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I just want to be a better teacher.

“Life is trying things to see if they work.”

Ray Bradbury, American writer

On Friday, January 13, 17 EvCC faculty from multiple disciplines met to discuss a pretty big question: How do we measure student learning? These faculty have agreed to participate in a pilot program using the Instant Feedback formative assessment tool that is part of the new online platform (Campus Labs) used for our student evaluations (IDEA). When I asked them, “Why do you want to take on this additional work? It won’t be easy reviewing data, looking at how students responded to the short survey, and finding ways to improve your pedagogy!” and to a person they said, “I just want to be a better teacher.”

A review of assessment literature will quickly reveal the importance of faculty engagement in the improvement of student learning and engagement in the classroom. In fact, according to the authors of “Rethinking College Student Retention” (Braxton, J. et al, 2014), two of the most significant variables that impact retention are a genuine interest in students on the part of faculty, and faculty organization and clarity. In fact, when students are surveyed and asked, “What matters most?” the data indicate that it is their teachers who top the list. When faculty are engaged in the classroom experience beyond just the transmission of information, the progress that students make toward learning outcomes can be greatly enhanced. Faculty can use relatively simple assessment tools to measure students’ perception of these influencers as well as student learning; once the faculty have reviewed student responses they can make changes to stimulate classroom achievement. Closing the assessment loop by letting students know that they have been heard and what the plan for improvement is can move the needle considerably.

Reflection on the feedback from students is important to the process; faculty will write reflections that address issues in their classes and will plan strategies to be implemented the following week. A cycle of feedback from students will then be established. I will be conducting interviews with the faculty in the cohort on both their successes and challenges during the quarter. Faculty are also keeping a reflection journal that will be submitted as part of their final report.  I have encouraged faculty to write “in the moment” so that they capture all aspects – the positive as well as the not-so positive – to reflect on at the end of the quarter.

Students can be very savvy consumers when it comes to their educational experiences, and when asked the right questions, can provide valuable data that will provide an assessment of classroom dynamics, according to Dr. Ken Ryalls, IDEA Center president (Coffee Talk Webinar: Myths and Misconceptions of Student Ratings, Gender Bias and More, March 24, 2016). We believe that when students feel that they have a voice in how the class is working (specifically, in this case, teaching strategies employed by their instructor) they will not only learn more and be more engaged, but the faculty will receive better student evaluations. Both students and faculty will benefit from giving and receiving feedback that identifies areas of potential growth and improvement.

What are the questions the students are responding to in these Instant Feedback sessions?

Please describe the frequency of your instructor’s teaching procedures:

  • Displayed a personal interest in your learning.
  • Found ways to help you answer your own questions.
  • Demonstrated the importance of the subject matter.
  • Made it clear how each topic fits into the course.
  • Explained course material clearly and concisely.
  • Introduced stimulating ideas about the subject matter. 

Throughout the quarter I will be reporting on the work of the faculty and will share their stories.  I believe this will be a compelling story over time, and I hope you are looking forward to hearing more about the project.