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How to evaluate teaching

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By Margaret Adolphus

What is evaluation of teaching and why is it needed?

Sources of evaluation

Evaluation can be sought from a number of different sources, notably:

  1. Students, usually by questionnaire and often supplemented by interview and focus groups. Students are uniquely qualified to offer a "learner's eye view" (Hounsell, 2003). This form of evaluation is usually referred to as student evaluation of teaching (SET).
  2. Other teachers, for example through peer observation of a class.
  3. The teacher him or herself reflecting on his or her own work, perhaps writing a statement on a particular module, or keeping a diary to note particular teaching episodes as their relevance strikes.

Evaluation can be divided into two camps: summative and formative. Note that the examples below are mainly for an institution's internal purposes: it should not be forgotten that in an age of quality assurance, funding bodies may need to see an evaluation system in practice as an assurance that standards are being maintained. For a more detailed discussion on this, see: "International business schools and the search for quality".

Summative evaluation

Summative evaluation usually comprises a post-course questionnaire looking at student satisfaction. Its major use is to evaluate and compare faculty, and make decisions about rank, salary and tenure.

This type of evaluation, however, has received criticism on a number of grounds. It measures students' satisfaction with the course and the tutor, rather than their learning. In addition, teachers find themselves judged mainly on one aspect of their teaching, their class presentation and instructional delivery, rather than their course planning and design, supervision of research, visits to students on placement, mentoring, etc. For that reason, many argue (for example, Hounsell, 2003) that evaluation needs to be approached with a "wide-angle lens", to capture all of teaching's complex facets.

Formative evaluation

Formative evaluation may be better at giving this broader perspective. It is usually done mid-course, with detailed questions designed to shed light on pedagogy and teaching strategy. It may then be repeated to see whether any resulting changes have had an effect. Its objective is not to judge the worth of the faculty member, but to provide a developmental appraisal of their teaching skills. Any resulting issues can therefore be tackled at both an institution and individual level by courses or mentoring.

Publisher's note

The author is grateful to Dr Martin Oliver, Reader in Education (ICT) at the Institute of Education, University of London, for information with regard to the PhD student using the biographical narrative interpretive method in evaluation.