she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid! This a line from a nursery rhyme I like to say to my daughter and it always pops into my mind when talking about what it means to be a good instructor.
The purpose of evaluation of teaching is to identify good teaching practices and weaknesses to be improved on. This raises the question of “what are good teaching practices?” and “what makes an instructor good?”
The definition of good is going to be subjective, which makes evaluation more challenging. My definition of a good instructor is going to be different from a student which is going to be different between students which is going to be different from an administrator.
This is no small problem when it comes to evaluating our teaching, especially if we are asking for feedback from students. In order for the evaluation to be valid, the assessment tool must measure what we want to measure. If I want to measure my effectiveness as an instructor based on my definition of a good instructor, then I first have to determine what is good and then determine if the assessment tool gives me the information needed to reach a conclusion on how good I am. This would all go out the window if the students who are doing the evaluation do not share my vision on what makes a good instructor.
In 2005, Edith J. Cisneros-Cohernour has published a paper in “The Quality of Higher Education” called “Validity and evaluations of teaching in higher education institutions under positivistic paradigm“. In this paper, Cisneros-Cohernour applies the aspects of construct validity proposed by Messick to student evaluation of teaching. I found this application very insightful in thinking about the research surrounding student evaluation of teaching. The second part of the paper explores the limitations of using student evaluations to make decision about the effectiveness of teaching. This paper provides fodder for all kinds of blog posts, but let’s start at the first step. What is my definition of a good instructor?
I’m doing this one first because it is what I can control. The definition of good held by my students and administrators would just be speculation. I’m also not sure if I should care about what others think of my teaching if I am happy with my teaching. I suspect that is naive, and I should consider the other stakeholders point of view sooner or later, but for now, this is my blog so I’m starting with me.
If my goal is to learn how to be a good instructor, I think I should apply the same principles I use for designing a course of study for my students. I have a goal, so what are the desired outcomes?How would I know if I’m a good instructor? The measurable characteristics of a good instructor for me would include:
- empathize with the difficulties of student learning.
- design learning activities that help students overcome these difficulties.
- evaluate the effectiveness of supplied learning activities.
- modify learning activities as needed.
In his book, “The Skillful Teacher”, Brookfield explains 3 core assumptions of skillful teaching that I think match my outlook. I would equate skillful teaching with good teaching. All 3 core assumptions are interrelated with each other. Brookfield’s first assumption is that “skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn.” The challenge here is for the instructor to give up any preconceived ideas of what is helpful and be open to anything that helps students learn, even if these methods seem counter-intuitive or fly in the face of tradition. The second assumption is that “skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance towards their practice”. The critically reflective process strives to use informed pedagogic actions that are based on research. Skilled teachers should be able to explain why they do what they do and provide evidence to support that process. The second part of the critical reflective process is to view our practice from different perspectives or the “4 complementary lenses”: students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, literature, and our own autobiography. The third assumption is “the most important knowledge skillful teachers need to do good work is a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers’ actions”. Brookfield also highlights the difficulty of evaluating how students are perceiving their learning experience. He suggests classroom assessment techniques like the one minute paper or the muddiest point to reveal student difficulties in learning the course concepts. He also uses an instrument he calls “critical incident questionnaires” to become aware of how students feel about his course.
So as I explore student evaluation I’m finding all kinds of tangents that are related to this concept. So many paths to take such as:
- student definition of a good instructor
- administrator definition of a good instructor
- methods to evaluate teaching such as critical incident questionnaires
- additional reflection on the content of Brookfield’s book
I like how inspiring this type of exploration can be, but I also feel like I’m running around like a chicken with her head cut off. I’m constructing a mental map of each area where I’ve been to see if at the end of the journey, a coherent picture starts to emerge.