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Faculty Development Center

Reflecting on Teaching: The Importance of Teaching Portfolios

During the more hectic times of the academic year, it's difficult for faculty to step back and assess the successes (or problems) that occur in the classroom. But as difficult as it may be, it pays to take the time to pause and reflect on each week of teaching, and organize thoughts and materials in a way that identifies issues and concerns. Keeping a file of notes on what's happening week to week will help immensely in creating a teaching portfolio.

What is a teaching portfolio? In essence, it's a compilation of one's work as an instructor-a kind of extended teaching curriculum vitae. It explains teaching goals and practices, and includes examples of work produced for courses and evidence of teaching success and progress.

Teaching portfolios are valuable for a number of reasons. They help document what has happened in the classroom-over months or years-and can provide valuable evidence for hiring, tenure, and promotion committees. But they also help professors reflect on changes made in teaching over time, as new materials or research or technologies are incorporated into courses or as the curriculum changes. If, for example, you've included Blackboard in your courses for the first time, examining student work (and perhaps comparing it to previous years' work) can help determine if this technology accomplished what you wanted or whether you need to experiment with using it in a different way. Such year-end reflection helps an instructor evaluate whether students are learning from current teaching strategies or whether other kinds of assignments or activities could accomplish the same goals more effectively. And finally, keeping an up-to-date file of teaching practices also may come in handy when applying for specific kinds of grants or teaching awards.

The form such a portfolio can take varies tremendously, depending up on one's discipline and the kinds of courses one teaches. The important starting point is simply to gather materials-syllabi, lectures, assignments, exams, course handouts, letters from students-anything that demonstrates one's teaching work. During the year it's sometimes useful to keep a file or even a box where copies of such materials are placed until it's time to clarify how these materials help achieve established teaching goals. Since much of the content of teaching can be ephemeral or hard to document, it's important to save whatever might be useful.

Typically, a portfolio consists of variety of information, which can be broken down into three main categories.

Overview statement:
A reflective statement which explains an instructor's larger view of teaching and learning, and illustrates how this philosophy works in practice; also a reflection on the development of teaching strategies or goals over one's career.

Course materials or examples:
Descriptions of teaching responsibilities and courses taught, including detailed syllabi, examples of assignments and examples of student work with the kind of feedback given to help students learn and improve.

Evaluations or Feedback:
Evaluations of teaching that students submit, but also evaluations that might have been performed by a colleague, chair, or a faculty development evaluator; honors or awards received, or other forms of recognition; activities participated in (workshops, seminars, conferences) to improve teaching; (perhaps even service on departmental or university committees which directly deal with curricular design or program changes).

Developing a good teaching portfolio takes some time, but it is worth the effort because it produces a much richer and much more accurate picture of the work that goes into-and the student learning that results from-teaching than do hurriedly completed end-of-semester student evaluations. If you would more information on how to develop a portfolio, contact the Faculty Development Center or check some of the resources listed below. Peter Seldin's book, The Teaching Portfolio, contains sample portfolios (from across disciplines) that give one a starting point for organizing one's own information.

Books (available at the Faculty Development Center)
Peter Seldin. The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions. Bolton, MA: Anker, 1997.

Russell Edgerton, Patricia Hutchings, and Kathleen Quinlan. The Teaching Portfolio: Capturing the Scholarship in Teaching. Washington, DC: AAHE, 1991.

Online Resources:
University of Michigan