Chapter Seven

a. Help with teaching
The Kaneb Center provides help to faculty, both full and part time, as well as TA's, with their teaching. It offers:

  • Individual confidential consultation. Just call for an appointment.
  • Workshops (see website for current schedule: http://www.nd.edu/~kaneb/)
  • Grants to faculty for various teaching projects (see website for current opportunities)
  • Work with departments, colleges, and other units: for example, discipline-specific workshops, consultations on curriculum review or on ways of evaluating teaching, etc.
  • Books and articles on effective teaching (see website for holdings; call the center for recommendations, or stop in 353 De Bartolo to browse the shelves)

Ask your chair or a senior colleague to go over your teaching plans or to visit our class. Don't be shy about this-it's not only a good way to get feedback on your syllabus, but also to open dialogue about departmental goals, possible curriculum changes, etc. Often your colleagues will notice-and help you to fix-"technical" things about your syllabus that wouldn't occur to you (i.e. you have assigned one of the most difficult texts for the end of the semester when students have the least energy; or you've neglected to spell out your absence policy, etc.)

Observe colleagues: Ask your chair or a senior colleague to recommend several of the best teachers in the department, and ask them whether you can talk with them about their syllabus and teaching methods. Ask to visit their class. Most will be pleased to share.

Tape your class: call Media Services. Someone will videotape your class at no charge, and will give you the tape without making a copy, so the tape is yours alone to learn from.

Send comments

(back to contents)

b. How your teaching will be evaluated at Notre Dame

How much does teaching count in relation to research at reappointment, tenure, and promotion time?
The weight given to teaching varies by college and department and can fluctuate with changes in a department chair or CAP (the committee that makes initial department-level recommendations about TPR). I have heard some administrators state that, for T&R faculty, teaching counts equally with research in awarding tenure, promotion, and reappointment (TPR) at Notre Dame but many faculty and administrators say that, in practice, research counts more. For Professional Specialist Faculty, there is enormous variation in duties and in what counts. For adjuncts, teaching counts more heavily, but value may also be placed on publication and grants.

Ask for advice: Consult your department chair, senior members of your department, and your dean about what they think will count. Consult senior women outside your department to help you keep your perspective. Notre Dame, unlike most unionized or state universities, does not spell out its criteria for TPR within each department. So you need an anthropological study of your department's culture in order to accurately read its expectations. Even then, you're likely to feel anxious and unsure. It's difficult to know when gender and/or race bias might be operative among your colleagues.

What does seem clear is that if your teaching is bad, you will have trouble at reappointment or tenure time, no matter how good your research is. But for T&R faculty, if your research is weak or even mediocre, even stellar teaching will generally not be enough for tenure or for appointment to full professor.

How is teaching evaluated?
An Academic Council Document of 1999, available from the Kaneb Center, recommends that, when your teaching is evaluated for promotion and tenure, three questions be asked. Each question may be addressed by different kinds of evidence. Here is the relevant portion:

Three basic questions for evaluating teaching
1. Are the learning objectives of the course being met? Are students being inspired and motivated to think analytically and creatively, and to develop habits of mind appropriate to the discipline?

Instruments of Evaluation: Measures of student learning based on students' in-course papers, projects, or exams evaluated by the faculty member's explicit standards and criteria; students' performance on standardized tests; and/or students' performance in subsequent courses or situations

2. Are the course material, concepts, and activities rigorous, current, relevant for students' needs, and consonant with the announced course description?

Instruments of Evaluation: Colleague examination of course syllabus, exams, and other material

3. Do students perceive themselves to be well-taught?

Instruments of evaluation: TCEs (student evaluations)
This document has been accepted by the Academic Council and discussed in the Provost's Advisory Committee (the university-wide body that conducts evaluation of promotion and tenure cases after recommendations are made by the department and college). However, it has no official status and is not legally binding.

In actual practice, the TCEs (student evaluations) count far more than anything else, and may be the only instrument used to evaluate your teaching. This is true not only at Notre Dame, but, according to research studies, holds for about 85% of institutions across the nation.

Further, the TCE contains a number of questions about specific aspects of your teaching (for example, organization, clarity, helpfulness, etc.), but it has one "umbrella" question (Q. 17) that asks students for their overall evaluation of the quality of instruction. That single number counts more heavily than any other, and may be the only, or just about the only, number that people use to evaluate your teaching.

Basic information about TCE administration
The TCE (Teacher Course Evaluation) is Notre Dame's term for student evaluations. They are conducted every semester in virtually every class. Forms are mailed to you a few weeks before the end of the semester. You are asked to designate a student to administer the forms and turn them in.

TCEs are anonymous. They have two parts:

The bubble form where students answer multiple choice questions about your course. These questions are standard for the entire university, however the bubble form contains about 30 extra question blanks where you may add specific questions of your own. Results are turned in to Institutional Research, compiled, and a report is sent to you, to your department chair, and is available online to deans and academic administrators. Your report will contain a separate account for each class you taught the previous semester.

Handwritten questions, designed to give you more specific and more personal responses from students. These are also turned in to Institutional Research, which holds them until all grades are in, and then sends them back to you without looking at them or making copies. You need not share these with anybody, but may if you wish. You should consult with your chair about whether or not you should put these handwritten forms into your file. Often, student handwritten comments give a more positive picture than the numbers alone, and when you come up for renewal/promotion you can point to specific positive feedback as a way of offsetting any low numbers you might have.

Advice: Use the extra questions on the TCE. Before you administer the TCE's, go over the standard questions and ask yourself whether there are additional questions that may be relevant to you for evaluating your teaching. For example, might you want to ask specifically whether students benefitted from: the way you organized small groups; the way you facilitated discussion; your use of technology; whether students thought the course enhanced their ability to interact in a team with others. The TCE tends to assume a lecture-style teaching method; if you do it differently, you may want to add questions. Institutional Research will tally these results along with the others, and send them to you, but it will not know what questions you asked. So keep a copy of the questions you asked. Then, if you wish, you can share those questions with your chair or CAP committee.

Advice: There should be no surprises on the TCE. Begin asking your students in the first or second week how they are perceiving the course. Ask them to write anonymously in the class, for a few minutes, in response to questions you pose. Don't ask them whether they "like" something - that's not the point. Ask "What aspects of this course are helping you to learn? What improvements would you suggest that could better help you learn?" Or ask more specific questions: "We have now completed the first paper, and you've gotten back your papers with my comments and grades. What aspects of this process were effective for your learning? What changes help you learn more effectively?" Or "Classes are usually a mix of small-group work and whole-class work. Is the mix about right? Or would a different balance be more effective for your learning?" Or "Please describe in detail how you prepare for the weekly quizzes."

Assimilate the responses and, in the next class period, report to your students what you have heard and what you propose to do about it. For example, "About 20% of you said you would like less small-group work, but the rest thought the mix was just about right. So I'm going to basically leave it the way it is, but here's what I can do to help those of you who are having trouble learning in the small groups....." Or "About half of you thought the reading load was too heavy, but I am not going to change it because.....However, here's what I suggest for you to complete the reading more efficiently...."

Send comments

(back to contents)

c. How to read and evaluate your TCEs
When you receive your "bubble form" reports on your TCEs, pay careful attention to the instructions for interpreting them. Also, pay attention to the explanations of what counts most for students. Here are the highlights:

On the front side of the report are your own scores. These help you to see where you are weakest and strongest. Compare the class means for the various components. For example, you may be weakest in component 1 (clarity and organization) and strongest in component 3 (availability and helpfulness).

The back side of the report compares your scores to those of other faculty. Focus on the percentile scores. The most important is your percentile rank in comparison to other faculty in your department in general, and other faculty in your department who are teaching the same level (e.g. 200 level) courses that you are. You may have a raw score that is above the middle of the range, but still be in the 10th percentile. That means 90% of the faculty whose classes were evaluated were rated higher than you.

Advice: Look at percentile scores; if they are in the bottom quartile consistently over several courses, seek help. The Kaneb Center does not have access to your TCE scores, but if you bring them to a conference with a Kaneb staff person, he or she will help you to interpret the scores and work on your teaching. Such conferences are confidential.

Do gender or race influence TCEs?
In the U.S., gender and race are important influences on social interactions. They can be powerful forces in your classroom too.

Official studies by the university show that overall, at Notre Dame and nationally, when you account for differences in length of service, whether the class is required or not, and other factors, there remains no significant difference between women and men faculty or among races and ethnic groups on TCE Question 17 (the "umbrella" questions that asks students their overall evaluation of the quality of instruction).

However, nationally, some more local studies using feminist or case study methods have revealed gender and racial biases. Even though bias does not show up statistically in large sample, race and gender may play important roles in your classroom.

Advice: It is difficult to know when race and/or gender bias is at work in your classroom. You need your sharpest skills of observation and reflection to try to understand what is going on. Talk candidly with your students about these issues; they generally do not consciously WANT to be biased; in fact, many will strongly seek to overcome biases. Seek help from the Kaneb Center or from colleagues if you sense a problem.

Send comments

(back to contents)

d. Evaluating the teaching of others
You may be asked to evaluate the teaching of others for promotion/tenure/reappointment, or just to help and mentor a colleague.

When helping a colleague, some basic principles:

Evaluate the colleague on the basis of what he or she is trying to do, and on the basis of his/her teaching style and philosophy, not on the basis of your own. If a person is using discussion or student groups in a class, and you are much more in the lecture mode, do not dismiss the discussion or group-work mode. Instead, recognize that these are legitimate pedagogies with substantial research showing their effectiveness. Try to help your colleague become as effective as she or he can be, using her or his own most comfortable approach and philosophy, and focusing on how well students are learning under this person's guidance.

Use the three questions outlined above, from the Academic Council document.

Contact the Kaneb Center for material to guide classroom observation or evaluation of syllabi and other materials. Ask for the handout on "Evaluating Teaching."

Before and after a classroom observation, talk face-to-face with the faculty member. Beforehand, ask her what she is trying to do, what she wants you too look for, and how your responses could be most helpful. Afterward, ask her to evaluate the class first, if she wishes, before you begin your analysis. Ask her what questions she wants you to address. The idea is to leave the impetus of the conversation with her, so that you are responding to her requests for observation, information, and suggestions.

When feasible, enter a mutual mentoring relationship, in which each of you visits the other person's class or examines the other person's syllabus, exchanging reflections. That creates an equal balance of power and allows mutual gain.

When evaluating colleagues for tenure/promotion/reappointment:

Do what you can to make sure that other faculty evaluating a colleague are aware of the Kaneb Center's guidelines and use the guidelines as points of discussion.

After discussing your findings with the other evaluators, volunteer to write the group report, to make sure that the report is unbiased and inclusive.

Miscellaneous notes —
In the 10/17/94 Chronicle of Higher Education, there appeared this brief item, under the heading, "Professors Beware: Your brightest students my be your toughest critics. And if you're a woman, the news is even worse."

Laura I. Langbein, a professor of public administration at American University, analyzed 2600 student evaluations of full-time faculty members at American's School of Public Affairs. The evaluations were from the academic 1991-1992 and the spring term of academic 1990-1991.

Among other things, she found that top students who want "substance" rate professors lower than do average students, who merely expect to do well in class.

Ms. Langbein also found that female teachers in the School of Public Affairs were rated lower than males, over all. She said students expected women to be nurturing and supportive. When a female professor gives a student a low grade, she is rated more harshly than a man would have been.

Send comments

(back to contents)









back to contents







back to contents







back to contents























6/15/02 12:47 AM
2007 University of Notre Dame