April 23, 2019

What 340 SFU faculty members think about teaching and evaluation of teaching

On April 17, 2019, SFU's Teaching Assessment Working Group (TAWG) released a summary of results from its survey of SFU faculty members.

How do SFU faculty members reflect on their teaching? What evidence do they feel would be useful in evaluating their teaching? How do they feel their teaching is valued?

In Fall 2018, SFU’s Teaching Assessment Working Group (TAWG) surveyed all faculty members to find answers to those questions. An impressive 340 faculty members—30 percent of SFU faculty—responded.

A summary of the results (Strategies to Value Effective Teaching: Results of Faculty Survey (2018)) was released on April 17, 2019. Here are some key findings.

Faculty reflections on teaching

  • The most frequently cited indicators of whether a course went well were formal and informal student feedback (90.48%) and student performance (87.55%). Notably, just 60.44% of respondents reported relying on “official student questionnaires” such as online and paper-based course evaluations to gauge the success of their courses.
  • The top drivers for making changes to courses or teaching were student feedback (43.5%) and personal reflection (34.1%). In their written responses, respondents also cited “changes in the field.”
  • When asked what data sources they use to guide changes to courses or teaching, respondents overwhelmingly selected student feedback (94.6%), followed by student performance (33.3%), research and literature (24.4%) and consultation with peers and colleagues (22.5%).
  • The most popular characterization of effective teaching was “transfer of knowledge” (66.4%), followed by “engages students” (19.3%) and “inspires and motivates students” (18.5%).

Assessing teaching during tenure, promotion and merit review

  • Respondents felt that tenure and promotion committees (TPCs) “rely too heavily on formal teaching evaluations including SETC [student evaluation of teaching and courses] and would like to see TPCs use a broader range of assessment methods.”
  • When asked to recommend alternative teaching assessment methods for tenure and promotion from four categories—“evidence that you provide”; “evidence related to the student experience”; “evidence provided by your peers”; and other information—respondents endorsed options in the “evidence provided by your peers” category most strongly. Support for options in that category ranged from 92% to 84%, as follows:
    • Classroom observation by chair (92%), by peers (91%) or simply through “in-person or video analysis” (89%)
    • Peer review of course materials (88%)
    • Candidate interviews conducted by peers/administrators (85%)
    • Peer review of teaching portfolios/dossiers (84%)
  • The most recommended options from the other categories included the following:
  • Overall, respondents rated their satisfaction with the way their teaching is assessed at just 2.64 on a scale of 1 (not satisfied) to 5 (very satisfied). Among the barriers to better assessment, they identified problems with student evaluations (35%), the inherent difficulty of assessing teaching (22%) and a lack of resources for assessment (22%).

Valuing our teaching

  • Respondents were most satisfied with how students value their teaching (3.81/5), somewhat satisfied with how their academic units value their teaching (2.97/5), and least satisfied with how the university values their teaching (2.67/5).
  • Roughly 30% said they felt that their teaching was not valued (at least by others).

Two overarching themes

Most of the survey questions were multiple-choice, but a number were open-ended. An analysis of the open-ended responses, included in the summary, identified two overarching themes:

  • “Student feedback influences how I run the course.” The importance of student feedback was a constant thread. It is an indicator of success, a source of validation, and a driver and guide for making changes to courses and teaching approaches.
  • “The student evaluation system is flawed.” Participants repeatedly questioned the validity of the current formal teaching and course evaluation system. Many view it as a “popularity ranking, affected by the instructor’s gender and ethnicity.” Participants expressed a belief that “too much emphasis is placed on formal student evaluations” and identified them as the greatest “barrier” to improved assessment of teaching.

Want to know more about the survey results? Download the full summary from the TAWG website.

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