Comments on: The ethics and politics of peer teaching evaluations http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Thu, 25 Sep 2014 07:23:18 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Rachel http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1100720 Sun, 30 Sep 2012 00:00:57 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1100720 I like the idea of generosity and modesty and conversations about improvement; however, when someone is truly awful, I’m not sure generosity is fair to students, modesty is fair to the institution, or conversations about improvement are sufficient. As a TA I taught for the worst teacher I’ve ever encountered. The professor was relatively new, the class terribly disorganized (at the level of the syllabus and the the lectures), and the students were very frustrated (which was fair — it was hard to learn anything in that class). I spoke with the appropriate person in the department, but at the time there was no formal process for evaluating teaching — even of new faculty! The department saw the (deservedly) crappy evals and had heard (orally) from me, but there was no official record of anyone senior visiting, observing, and writing down the problems. When it came time for review, all the department had was the professor’s response to the crappy evals, but nothing from a colleague or supervisor that assessed the situation. If an institution wants to show that teaching is irrelevant, this is certainly a good way to go. But it seems to me to be irresponsible — to the students and to the faculty member. This is not a representative case and perhaps shouldn’t guide policy, but I think it’s a reason to not only evaluate faculty but to have clear expectations about what a review letter should cover. If nothing else: can a reasonably intelligent adult follow the class? can students figure out what’s going on? what might improve student learning?

]]>
By: MOOCs for Mooks: local proffie takes one out for a spin : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1100696 Sat, 29 Sep 2012 23:21:28 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1100696 [...] terms–no outline, no key words on the screen or whiteboard, no nuthin’.  Now friends, although I confessed to you recently that I am something of a creampuff when it comes to peer review…, this is the kind of rookie teaching unforced error that I would comment on in a letter.    (Or [...]

]]>
By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1100569 Sat, 29 Sep 2012 18:35:13 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1100569 Another thing I was thinking about, only marginally-relevant to some of the key points on this thread, but when I do these observations–from the perspective of a small-to-medium size department– there are always in the classes a number of majors, who we see around the halls and offices regularly, and often more than once in our classes. When I go in to observe, I sometimes find myself watching students who I know, either well or more peripherally, but either way from the front of the classroom or across the desk during office hours or advising, or in some other structured heirarchical framework. And whatever the mission embedded in the observation “process,” I often find myself looking at and/or curious about other things [my K-teacher, Mrs. Goldsmith, would here roll her eyes and say, whatEVER, seen THAT one before...]. Because the same people behave differently in different roles and contexts, and it’s instructive to contemplate that fact in a concrete setting. This is good for vernacular anthropology and for my previously cited curiosity. What it does for the observee and the process gods may be another question.

I also formulaically begin my observation reports by noting that there were three loud maintenance vehicles right outside the window backing and forthing, with those pestilential “back-up” beep-beep-beepers, or a Pepsi guy in the hallway by the door slam-dunking cans of ‘Light into the vending machine, because even if neither of those specific things is happening, there is always some sort of inexcusable and distracting sonic intrustion going on between the instructor and the rest of the room, and I want that to be a part of the cumulative archival record–presuming there is any such thing.

]]>
By: Contingent Cassandra http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1099900 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 18:09:43 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1099900 @Historiann: for whatever it’s worth, the great majority of the contingents in my program *aren’t* on the market, but instead have accepted that these are the jobs we can get, at least for the forseeable future, and are trying to make the best of the situation. There are varying reasons for that decision (including the fact that we receive something approaching a living wage, and do receive both health and retirement benefits; these are good contingent jobs as contingent jobs go, but it’s still galling that we don’t receive the same level of salary or job security or participation in governance/evaluation as the TT faculty, since our work is equally necessary to the work of the university). In my own case, I may at some point go back on the market, but it would make no sense for me to do that without having published more. I’m working on that, but of course it’s nearly impossible to keep up with those who are teaching 2/2s rather than 4/4/2s. Of course, if I were to pull together job materials and apply each year, I’d be spending even more time on activities other than the ones (writing/research/publishing) that might actually better my chances of getting a better job.

My preferred solution to this would be to implement an approach the AAUP has suggested: transforming longterm teaching-intensive non-TT jobs (full- or part-time) into TT jobs with a teaching focus. I don’t have any illusions that that will happen anytime soon, if ever, since it would be expensive. Until it happens, however, trying to help present non-TT faculty get TT jobs isn’t going to do much good, since enough jobs simply don’t exist (though the work people in those jobs would do, and the workers who would fill them, do), and those TT jobs that do exist tend to value exactly what non-TT faculty have little time to do: publish.

]]>
By: EngLitProf http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1099864 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 16:49:50 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1099864 Thank you for the clarification, Ruth. That makes sense.

]]>
By: Ruth http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1099854 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 16:30:38 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1099854 For clarification: Tenure files at our institution include required materials, which include annual peer observations, student evaluations, and letters from former students solicited by the department. The files may also include optional materials submitted by the candidate, which may include letters from colleagues who have seen hir teach other than as part of a formal peer review, student letters solicited by the candidate, etc. So, the candidate does not get to decide what is included in the required part of the dossier, but may add supplemental materials.

]]>
By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1099459 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 04:39:13 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1099459 Thanks for your response, EngLitProf. I hear you. Perhaps Nicoleandmaggie (in the first comment) have maybe a situation like the one you describe on their hands. I don’t have to teach anything nearly as complicated as that math proffie must teach–I would imagine that breaking down a subject like that in order to teach it effectively is much more difficult compared to what I have to do.

I hear what you’re saying about putting it all down in the letters, but I guess it all depends on your ultimate goal. If your goal is to improve the quality of teaching around your shop, then conversations about teaching are probably a better way to encourage that than admonishing letters. But as Ruth and you have pointed out, it’s not like the classroom visit and the letter itself can only be interpreted in one way. I can *say* that *I* want to have a conversation about teaching, but many junior and adjunct faculty might hear me being a busybody and a self-important jerk.

Contingent Cassandra makes some good points about why I think that regular and contingent faculty should be treated the same (ideally humane) way in these evals. Contingent faculty are usually on 100% teaching contracts, but many if not most are also on the job market. I’m aware that people may include a letter from me in their teaching portfolios, and my goal is to help them find tenure-track employment if that’s what they’re after.

]]>
By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1099456 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 04:33:41 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1099456 Even if Karl Popper hired on to do the observations, the delineation of “effective teaching” based on its mere observation is pretty much a phantasm–at least by comparison with a lot of other aspects of occupational evaluation. A sales manager who stood on the doorstep with the drummer and heard the pitch and then went away without knowing whether a sale was made would have little to report. A scout who raved over a picture- perfect swing and the sweet pop of the bat, or the racket, or the shoe, on the ball, but didn’t know that the ball was still rolling two years later could not provide much feedback to the organization. An eye-crinklingly calm and coherent classroom instructor may be just a good performer or role player, and a seemingly mesmerized but still “engaged” student may get to the fitness center two hours later without an idea or even a fact in hir head. The “assessment” movement has tried to fill in this gap, but unless you’re a lot less skeptical about the short-term existence–much less measurability– of “learning outcomes,” this is mostly a dumb show to pacify the “accountability” crowd. Maybe every instructor of record, tenured or not, should be obligated to designate one student from each class for which they submit grades who will be debriefed in depth (at institutional expense) at the graduation+10 year mark, to see how their education contributed to their life trajectory. This wouldn’t tell you who not to tenure or reappoint in the meantime, of course, and at the end of the day, personnel decisions have to be made. But we should not be too optimistic that the tools are in hand or even in prospect yet to distinguish between effective teaching and effective classroom management. I’m sure they’ll be bringing the “value added” “instrument” up from Bloombergia USA to a campus near us before we know it, but hopefully not in my time.

The most heart-stopping observation I ever submitted to had nothing to do with contractual requirements or with the process monkey. I was visiting at a department and one of the very luminaries in my field agreed to write letters for me but then sort of engagingly mused that it would probably help if ze could comment on my teaching. So there I stood a few days later on the verge of a stroke, with hir in the back row and me moving through still another knotty part of the basic course that I had neatly managed to steer around while teaching freshman seminars as a post-doc. I’m sure I screwed up about twelve major things in just that fifteen minute segment of the lecture, but on hir way out ze said “you know, I’ve been teaching this stuff for Xty-two years, and I had completely forgotten that so-and-so also went to X place in addition to his more famous expedition to Y…” Affirmation gratefully accepted. The dozens of observations that I underwent after landing on the tenure track were by comparison mostly just ritual.

I especially liked Contingent Cassandra’s remarks, many of which resonated deeply, even though I haven’t seen specific examples of some of them in action.

]]>
By: Contingent Cassandra http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1099400 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 02:52:15 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1099400 I’ve never observed anyone (because I’m not on the tenure track), but I’ve been observed many times, at several different institutions. The approach I’ve found most useful is the one you describe, h’ann: the letter concentrates mostly on strengths, and suggestions for improvement are delivered mostly in a conversation (with perhaps a brief mention in the letter). They’re still an odd genre, especially when they serve multiple purposes: mentoring/professional development, salary/promotion review (contingent faculty have some opportunity for promotion, not to tenure-track jobs, but to longer contracts and/or contract versions of associate and full, sadly without corresponding salary bumps), possibly even defense against administrators who put too much stock in student evals.

I’m certainly glad that we have class visits, but it’s still an imperfect system. In particular, we’re facing several problems that have to do with the odd structure of the department (a large writing program delivering core courses staffed primarily by non-tenure track people nested within a literature department with a declining number of majors but a much higher proportion of tenure-track faculty). One problem that arises is that the tenure-track visitors, almost all of whom are primarily literature teachers, don’t always understand the goals, format, etc. of a writing course (they tend to want to see “a discussion,” and to judge the success of the class on whether this mode is successful, even though many writing classes these days are workshop/group-work-based, with relatively little whole-class discussion). The other is that, since many of the non-TT faculty are quite experienced, and observations constitute part of the load for tenure-track (as well as tenured) faculty, it’s increasingly common to have a TT faculty member only a few years out of grad school observing a non-TT faculty member with 20 or more years’ experience in the classroom. That kind of disparity can work, especially when visits are reciprocal, but ours aren’t, and the situation does tend to highlight the fact that one assumption underlying many of the department’s procedures — that contingent positions are temporary and/or junior appointments — is incorrect. We contingents who teach comp would really like to visit and review each other, but we can’t because that would be “service,” and we don’t do service.

And yes, the whole evaluation process is especially fraught for those of us who are evaluated on teaching only (no service or research), because teaching is especially hard to evaluate (at least once you get past some basic measures of competence). But a system which includes class visits and review of teaching materials, however flawed those approaches may be, is vastly superior to one which relies on student evals alone.

]]>
By: EngLitProf http://www.historiann.com/2012/09/27/the-ethics-and-politics-of-peer-teaching-evaluations/comment-page-1/#comment-1099354 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 01:19:13 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=19618#comment-1099354 Historiann, I certainly agree with everything you say about the effects of the horrible job market on disciplines like yours and mine. The day when someone could get a tenure-track job in the humanities without being a talented teacher are long gone in most places. So, to answer your question as fully as I may: in practice, it is not likely that a department like mine will need to recommend that a person be denied tenure because his or her teaching has not met the contractual standard, nor that a department like mine will have needed to make such a recommendation recently.

However, I think we should be less confident about tenured or tenure-track faculty in academic disciplines where market pressures are weaker and where new assistant professors are often thin on teaching experience. We can’t take effective teaching for granted there. You also mentioned observation of faculty who are not tenure-track. As a rule, they are not hired with the same attention as tenure-track faculty, and the classroom performance of part-timers ranges widely.

My point was that the methods we use to look for effective teaching must permit us to discover that we have not found it. (I’m sorry to go Karl Popper on you.) Ruth, if I’m understanding what you say about your previous institution, an applicant for tenure (or promotion to full, or a merit raise) is permitted to pick and choose which teaching observation reports are included in the application materials. Doesn’t the evidence have less weight than it would if all reports were included? Shouldn’t it have less weight?

]]>