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 In other words, the methods used to evaluate teaching in higher education are as outdated as cassette players and floppy disks.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.

  • College instructor

    I give all students recipe cards at the beginning of the term & ask them to provide feedback whenever they feel the need. I suggest they are a great way to let me know if you are lost around a particular concept or unclear about a theory, or if learners are finding the pace to slow/ fast, readings confusing, etc. They can drop the cards in my office mail anonymously at any time throughout the term. At midterm I ask that they fill one out with responses to the questions: what's working/ want more? What's not working/ want less? Favorite part of this class?

    • Karyn W. Tunks

      A similar concept for online classes is to set up a "water cooler" or "ask your question" chat room where they can post questions and get assistance from classmates as well as the instructor. It isn't anonymous like the suggestion discussed here but does contribute to a sense of a classroom community.

  • Howard N. Shapiro

    After the first exam, I ask all students to repsond to the following questions: (1) What did you (the student) do that helped you be successfuol on this exam? (2) What could you (the student) have done differently that would have made you more successful? (3) What did I (the professor) do that helped you be successful on this exam? (4) What could I (the professor) have done differently that would have made you more successful? I transcribe all the responses (anonymously) and share them back with the entire group. I then address the items they suggest that I do differently and tell them what changes I will make going forward. The vast majoirty of sutdents say that there were a number of things they should have done differently, and they own the results and buckle down. They also appreciate that I ask them this and discuss it with them. This is adapted from work that I did with my colleagues Dr. Mary Huba and Dr. Barbara Licklider at Iowa State University.

    • Karyn Tunks

      Asking students about the part they played in their own success affirms the importance of personal responsibility. It also gives them a different perspective when evaluating others.

  • David Glow

    What I find interesting here is that the evaluation is at the student level, whereas I found most the value of what I was taught in college, high school, etc… long after when I was a working professional.

    I don't object to the short term "checks", but some time for the tea to steep might be the best metric of how valuable some instruction was (when a person finally has an opportunity to practice in context).

  • Howard Kimmel

    Comment – Part I of II
    Dr. Tunks is quite correct that we need a better system of evaluating teaching other than the current system of teaching evaluations used by many institutions across the country. And she makes some good suggestions for others to consider. However, we also believe that her suggestions only consider evaluation from one perspective, that of the instructor. Process evaluation alone is a necessary but not a sufficient evaluation of quality teaching. Dr. Tunks is focusing solely on the process of teaching from the instructor's perspective and has omitted and failed to link the critical component of evaluation that is performance-based and student-centered.
    (To be continued)

  • Howard Kimmel

    Comment – Part I of II
    We are all aware that accountability has now become the key issue in education, whether it is the K-12 sector (adoption of content standards or higher education (criteria for accreditation). For either situation, specification of skills and knowledge (i.e., learning outcomes) that students should acquire from their coursework are needed. The question we would pose relates as to how Dr. Tunks is defining quality teaching in higher education. To us quality is PROCESS (student's learning experience created by the instructor, and PERFORMANCE (student's acquisition of knowledge and skills) through the learning experiences, and assessment of learning.

    • Karyn Tunks

      You have opened up the discussion on evaluating teaching to a new level. There is always more to be considered when it comes to evaluating instruction. Defining quality teaching in higher education (or any context) cannot adequately be addressed in a publication of this length. Therefore, I recommend the following books for further reading on the topic of quality teaching in higher education: Evidence-Based Teaching for Higher Education by Beth M. Schwartz, Regan A. R. Gurung (Editor) and Affirming, Maintaining Quality Teaching And Learning In Higher Education by Jennifer Hall.

      The type of course delivery should also be examined in terms of quality teaching in higher education. With the onset of many online courses, online programs, and online degrees, comes the need for effectively measuring quality of instruction in this format as well.

    • Jenny Davis

      Here is a link that can be beneficial for Professional Development:

  • Christine Bezotte

    I also do mid-term evaluations of the classes I teach. I am especially concerned about my freshman classes. Unfortunately all too often I find that the students who are doing poorly rate the class and the professor poorly. This year I am going to begin with some questions for the students, asking them of their study habits, passed class experiences, take on homework assignments, etc. Then I can address each "issue" in the first few days explaining exactly what is expected of them. The hope is that the students will understand better how to go to college and see that they are also responsible for the class and what they can take from it. This may help them and it will certainly help me to see what I can try early on to improve.

  • I applaud all of these suggestions. I will add one more that I did when I was particularly struggling with a class. I was going to miss class for travel so I recruited about a dozen colleagues (faculty and graduate students) to meet with small groups of my class in focus groups. Finding the spaces was the greatest challenge. I suggested the questions but certainly encouraged open dialogue. My colleagues shared their experiences with me upon my return. This approach both provided insight into my class and helped began a richer discussion among my colleagues.