Evaluating Teaching at MSU

Evaluating Teaching at MSU: Suggestions based on current practice

During the Fall 2019 semester, MSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning organized two roundtable discussions: the first on Evaluating Teaching for Promotion and Distinction and the second on the Role of Teaching in the Hiring Process.  These roundtable discussions were formulated on the assumption that methods of evaluating teaching need to be tailored for and by individual departments and that departments can learn from each other’s methods. 

We hope that our summary of these discussions is useful to everyone across campus working on issues connected with evaluating teaching.

It became clear during both roundtables that explicit discussion at the department level of the evaluation of teaching is a first step to improving the process.  Those whose departments discuss the evaluation of teaching tended to feel confidence in whatever process is in use in the department; those whose departments did not discuss the evaluation of teaching tended to feel less certain about how valued teaching was by their colleagues.

Evaluating Teaching for Promotion and Distinction

CTL posited that there are three main sources of information on evaluating teaching for purposes of promotion and distinction, and the first discussion was organized around them: peer review, self-assessment, and student feedback. 

Peer Review as a source of information to be used in evaluating teaching:

Currently, peer review is used in many departments across campus, and departments vary on how formalized the process is.

  • What is peer reviewed:

In some departments, the peer review is primarily a classroom observation, and in others the review also includes evaluation of course materials and/or graded student work.

  • Initiating peer review:

Some department heads encourage new faculty to seek out established faculty and invite them to observe their teaching and write evaluations.  Other departments have standing committees to observe all new faculty members; in some cases individual members of the committee conduct observations, in others the entire committee of three or four faculty observe the same class period.  In the latter case, sometimes each member of the committee provides an evaluation and in others the committee collaborates on a single evaluation.

  • Frequency of peer review:

Some departments leave it up to the new faculty member to decide how many observations to seek and at what points during the pre-tenure period.  Other departments have a regular schedule, with some observing at least once a year or once a semester and some focusing on the periods just before the third-year review and just before the application is submitted.

  • Procedure for scheduling peer review:

In some departments, an observation date is agreed upon between the observer and the faculty member.  In other departments, the faculty member is asked for a list of possible dates, and the observer chooses one, either letting the faculty member know beforehand which date the observation will take place or not. 

  • Procedure for evaluation reports:

In some departments, observers provide their evaluations directly to the faculty member, who then chooses how to use the evaluation—whether to follow the observer’s advice and invite the observer back again, to submit the evaluation as part of the annual review or T&P application, or both.  In others, observers provide their evaluations directly to the review committee or department head as well as the faculty member. 

Self-Assessment as a source of information to be used in evaluating teaching:

Currently, many faculty members on campus conduct regular self-assessments and share
the results in a variety of forms:

  • Many faculty members assess each course taught and submit a written report to the department head in each annual review.  Such a report generally provides some or all of the following:
    • overview of the course
    • explanation of any innovations implemented
    • student achievements
    • overview of student impressions of the course as represented in the
    • standardized summative student evaluations of teaching
    • assessment of the effectiveness of the course design, assignments,
    • and in-class pedagogical techniques
    • plans for future innovations
  • Numerous faculty members also make use of videotaping for self-assessment. 

Some record an entire class period and watch to gain insight into what changes might be useful.  Some record shorter portions of as little as 5 minutes, enabling them to consider issues including clarity and pacing. 

  • Self-assessment that goes beyond a single course taught is presented by some faculty in the form of a Teaching Portfolio, which generally includes some or all of the following:
    • Inventory of all teaching responsibilities, including mentoring and advising.
    • Teaching philosophy
    • Evidence of effective teaching strategies and methods
    • Evidence of effective course design
    • Short- and long-term teaching goals
    • Evidence of pedagogical improvement and innovation over time
    • Evidence of student learning
    • Evidence of effective assessment of student learning

Students as a source of information to be used in evaluating teaching:

Currently, standardized summative student evaluations of teaching are in place and required for MSU courses; discussion centered on how these and other information from students can be used in evaluating teaching.

  •  As part of the self-assessment, some faculty members include student learning and student accomplishments as evidence of effective pedagogy.  Some use pre-tests and post-tests to demonstrate growth in student understanding of the course material, and others use the students’ creative and scholarly work that results from class activities. 
  • As part of the self-assessment, some faculty members include their own analysis of student responses to formative, mid-semester or even weekly or bi-weekly evaluations that they solicit in order to gauge students’ progress in the course and determine if changes are needed to enable students to learn more in the course. 
  • As part of the self-assessment, some faculty members include analysis of the results of the standardized summative student evaluations of teaching.  Taking into account the research that establishes that these student evaluations do not correlate with learning outcomes and that they are biased against faculty who are women and people of color, faculty members may analyze students’ perceptions of the course to determine if there are changes that can improve students’ learning and their experience

Evaluating Teaching in the Hiring Process

CTL posited that it is important during the hiring process that departments gather information about candidates’ ability to teach and that departments provide candidates with information about how teaching is valued at MSU, and the second roundtable was organized around these two topics.

Communicating to job candidates how teaching is valued at MSU:

Currently, departments use some or all of the following to communicate to job candidates the value they place on teaching:

  •  The initial job ad and the job description
  •  The inclusion of teaching-focused faculty on search committees
  •  The inclusion of teaching-focused questions in the initial interview
  •  Requesting sample course syllabi, student learning assessments, teaching philosophy, and/or other evidence of teaching ability
  •  Arranging for job candidates to meet with undergraduate and graduate students during the campus visit, whether over lunch, on a campus tour, or in a class the candidate teaches

Gathering information about a candidate's teaching ability:

Currently, departments on campus use some or all of the following strategies to assess a candidate’s teaching ability:

  • Evaluating the candidate’s answers to teaching-focused questions, including about what courses the candidate is qualified to and would prefer to teach, their teaching experience, and their teaching style and strategies.
  • Assessing a candidate’s teaching philosophy and motivation.
  • Assessing a candidate’s interactions with MSU students.
  • Evaluating sample course syllabi, student learning assessments, and/or other evidence of teaching ability
  • Assessing a candidate’s communication skills and ability to process and answer questions during the initial interview and the on-campus research presentation.
  • Scheduling a second on-campus presentation focused on teaching.  Departments on campus use a range of formats for this teaching presentation, such as apractice lesson in candidates explain how they would go about teaching a particular subject or an actual class period in an on-going class taught by the candidate.