Taking Teaching Seriously: Meeting the Challenge
of Instructional Improvement. ERIC Digest.
by Paulsen, Michael B. - Feldman, Kenneth A.
"Taking Teaching Seriously" is drawn from a celebrated address by K.
Patricia Cross at the 1986 AAHE National Conference on Higher Education
in Washington, D.C. In her address, Cross emphasized the importance of
efforts to increase the quality of college teaching. This report uses a
model that views various strategies for improving instruction as helping
motivate individual faculty members to improve their teaching by changing
(and maintaining) certain of their instructional attitudes and practices
(through the process of unfreezing, changing, and refreezing certain attitudes
and behaviors). This model focuses on the varieties of informative feedback--from
such sources as colleagues and consultants, chairs, students, and oneself--that
are facilitated by a supportive teaching culture and that drive the process
of instructional improvement.
WHAT ARE THE PRIMARY CHARACTERISTICS OF A SUPPORTIVE TEACHING CULTURE?
The presence of a culture that is supportive of teaching clearly enhances
the effectiveness of all strategies for improving instruction. The literature
consistently identifies the following characteristics of cultures that
support teaching and its improvement: unambiguous commitment to and support
of teaching and its improvement from senior administrators; shared values
about the importance of teaching between administrators and faculty, with
widespread involvement of faculty in planning and implementing activities
and programs to improve teaching, thus creating a sense of faculty "ownership"
of these activities and programs; the presence of effective department
chairs who are supportive of teaching and its improvement; frequent interaction
and collaboration among faculty and a sense of community among faculty
regarding teaching-related issues; a faculty development program or campus
teaching center; a broad, expanded view of scholarship and scholarly activities;
decisions about tenure and promotion connected to rigorous evaluations
of teaching; and a requirement that some demonstration of effective teaching
be part of interviewing and hiring new faculty (Massy, Wilger, and Colbeck
1994; Rice and Austin 1990).
WHAT STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING INSTRUCTION HELP TEACHERS PROVIDE INFORMATIVE
FEEDBACK TO THEMSELVES?
Because college teachers often have a strong need to seek self-determined
competence by continuously scanning the instructional environment for informative
feedback, their behavior can be examined and the source of changes in their
behavior understood by viewing them as "reflective practitioners." Activities
that constitute such practice-centered inquiry have been shown to be useful
strategies for improving instruction (Amundsen, Gryspeerdt, and Moxness
1993). The ultimate foundation of all reflective practice or self-reflection
is the ability and opportunity to engage in self-evaluation or self-assessment.
Two common methods of collecting self-evaluation feedback at universities
involve the use of self-rating forms and self-reports. At some colleges
and universities, for example, faculty are asked to complete the same (or
slightly reworded) questionnaires to evaluate teaching as their students.
This procedure enables faculty to analyze their teaching and to reflect
on their teaching behaviors along the same dimensions their students use
to evaluate them. A second method, self-reports completed by college professors,
has traditionally been limited to vitae and reports of activities; recently,
however, the idea of self-reports has been conceptually and functionally
expanded into a medium, compendium, and showcase for reflective practice--namely,
the teaching portfolio, which is essentially an elaborate and reflective
form of self-evaluation (Edgerton, Hutchings, and Quinlan 1991).
HOW CAN STUDENTS MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD?
Students hardly need to be "silent partners" in the enterprise of improving
teaching. One way their voices can be heard is through their completing
teacher and course evaluations. Research has shown persistently that feedback
from student ratings is of value in improving teaching, particularly if
this feedback is accompanied by the teacher's consulting with a colleague
or a teaching consultant (L'Hommedieu, Menges, and Brinko 1990). Several
different ways of using student interviews for giving feedback to teachers
have also been reported as successful strategies for improving instruction,
including group discussions, small-group instructional diagnosis, the class
interview, and quality control circles. A particularly distinctive way
of receiving feedback from students is for a professor to invite students
into his or her classroom who are not "official" members of the class but
who are trained in classroom observation. A student-visitor program primarily
provides confidential observations to increase the instructor's effectiveness
in helping students learn. Another strategy for "listening" to students
has been called "classroom assessment," which consists of a wide range
of methods college teachers can use to obtain useful feedback on what,
how much, and how well their students are learning (Angelo and Cross 1993).
HOW CAN COLLEAGUES, CONSULTANTS, AND CHAIRS BE HELPFUL IN IMPROVING
Faculty seminars, workshops, and colloquia about teaching are traditional
(but still effective) practices for encouraging interaction and collaboration
among faculty regarding teaching. Recent developments in a variety of areas--action
science, reflective practice, adult learning theory, and the like--have
encouraged an expanded range of strategies using colleagues to help improve
teaching. One important set of activities, programs, and projects in this
expansion is the renewed use of team teaching (Baldwin and Austin 1995).
Faculty collaboration through team teaching benefits professors by developing
their teaching abilities, intellectually stimulating them, engaging them
as self-directed learners, and more closely connecting them to the university
or college as a community. A second set of programs and practices is collegial
coaching (Keig and Waggoner 1994). Two primary activities involved in collegial
coaching are observation of classroom teaching and instructional consultation
(the review of course materials and discussions about classroom practices).
Based on descriptions and analyses of coaching projects at colleges and
universities, effective programs have all or most of the following characteristics:
an underlying philosophy; a procedure for selecting participants; a training
program for collegial coaches; a pre-observation conference; one or more
classroom visits and observations; a post-observation conference; and a
chance for participants to evaluate their effectiveness.
Many of the informal processes of consultation carried out in collegial
coaching projects have been formalized in a comprehensive set of more routine
services provided by the trained consultants who constitute the staff of
campus teaching centers. Instructional consultation is usually based on
a comprehensive model that includes data collection and analysis by the
consultant, strategies for improvement worked out between the consultant
and the teacher, and evaluation (Lewis and Povlacs 1988). Consultation
improves teaching primarily through the use of effective practices in giving
feedback (often associated with student ratings and direct observation
or videotapes of classroom teaching) and through the various interpersonal
roles assumed by consultants.
Department chairs are also important to the improvement of teaching.
One way they help is by providing support--financial and otherwise--to
ongoing formal and informal attempts to improve teaching. They are invaluable
in defining faculty development and instructional improvement (as distinct
from faculty evaluation) as an important departmental activity. They can
plan programs for the department, such as pedagogical colloquia, that help
improve teaching. They can even intervene more directly by following steps
similar to those used in instructional consultation (Creswell, Wheeler,
Seagren, Egly, and Beyer 1990).
HOW CAN THE SPECIAL NEEDS FOR IMPROVING THE TEACHING OF NEW AND JUNIOR
FACULTY BE MET?
Because new faculty members share common concerns about such matters
as workload and stress from multiple demands, uncertainty about what is
expected of them, a desire for collegial support, and a need to develop
teaching skills, a strong argument can be made for supplementing traditional,
individual approaches of socialization that help them adjust to their new
environment with a collective approach that address these common concerns.
Workshops and "substantial" orientation programs for new faculty members
that offer concrete assistance with the development of teaching skills
and with various common problems are being used successfully in a variety
of colleges and universities. In addition, formal mentoring programs for
new and junior faculty are also being used at different schools to give
concrete assistance with the development of teaching skills, to address
professional and personal concerns, and, in general, to counter the vagaries
of the usually informal socialization of new college teachers (Boice 1992;
Sorcinelli and Austin 1992).
WHAT CAN COLLEGES DO TO IMPROVE TEACHING?
Several approaches, used in concert, can be used to improve instruction
in colleges and universities. Ways need to be found to "unfreeze" certain
attitudes and behaviors of some teachers that prevent them from improving
their teaching. Supportive teaching cultures on campus must be strengthened,
especially at those colleges where such cultures are subsidiary to more
dominant cultures. More teachers need to be given guided experience in
being "reflective practitioners." Students should be treated (and sought
out) as active partners in the improvement of instruction. Formal and informal
collaboration among colleagues should be rewarded. Chairs need to be encouraged
to offer their invaluable support through their creation of an environment
conducive to effective teaching. Trained consultants, often though not
invariably associated with a campus teaching center, should be recognized
as the experts they are in instructional improvement and their activities
facilitated. And new and junior faculty must be encouraged and helped with
their teaching through programs recognizing their special needs and talents.
Amundsen, Cheryl, Danielle Gryspeerdt, and Katherine Moxness. 1993.
"Practice-Centred Inquiry: Developing More Effective Teaching." Review
of Higher Education 16(3): 329-53.
Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. 1993. Classroom Assessment
Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Baldwin, Roger G., and Ann E. Austin. 1995. "Faculty Collaboration in
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Boice, Robert. 1992. The New Faculty Member. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Creswell, John W., Daniel W. Wheeler, Alan T. Seagren, Nancy J. Egly, and
D. Beyer. 1990. The Academic Chairperson's Handbook. Lincoln: Univ.
of Nebraska Press.
Edgerton, Russell, Patricia Hutchings, and Kathleen Quinlan. 1991. The
Teaching Portfolio: Capturing the Scholarship in Teaching. Washington,
D.C.: American Association for Higher Education. ED 353 892. 62 pp.
Keig, Larry, and Michael D. Waggoner. 1994. Collaborative Peer Review:
The Role of Faculty in Improving College Teaching. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education
Report No. 2. Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, School of
Education and Human Development. ED 378 925. 193 pp.
Lewis, Karron G., and Joyce T. Povlacs, eds. 1988. Face to Face: A Sourcebook
of Individual Consultation Techniques for Faculty Development Personnel.
Stillwater, Okla.: New Forums Press.
L'Hommedieu, Randi, Robert J. Menges, and Kathleen T. Brinko. 1990.
"Methodological Explanations for the Modest Effects of Feedback from Student
Ratings." Journal of Educational Psychology 82(2).
Massy, William F., Andrea K. Wilger, and Carol Colbeck. 1994. "Overcoming
'Hollowed' Collegiality." Change 26(4) .
Rice, Eugene R., and Ann E. Austin. 1990. "Organizational Impacts on
Faculty Morale and Motivation to Teach." In How Administrators Can Improve
Teaching, edited by Peter Seldin. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sorcinelli, Mary Deane, and Ann E. Austin, eds. 1992. Developing New
and Junior Faculty. New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 50. San
This ERIC digest is based on a full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report series 95-2, Taking Teaching Seriously: Meeting the Challenge
of Instructional Improvement by Michael B. Paulsen and Kenneth A. Feldman.