Our institution has recently completed its third year of personnel reviews that rely completely on electronic portfolios. All retention, promotion, and instructional academic staff rehiring decisions now depend on electronic portfolios drawn from a common source, as do all internal annual reports and some external reports.
Years ago at a faculty meeting Larry Ragan, PhD, director of Faculty Development for Penn State’s World Campus, was trying to soft-sell the idea of performance expectations for online faculty. He didn’t want the discussion to be misinterpreted as an indictment against their teaching style, but he also saw an opportunity to share proven practices for improving the online teaching and learning experience. Finally a senior faculty member grew tired of the tip-toeing around the subject and said, “If you don’t tell us what is expected, how will we know what to do to succeed?”
Failure is one of the best teachers. Most of what I learned about home maintenance I learned from my mistakes. The military understands the benefits of failure and actually gives soldiers tasks that they know will lead to failure at some point as a part of their training. Similarly, pilots are trained on simulators and given a variety of emergency situations until they fail.
Curriculum, instruction, and assessment: the three fundamental components of education, whether online or face to face. Author Milton Chen calls these the “three legs of the classroom stool” and reminds us that each leg must be equally strong in order for the “stool” to function properly, balanced and supportive. Habitually, the questions What am I going to teach and How am I going to teach it? weigh heavier on an instructor’s mind than How will I assess? As a result, the assessment “leg” of the classroom stool is often the weakest of the three, the least understood and least effectively implemented.
More and more colleges and universities are developing general education curricula that include courses involving critical reflection, including how the various disciplines address some of the big questions facing today’s society. But be warned, critical reflection is not for the faint of heart.
With the spate of books and articles that deal with the issue of incivility in higher education, it’s easy to conclude that destructive disharmony is the single biggest problem facing colleges and universities today. To be sure, lack of collegiality has become a significant challenge, and nearly every academic leader can recall at least one department or college that became increasingly dysfunctional because of its inability to work together in a mutually supportive manner. But the great deal of attention we pay to the challenges of incivility can cause us to underestimate the dangers of an opposing threat that also exists in many academic units: groupthink.
Regardless of how much teaching experience you have, there’s often a good measure of anxiety when you teach your very first online course. Beyond the pedagogical hurdles, you wonder if students will be able to tell that you’re new to the online classroom, whom you can turn to for tech support, and how you can be more efficient with your time.
Although PowerPoint often gets a bad rap as an instructional tool, it really doesn’t deserve it. PowerPoint’s bad rap comes from it being used poorly. Yeah, it’s easy to produce mind-numbing PowerPoint slides, and unfortunately, mind-numbing uses of PowerPoint are all around us—in online information and instruction, classroom-based instruction, training courses, and in the boardroom. But PowerPoint is just a tool. And like most tools, it can be used well or horribly or anywhere in between.
Questioning skills are essential to good teaching. Teachers often use questions to ensure that students are attentive and engaged, and to assess students’ understanding. What is important to note is that in addition to the intent of the question, the question itself matters. For instance, to ensure that students are attentive, a teacher could ask the students “Are you listening?” To assess if the students have understood, the teacher could ask “Do you follow me?”
Learning outcomes assessment is a critical part of a program’s success. It can affect a program’s reputation, enrollment, funding, and even its continued existence. Therefore, it’s essential to get useful assessment data without creating an overwhelming burden for busy faculty members. In an interview with Academic Leader, Lisa Shibley, assistant vice president for Institutional Assessment and Planning at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, discussed effective program-level assessment methods.