The University Record, March 8, 1993

Mid-Term Assessment valuable learning tool for young faculty

By Andrea O. Jackson
Record Special Writer

Is a scholar always an educator? No, not always, as many undergraduate students will tell you.

Because of this, the University is making an effort to ensure that all new LS&A faculty already able to pursue scholarly research, also are able to teach that information well to their students.

The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), in conjunction with LS&A, is offering a confidential Mid-term Assessment Program to all first-year tenure-track faculty who are teaching undergraduates in 1992–93.

Through the program, an instructor’s classroom performance is evaluated in the middle of the term, to determine what the students think about the instructor’s teaching methods and effectiveness.

“The assessment program is an opportunity for new faculty to become better teachers, and to get off on the best possible foot,” says John R. Chamberlin, LS&A associate dean for academic appointments.

Any changes made in teaching methods in light of the evaluation are left entirely up to the instructor. “The assessment is not for comparative purposes,” explains Barbara Hofer, program associate at CRLT. “The feedback that students provide is shared only with the instructor.”

New faculty members schedule an appointment with a CRLT instructional consultant to observe a class. During the last 20 minutes of the class, the instructor leaves and the consultant meets with students. Students break into four- to six-member groups and reach a consensus on answers to the following questions: What do the students like best and least about the course? What suggestions for change do the students have for the instructor?

The class reassembles and suggestions are shared and clarified. Following discussion with the students, the CRLT consultant meets with the instructor to discuss the results and suggest follow-up activities and seminars to improve teaching effectiveness. In most cases, making simple changes can help motivate students and enhance learning.

“The seminars offered through CRLT are one of the University’s ways of backing up its commitment to better teaching,” Chamberlin says.

After participating in the program, Sally A. Haslanger, a first-year associate professor of philosophy, said that “the observations made by the consultant were very perceptive and constructive. After talking with the consultant, I learned that the students were enthusiastic about the class and the course material. However, most of the students wanted to move the chairs around to a semi-circle to promote discussion, which I did.” Some suggestions made by the students were beyond her control. “They complained that the ceiling was too low, or that the room temperature was too warm.”

Although the mid-term assessment has been available on request to faculty and teaching assistants (TAs) for several years, this is the first time it has been made routinely available to all new LS&A faculty. The College of Engineering has had a similar project in place for the past two years. CRLT has also worked with the Department of Mathematics, providing the assessment service to all calculus faculty and TAs. The satisfaction of the Department of Mathematics prompted LS&A Dean Edie N. Goldenberg to encourage the use of the program by all new LS&A faculty.

More than one-half of the new faculty members asked for the optional assessment, Hofer says, adding that, “Generally, the acceptance was good.”

The service is available to any faculty member or TA. CRLT consultants often use the small group technique or survey form, coupled with observation and, when requested, video taping. For information about the Mid-term Assessment Program, contact Hofer, 936-2596, or the CRLT office, 764-0505.