I’ve been reading and thinking about mid-term course/faculty assessments. We’re just a few weeks beyond mid-term and the topic is popping up on teaching/learning listservs and in conversations with colleagues. I’ve been doing student surveys and reflections in all of my classes (online, f2f, applied lessons and ensembles) for many years – a knowledge/beginning-of-semester survey, a mid-term survey, and an end-of-term survey (along with other, targeted surveys/reflections, along the way). It’s been my experience that one of the most powerful and transformative learning/reflective/synthesis experiences for my students and for me has been that simple but significant mid-term survey/reflection – through which I collect both qualitative and quantitative information/reflections/suggestions and artifacts. I work with each class to redesign key aspects of the course according to their perspectives on what is working well and what is not working so well. They are thoughtful, insightful, creative and candid – and doing a course re-design at the mid-point in a semester allows for a truly student-centered approach and cooperative pedagogical practice that students value and welcome. This approach has been exceedingly rewarding and has allowed me to remain flexible, open and collaborative as both teacher and co-learner with my students.
I am currently teaching an Honors course – Irish Music, Peace, Politics, and Popular Culture. A majority of the students in this seminar-style course are pre-med students with hefty science training and backgrounds. They are used to fairly prescriptive and formal teaching/learning styles and methods, but have been keenly receptive to and enthusiastic about all of us working together as a team to create/construct a creative, engaging, rigorous, dynamic learning environment which values student voice and experience and shifts and changes in flexible and significant ways, as the semester proceeds from mid-term to end-of-semester. I’ll write more about this later, and the class is also developing a blog, which will include student reflections about this process and their individual and group learning, growth and development over the course of the semester. It’s been a fabulous and fun class to teach – and I have learned much from my students.
To return to the topic at hand and In reading blog and listserv posts by teaching/learning colleagues, it’s clear that there are huge variations in how faculty peer review of teaching is developed, conducted, assessed, valued and supported – and how new faculty deal with challenges in the classroom.
One colleague notes using a model of mid-term student assessments developed by the CRLT at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that contracts a Ph.D. lecturer/expert to conduct faculty peer observations for new faculty (at a fee of $500 per observation, a revelation – considering that, at my school, fiscal and other support for faculty development activities and initiatives has been gradually reduced over the last few years). The consultant produces a time/event “map” of what occurred in the classroom and a record of a post-class meeting with students only (to suggest what they regarded as the teacher’s strengths and what might be done differently). The consultant also provides an overview assessing four questions related to my the faculty orientation program, including: 1) what is the evidence of learning outcomes?; 2) how are active learning strategies being implemented?; 3) what evidence of ‘measurement strategies’ are apparent?; and 4) what did you notice about the ‘teacher-student interchange’? The consultant then meets with the teaching/learning director and the new faculty to present the report and discus the findings and observations.
Another colleague suggests reviewing Chapter 8 of Robert Boice’s book, Advice for New Faculty Members – a chapter that deals with minimizing classroom incivilities. Yet another suggests a resource that deals with documenting classroom dynamics, summarize those results, and negotiating changes in teaching practice – the chapter entitled, “Using an objective observation system to diagnose teaching problems,” in K. G. Lewis and J. T. P. Lunde (Eds.), Face to Face: A Sourcebook of Individual Consultation Techniques for Faculty/Instructional Developers (pp. 115-134). Stillwater, OK: New Forums. He shares a process that includes a conversation about the observation and perceptions of challenges and alternative strategies for dealing with substantive issues. And, he encourages faculty to combine the preliminary peer observation with another form of data (written student feedback, an SGID/QCD, a second observation session, i.e.) to provide additional evidence for making design choices relative to that particular course.
One colleague described a peer observation (nearly thirty years ago), conducted by a senior colleague when he was a new TA. This senior colleague “observed student posture, who was using a keyboard, what he overheard students saying, when students moved from being on task to off and back again”. He noted that It felt objective enough to him that when they discussed it later, he was comfortable, and the conversation was steered more by him than his senior colleague. Another colleague responded that “the power of ‘simple’ observation and starting with strengths allows the teacher to draw their own inferences and conclusions” – providing dignity, and that “when it comes to peer review, the element of dignity needs to be incorporated and valued”. An additional colleague noted a program at his school in which students use a similar approach by providing consultative feedback to faculty (Students Consulting on Teaching – SCOT program).
People are working on all kinds of projects and looking at this issue from multiple perspectives – creating peer coaching models for peer review of teaching, compiling and sharing resources, investigating digital repositories that point to exemplars, and piloting new projects based on current practice and innovative re-thinking. I’m interested in hearing how you, your students, your institution and your field approach this issue!