4 Departments to Pilot New Approach to Teacher Evaluation

Four academic departments are piloting a new approach to evaluating teaching as part of a multi-university project supported by a $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The computer science, linguistics, music and dance, and physics departments were selected last month from a field of nine across five schools and colleges to participate in the initiative, according to Gabriela Weaver, vice provost for faculty development and director of the Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development (TEFD).

The pilot is aimed at broadening the approach to teaching evaluation beyond information gleaned from the Student Response to Instruction (SRTI), a 24-item questionnaire in voluntary use since 1995.

Using a teaching evaluation framework adapted from a model developed by the University of Kansas, each of the participating departments will spend this semester and the summer determining the criteria and weighting factors for seven aspects of teaching, ranging from goals and content to learning outcomes, classroom culture, and mentoring and advising. Drawing on input from tenured, tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, the departments will also identify what data will be needed to implement the evaluation process.

As each department works to fashion a framework that reflects its teaching principles and measurement values, says Weaver, the discussions should reveal some common standards.

“This should give us a much more complete picture of what teaching encompasses,” she says. “It’s more complex than putting a single number on a scale. We’re hoping that by bringing departments and faculty together to discuss the evaluation rubric we can identify the aspects of teaching that they value.”

The departments will be advised and assisted throughout the pilot project by Weaver and Martha Stassen, associate provost for assessment and educational evaluation and director of the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment.

In addition, the participating departments will receive financial support for two calendar years; $5,000 for the initial year and $3,000 in the second year. Funding for computer science and physics will come from the campus’ $842,571 share of the NSF grant since the two units are in STEM-related fields. The Provost’s Office and TEFD will underwrite the cost for linguistics and music and dance to participate.

The pilot departments will begin using their new evaluation frameworks starting next fall. How the framework is used is open, says Weaver. Departments could use it for annual review purposes or possibly tie it to tenure and promotion decisions, based on voluntary participation by faculty during the piloting period.

After the first year, each of the departments will submit a short report and revise its evaluation process.

Four more departments will be brought into the program next year at the same level of financial support, says Weaver. In the third year, another four departments will be selected to take part, but with support for just one year since much of the basic process should be in place by that point.

Some departments have indicated they may move forward with the evaluation process review independent of the pilot program and its subsidies, notes Weaver, who expresses a willingness to work with those efforts as well.

At the same time that the pilot project unfolds on campus, similar efforts will be underway at the other participating institutions, the University of Kansas and the University of Colorado Boulder. Simultaneously, a researcher from Michigan State University will be conducting a case study of the ongoing work at each of the three universities, documenting how each school engages in the evaluation development process. The researcher will make annual visits to the three universities to meet with key players and gather information.

The NSF grant also provides for periodic “knowledge exchange” meetings between the principal investigators as well as representatives of the participating departments. The first session is scheduled for April 3-5 in Boulder.

“We want to support faculty learning from each other,” says Weaver. “We’re all just starting out.”