May 15, 2019

The TAWG report: Better ways to assess, reward and celebrate teaching

The Teaching Assessment Working Group concluded 20 months of work by releasing a final report on April 30, 2019. The members included, from left: Richard Lockhart, Jennifer Spear, Barbara Frisken (chair), Daniel Ahadi, Dan Laitsch, Catherine Stoddard (during the initial stage), Brad Johnson. Not pictured: Neil Abramson, Diana Cukierman, Russell Day, Panayiotis Pappas, Andrew Perkins, Diego Silva and Doug Thorpe-Dorward.

On April 30, 2019, SFU’s Teaching Assessment Working Group (TAWG) released a draft version of its final report after 20 months of work. The release was a follow-up to the publication of results from a faculty survey two weeks earlier.

Download a PDF version of the final report (updated version, August 9, 2019)

TAWG was established in August 2017 “to encourage an active conversation amongst faculty at SFU about how we assess and value teaching and to recommend ways to review teaching practice that are consistent, flexible and robust, and that are useful and useable to faculty, chairs, tenure and promotion committees (TPCs) and deans.”

The TAWG report identifies goals and offers detailed and practical recommendations to improve the tenure/promotion process and the biennial review process for faculty, academic units and the university. It also addresses the larger issues that influence those processes; for example, a teaching environment that often discourages risk-taking and a university culture that values research more than teaching.

Below are selected details and excerpts from the report.

Principles and recommendations

  • The report draws on the work of three earlier groups: The Task Force on Teaching and Learning (TFTL, 2010), the Teaching and Course Evaluation Project (TCEP, 2013) and the Student Evaluation of Teaching and Courses Working Group (SETCWG, 2017).
  • In particular, it supports the five principles for assessments of teaching laid out by the SETCWG: assessments should use multiple methods, multiple sources, and multiple points in time, they should be “viewed holistically,” and they should be “used in alignment with individual instructors’ career paths.”
  • The report offers recommendations in five main categories:
    • Use of student evaluations of teaching (SET)
    • Use of teaching assessment methods beyond SET
    • Improving the recognition of teaching
    • Training and support for faculty members and TPCs
    • Recommendations for changes to policy and administration
  • The report recommends that “each Academic Unit define a teaching assessment framework” based on guidelines outlined in the report.
  • It recommends that members of tenure and promotion committees “be encouraged to participate in training on how to assess teaching” and notes that TAWG has “worked to develop a series of workshops to introduce faculty members to different methods of assessing teaching.”
  • It emphasizes that assessments should draw on three data sources: “self-reflection, students, and peers.”
  • It recommends that academic units and the university “expand and enhance teaching awards at SFU, as well as the recognition and celebration of teaching award winners,” and that they also “explore non-competitive criteria-based mechanisms to recognize teaching effectiveness and highlight the importance of teaching.”

Don’t forget the appendices

The report appendices present key information in an easily accessible way. Among the most valuable sections:

  • Appendix A – A summary of TAWG recommendations, grouped by theme and audience (for example, faculty members, TPCs, chairs and directors)
  • Appendix C – Goals for faculty, academic units and the university to “improve the way we value and assess teaching”
  • Appendix E – A table “designed to help faculty members put their case together to demonstrate their effectiveness as a teacher for biennial review and/or tenure/promotion processes”
  • Appendix F – A table designed to offer “guidance for use of teaching assessment methods by academic units”

Selected quotations

  • “It is difficult to measure teaching effectiveness because it is difficult to measure learning.”
  • “[Student evaluation of teaching] in itself is not a measure of student learning. It is better to think of SET as a tool for understanding the student experience.”
  • “The Vice-President Academic should encourage TPCs to attach more significance to teaching at [biennial reviews] and [tenure/promotion] and should explore shifting from a summative to a formative system of assessment to encourage positive change.”
  • “To ensure that teaching is valued, faculty members need to hear a consistent message from chairs and other administrators that this is indeed the case—teaching needs to impact hiring and promotion and faculty should have access to training that supports their needs and interests.
  • “Finally, excellent teaching should be rewarded through salary increases, at promotion, and through public recognition.”

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