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Faculty Development Center

Evaluating your Teaching

While most faculty at UMBC informally assess their own teaching on a regular basis by considering what has (or hasn't) worked in teaching a particular class or topic, it's sometimes very useful to supplement this evaluation with a more deliberate approach. Especially in the early weeks of a semester, professors have the perfect opportunity to get more specific or comprehensive information about what's going on in the classroom. Doing so helps avoid surprises in end-of-semester evaluations or complaints when students find themselves lost before finals. More importantly, instructors can often make small but potentially crucial changes in a course that may make it a more satisfying learning experience for everyone.

The easiest method of looking more closely at what's going on in the classroom is taking extra time to pause after each class to consider what happened. Busy schedules often keep us from thinking about a class session until well after it's over (or indeed until we're about to step into the following session). But developing a habit of asking specific questions and jotting down some notes about the class will help in making adjustments and following up on problems. Some people find it useful to keep a separate notebook for these reflections in order to have a more continuous record of their thinking about a course. For example, you may want to remember the one or two explanations that didn't seem to connect today. Should there have been more examples? Which discussion questions ignited sparks and which fell flat?

More specific information about your teaching can be gained by asking students directly. Take five minutes at the end of the class and ask them to write out, anonymously, what's helping them learn and what's not. Or ask a few very specific questions: Do you understand the organization of lectures? Are the overheads or Powerpoint presentations helpful? This form of anonymous questioning is an example of a group of teaching strategies called Classroom Assessment Techniques, and more information on them is available at the web sites listed below.

A formal interview, which I conduct on a regular basis for UMBC faculty, can elicit even more precise teaching information. These interviews, or small-group evaluations, require about twenty minutes of class time, either at the beginning or end of the regular period. Once the instructor leaves, I break the students into groups of six or fewer and ask each group to select a note keeper who will record their discussion. These groups then spend ten minutes discussing what they like about the course, what needs improvement, and specific suggestions for helpful changes. I gather this information, summarizing their comments with them and clarifying any issues that are unclear. I then meet with the instructor later to share this feedback. To request a small-group evaluation, simply call me at the Faculty Development Center at 5-1829. All the information I gather for faculty in this fashion is, of course, strictly confidential.

Finally, you may want to have yourself observed in the classroom, either by a colleague or an observer. (I regularly am asked to sit in on classes and provide confidential feedback to faculty who want an outside assessment). For an even more "objective" view of your teaching from an observer's perspective, you may wish to simply have yourself videotaped (by calling the FDC a week in advance). However, this form of evaluation may become more valuable if someone else consults with you on it, since I have found that many lecturers and discussion leaders initially tend to focus more on their presentation style (and the discomfort they feel with seeing themselves on videotape) than on the organization of information and effectiveness of their skills at explaining concepts or conveying ideas.

Improving any skill takes some time and the willingness to isolate a few areas for measured improvement. With teaching, there are lots of ways of getting information to see what's working effectively. And in the literature about university teaching there are many useful strategies and techniques to experiment with. If you would like to discuss evaluating your teaching or learn more about specific teaching strategies, please contact me at the Faculty Development Center.

For other practical suggestions for evaluating your teaching see:

Barbara Gross Davis, Tools for Teaching (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA, 1993), especially Section 10 "Evaluation to Improve Teaching," two chapters of which ("Fast Feedback" and "Watching Yourself on Videotape" are on the web.

Wilbert J. McKeachie, et. al., McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, Eleventh Edition. (Houghton Mifflin: Boston, MA, 2002), especially Chapter 27: "Vitality and Growth Throughout Your Teaching Career."

For information on Classroom Assessment Techniques see:

see the National Teaching and Learning Forum at http:// www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/assess.htm