculty member realistically assess areas of strength and weakness. Videotaping a class to view and evaluate later is an excellent tool. The purpose of the self-evaluation is not just to show teaching ability in a positive light, but to demonstrate how feedback can be used to improve instruction.

There are many options for documenting teaching through records and supplemental evaluations. Hopefully, these suggestions have sparked interest in developing a voluntary evaluation system.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of the ways you evaluate your teaching effectiveness? Please share in the comment box.

Reference: Weimer, M. (2010). Inspired college teaching: A career-long resource for professional growth. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.

Dr. Karyn W. Tunks is an associate professor in College of Education at the University of South Alabama.