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Documenting Teaching FAQ
The answers to these frequently asked questions can help you understand and work with the University policy regarding the evaluation of teaching at UND.
Q: Why are we doing this? Aren't faculty already overwhelmed with paperwork and other demands on our time?
A: If we believe that teaching is a significant professional responsibility, and if we want others--including students, peers, and administrators--to value and reward our teaching, then we must find reasonable ways to document and evaluate our work.
In this instance, the immediate impetus came from the students, who had concerns about the way end of-semester course evaluations were being handled. Their complaints led to a University Senate sponsored revision of the standard evaluation form, plus new guidelines for proper procedure in administering it. In the course of this work, it became evident that every known expert on teaching evaluation recommends that multiple sources of data be used in the evaluation of teaching. The Ad Hoc Senate Committee on Teaching Evaluation Policy was formed to follow up on the student-initiated work by taking a broader view of the issues, reviewing and recommending changes in published policy guidelines for the evaluation of teaching.
Q: Why do we need university-wide guidelines? Shouldn't these matters be left to the department or the college?
A: It makes sense that most of the responsibility for evaluating faculty work--including teaching, research/creative activity, and service--be delegated to the individual departments. But we also need a measure of consistency across campus. The proposed policy revisions are designed simply to clarify existing policy and to ensure that multiple sources of data are used in the evaluation of teaching.
Q: The policy says that "each department shall develop a written statement of expectation for effective teaching within the department." Why do we need that?
A: It is important to clarify for faculty what is expected of them, at least in general terms. There seems to be considerable consensus, in the professional literature, about the basic marks of good teaching, and we have listed five of these in the policy. However, because departments differ considerably, each department may need to define their expectations more fully..
The Office of Instructional Development has identified several example statements that departments may want to adapt to their own situations.
Q: Why does the proposed policy specify that one source of data must be students?
A: The easy answer to this is: "Because the Board of Higher Education says so." But it makes sense. After all, students see more of our teaching than anyone else does, and they have the most to gain or lose by the quality of our teaching. Besides, none of the experts recommend against using students as a source of data; they just insist that other sources of data be used to give a more complete picture of the faculty member's teaching.
Q: Is it true that we have to have students evaluate every course every semester?
A: Not necessarily. As noted in the proposed policy, NDUS policy simply states that "evaluations of all teaching faculty must include significant student input" (Section: 605.1.6 - Academic Freedom and Tenure; Academic Appointments).
Although President Kupchella has frequently suggested that students should have the opportunity to give feedback on every class they take, he has acknowledged that such feedback can be either formal or informal. That's one reason the policy encourages both informal formative feedback and formal summative feedback.
Q: According to the proposed policy, the USAT form is not required of everyone. But if we don't all use the same form, how can we compare teaching across departments and colleges?
A: Although the USAT form is a useful instrument for many, it is not equally useful for all kinds of teaching situations. Rather than require everyone to use the same general form, we want to encourage departments to develop forms or procedures that are designed especially for the subjects they teach. In some cases, of course, departmental forms can be used in addition to the USAT form, but if there is limited time to rather summative feedback, departments may prefer to use their own forms.
As for comparing faculty across departments and colleges, we can do that the same way we compare research/creative activity across departments and colleges: by simply doing the best we can with the data that we have, exercising professional judgment and resisting the temptation to try to compare apples and oranges.
Q: Will there be any guidelines for the interpretation of the USAT form?
A: Yes, Institutional Research will compile some useful aggregate data, along with guidelines for how to interpret it responsibly. OID will post these same guidelines on its website, along with some helpful resources for faculty and departments.
Q: Shouldn't we separate formative and summative evaluation? After all, they have very different purposes.
A: Yes, they do. And in some instances, we can keep those processes separate. But since some data is useful for both formative and summative purposes, it simply isn't practical to try to separate it out entirely. With student questionnaires, for instance, we would all have to agree to use only certain items for summative purposes. But unless and until we have used those questionnaires long enough to check for validity and reliability, we are unlikely to have that agreement. Similarly, with peer evaluation we would have to set up two completely separate peer-review processes--one for the purpose of offering helpful feedback and the other to arrive at summative judgment. With limited time and resources, it is unlikely that we can do this.
Q: Should the department have access to the results of formative evaluations that faculty conduct in their own classes?
A: Experts on teaching evaluation agree that being required to share the results of formative evaluation often discourages faculty members from doing it. (They may be afraid to uncover problems that are not showing up in other ways.) For this reason, faculty should not be required to submit formative data gathered from students as part of their summative evaluation files.
At the same time, however, faculty should be encouraged to share the results of formative evaluation with colleagues who may be able to help them, and to comment on what they learn from formative evaluation in reflective statements on their own teaching.
Prepared for the University Senate by the
Ad Hoc Committee on Teaching Evaluation Policy