Documenting Teaching and Improvement

Faculty are often faced with the need for evidence regarding the effectiveness of their teaching. Such evidence is critical for the course and personal improvement as well as verification of their personal development as a teacher. Frequently such information is requested and used as documentation in a teaching portfolio or in promotion and tenure packets.

There are many types of information that may be helpful: (1) mid-semester (anonymous) input from students, (2) end-of-course evaluations, (3) peer observation of teaching with feedback (e.g., the TOPS program from the UAMS Educators Academy), (4) formative student assessments, (5) peer review of assignments and exams (Educators Academy), (6) review of an online course with a rubric such as the Blackboard Exemplary Course Rubric, and, importantly, (7) self-reflection. What other pieces of information can you think of?

We can get useful input from students, better done midway through the semester. At this point, students have a stake in the outcome and faculty have a chance to change and improve their students’ experience. Hoon et al. (2015) showed improved quality with a start-stop-continue format; that is, faculty ask students to respond to: “What should I start doing?”, “What should I stop doing?”, and “What should I continue doing?” The UAMS Educators Academy can run a focus group of your class to gather this information and share it with you.

It’s helpful to approach end-of-semester student evaluations with an “improvement mindset” (Golding & Adam, 2016). Improvement can happen no matter how high (or low) students score us. Student comments can be difficult to read, but we sometimes see a common thread such as, “Homework was not similar to tests.” In this case, a good strategy to address that theme may be to ensure that our learning outcomes are aligned with our assessments and teaching approaches.

Having your work observed and commented on can be intimidating. Peer observation that is voluntary and formative (i.e., not to be used in decision-making such as tenure and promotion), has been shown to be useful (DiVall et al., 2012). When the instructor and [trained] observer are from different disciplines, the observer is there not to judge (summative evaluation) but to experience the session as a student and an expert educator. In the TOPS program the faculty member designates particular aspects of their teaching to be observed. In addition, feedback is generated to help faculty members’ delivery of information, classroom management and student-faculty interactions.

Another valuable source of input is an informal assessment of student learning. For example, a “minute paper” at the end of a difficult lesson or concept will provide information on what aspects students understood or misunderstood, and can be the starting point for the next session.

Self-reflection is an integral part of learning which we routinely ask our students to do. Faculty should self-reflect as well. Write down your own thoughts about your teaching. What worked in today’s class? What could I improve and how? How can I increase student learning?

Finally, close the loop by documenting what you’ve learned from the data and feedback, what you’ve decided to change, and what will remain the same. Writing out that information, along with using evidence-based pedagogical practices, is scholarly teaching.