September 8, 1997
Volume 50, No. 3
Too often, the evaluation of teaching is understood in narrow terms as an exercise in which students assess the performance of their professors. Teaching evaluation needs to be understood more broadly, both to encourage the development of excellence in teaching and to enable teaching to be fairly and fully included in decisions regarding tenure, promotion, and salary. For instance, a teaching mentor can evaluate and guide the teaching of a less experienced colleague:
A faculty member listens as a junior colleague describes a new psychology course that he is developing, writing down some suggestions she has for him. As his teaching mentor, she will help him become more aware of his assumptions and needs as a teacher and will write an evaluative statement for him at the end of the semester.
Teaching evaluation can and should also occur among peers. Teaching peers can and should participate in activities that include a series of discussions and classroom visits, for example:
Two teachers exchange views-initially polite, then more candid-of their estimations of one another's classroom presence and interaction with students in small lecture courses. They have been visiting each other's classes throughout the semester, taking advantage of a "teaching pairs" program developed by a professor who holds one of the distinguished teaching chairs in Emory College.
Like most other activities, teaching can be evaluated both in order to improve the practice itself and to make assessments for hiring, tenure, promotion, and salary increases. Too often, however, evaluation is seen as a problem rather than a reliable way to demonstrate the occurrence of good teaching or the possibilities for improvement. Although many faculty view current practices in teaching evaluation as overly subjective, unreliable, and too dependent upon student input, the commission urges faculty and administrators to understand evaluation in light of these goals of development or formation and of assessment. Understood in this light, evaluation will of necessity make effective use of many different types of assessment: self-evaluation through journals, peer evaluation through observation of classes, oral reports, and properly normed course and instructor evaluation by students.
We believe that teaching should be evaluated. We believe that faculty should conduct some form of self-evaluation and that they should solicit evaluation by their peers. We regard student evaluations as sources of important data, but believe these data need to be interpreted adequately and responded to by faculty and department chairs. All evaluations should be based on explicit criteria and should be executed within a culture in which teaching is valued and training in evaluative methods is readily available. If criteria are not clearly stated and the culture does not value teaching, evaluations become one more bit of busywork-empty procedures that waste the time both of faculty and students. If training in evaluation is not required and evaluations are not appropriately normed and interpreted, they inevitably will reflect opinion and impression rather than provide objective data.
There are four main goals of teaching evaluation: to improve the teaching of individual faculty; to assess the teaching effectiveness of faculty for purposes of appointment, raises, promotion, and tenure; to assess the success of a teaching program in a department or school; and to provide a basis of information for awarding teaching excellence. The goals are united through the intent to improve teaching.
The best way to achieve these goals is for the faculty to play a major role in defining their own processes of evaluation. The commission recommends that faculty members use two related but distinct forms of evaluation: the teaching dossier and the teaching portfolio. In order to help faculty evaluate and develop their own teaching skills, a teaching dossier can provide valuable documentation of one's teaching performance through the years. It may consist of statements of self-evaluation, comments from students, written evaluations by one's peers, syllabi, course-development proposals, and a written philosophy of teaching. These instruments encourage a faculty member to reflect upon his or her pedagogy and the relationship of his or her research to teaching. Used within this formative framework, and not as a basis for such measures as tenure or promotion, these elements also give faculty members a safe and supportive environment in which they can identify teaching strengths and weakness for their own continued improvement in teaching.
In addition to the formative or developmental teaching dossier-the content of which is largely self-determined-faculty should develop a teaching portfolio as the best means of evaluation for hiring, tenure, promotion, and remuneration. A teaching portfolio contains those elements from the dossier that a faculty member submits for evaluation by peers and administrators. (See Recommendation #5 and Appendix A: The Report of the Subcommittee on Evaluation of Teaching for further discussion of the complexities of these two evaluative tools and the distinct purposes they serve.)
This report advocates multiple methods of evaluation. No single form
of evaluation can capture all the vital elements of teaching; teaching as
a practice consists of multiple performances, relationships, and information.
Nevertheless, to ignore the use of various means to evaluate teaching is
to devalue the importance of teaching within the institution and to tempt
faculty to neglect their craft.
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