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Evaluating and Improving Undergraduate Teaching in Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics
This report recommends a set of strategies to evaluate undergraduate
teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM). It is based on a study conducted by a National Research Council
(NRC) committee charged with synthesizing relevant research in pedagogy and
practice as a basis for developing resources to help postsecondary STEM
faculty and administrators evaluate and reward effective teaching. The
committee's principal goal was to determine whether fair and objective
methods exist for the evaluation of teaching and learning, and if so, how
such methods could be used as a basis for the professional advancement of
faculty. The committee found that many such methods exist, and that their
utility deserves wider appreciation and application in the evaluation of
both individuals and departments.
KEY POINTS FROM THE REPORT
- The committee found that summative evaluations of teaching, such
as those used in some faculty promotion and tenure decisions, often do not
rely on evidence of student learning, and this relationship needs to be
strengthened and formalized.
- The committee also found that formative evaluations (e.g., ongoing
informal feedback from students and colleagues) can serve several important
- Coupling candid teaching evaluation with
opportunities for ongoing professional development
- Supporting faculty who wish to explore scholarship of teaching and
- Applying such formative evaluation techniques to departmental programs,
not only to individual faculty.
- Four fundamental premises guided the committee's deliberations:
- Effective postsecondary teaching in science,
mathematics, and technology should be available to all students, regardless
of their major.
- The design of curricula and the evaluation of teaching and learning
should be collective responsibilities of faculty in individual departments
or, where appropriate, through interdepartmental arrangements.
- Scholarly activities that focus on improving teaching and learning
should be recognized as bona fide endeavors that are equivalent to other
scholarly pursuits. Scholarship devoted to improving teaching effectiveness
and learning should be accorded the same administrative and collegial
support that is available for efforts to improve other research and service
- Faculty who are expected to work with undergraduates should be given
support and mentoring in teaching throughout their careers; hiring practices
should provide a first opportunity to signal institutions' teaching values
and expectations of faculty.
- The committee found that most faculty who teach undergraduates in the
STEM disciplines have received little formal training in teaching
techniques, in assessing student learning, or in evaluating teaching
effectiveness. Formal programs aimed at improving teaching are still
- A firm commitment to open intradepartmental communication about teaching
effectiveness is therefore critical to any convincing evaluation of teaching
based on these premises.
- The research literature suggests that some combination of the following
kinds of formative and summative evidence about student learning can be
helpful in evaluating and improving a faculty member's teaching:
- Departmental and other colleagues can provide informed
input about teaching effectiveness through direct observation, analysis of
course content materials, or information about the instructor's
effectiveness in service and interdisciplinary courses.
- Undergraduates and graduate teaching assistants could offer useful
information based on their experiences in the instructor's courses and
laboratories, the instructor's supervision of research, and the quality of
- The faculty member being evaluated could provide self-assessment of his
or her teaching strengths and areas for improvement; this assessment could
be compared with the other independent evidence.
- The instructor's willingness to seek external support to improve
teaching and learning also is evidence of her or his commitment to effective
- Effective evaluation also emerges from a combination of sources of
- Current students, those who had taken a course in
previous years, and graduating seniors and alumni could provide evidence
about the instructor's role in their learning.
- Graduate teaching assistants could discuss the instructor's approaches
to teaching, levels of interactions with students, and the mentoring that
they receive in improving their own teaching skills.
- Departmental and other faculty colleagues, both from within and outside
the institution, could evaluate the currency of the materials the instructor
presents and his or her level of participation and leadership in improving
- The faculty member being evaluated can provide critical information
about his or her teaching challenges and successes through self-reflection
and other evidence of effective teaching, student learning, and professional
- Institutional data and records offer insights about changes in
enrollments in a faculty member's courses over time, the percentage of
students who drop the instructor's courses, and the number of students who
go on to take additional courses in the discipline and related subject
- Each of these criteria is subject to multiple interpretations and should
be reviewed with care.
- A central idea behind formative evaluation of teaching and learning is a
two-way feedback system known as "outcomes assessment." Faculty need to set
clear goals for their students and ascertain whether students are meeting
these goals throughout the course.
Overview of Research on Effective Assessment of Student Learning
- Although assessments used in various contexts and for differing
purposes often look quite different, they share common principles.
Assessment is always a process of reasoning from evidence. Moreover,
assessment is imprecise to some degree. Assessment results are only
estimates of what a person knows and can do. It is essential to recognize
that one type of assessment is not appropriate for measuring learning in all
students. Multiple measures provide a more robust picture of what an
individual has learned.
- Educational assessment does not exist in isolation. It must be aligned
with curriculum and instruction if it is to support learning.
- The design of high-quality assessments is a complex process that
involves numerous iterative and interdependent components. Decisions made at
a later stage of the design process can affect those occurring at an earlier
stage. Thus, as faculty develop assessments of student learning, they must
often revisits their choices of questions and approaches and refine their
- For assessment to be effective, students must understand and share the
goals for learning that are assessed.
Characterizing and Mobilizing Effective Undergraduate Teaching
- Zimpher (1998) predicted:
- Teaching will be more public than it ever has
- The nature and quality of assessment will change.
- Evaluation and documentation of teaching will change.
- Teaching will become technologically enabled.
- Content transmission will not be the focus of teaching.
- Curriculum and program design will be inseparable from teaching and
- Diversity will be seen as asset-based. Higher education will realize
that all benefit when different perspectives and cultures are included.
- Different pedagogies that students have experienced prior to college
will change their expectations about good teaching.
- Higher education facilities will have to look different. Rooms will have
to be flexible to accommodate the new pedagogies and they will have to be
- A new scholarship of teaching will occur.
- Characteristics of Effective Teaching:
- Knowledge of subject matter.
- Skill, experience, and creativity with a range of appropriate pedagogies
- Understanding of and skill in using appropriate assessment
- Professional interactions with students within and beyond the
- Involvement with and contributions to one's profession in enhancing
teaching and learning.
- Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning (Astin,
- The assessment of student learning begins with
- Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of
learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over
- Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear,
explicitly stated purposes.
- Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the
experiences that lead to those outcomes.
- Assessment works best when it is ongoing not episodic.
- Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across
the educational community are involved.
- Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and
illuminates questions that people really care about.
- Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a
larger set of conditions that promote change.
- Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to
- Teaching effectiveness should be judged by the
quality and extent of student learning.
- Scholarly activities that focus on improving teaching and learning
should be recognized and regarded as a bona fide scholarly endeavor and
accorded the types of institutional supports aimed at improving scholarship
- Valid summative assessments of teaching should not only rely on student
evaluations, but should include peer reviews and teaching portfolios used
for promotion, tenure, and post-tenure review.
- Individual faculty - beginners as well as more experienced teachers -
and their departments should be rewarded for consistent improvement of
learning by both major and nonmajor students. All teacher related
activities - such as grading, reporting of grades, curriculum development,
training of teaching assistants, and related committee work - should be
included in evaluation systems adopted for faculty rewards.
- Faculty should accept the obligation to improve their teaching skills as
part of their personal commitment to professional excellence.
Recommendations for Presidents, Overseeing Boards, and Academic
- Quality teaching and effective learning should be
highly ranked institutional priorities.
- Campus-wide or disciplinary-focused centers for teaching and learning
should be tasked with providing faculty with opportunities for ongoing
professional development that include understanding how people learn, how to
improve current instruction through student feedback, and how educational
research can be translated into improved teaching practice.
- At least one senior university-level administrator should be assigned
responsibility for encouraging departmental faculty to adopt effective means
(as proven by research) to improve instruction.
- Faculty who have excelled in teaching should be publicly recognized and
- Faculty should be encouraged to develop curricula that transcend
disciplinary boundaries, through a combination of incentives (including
funding), expectations of accountability, and development of standards for
disciplinary and interdisciplinary teaching.
- Willingness to emphasize student learning and to make allocations of
departmental resources in support of teaching should be an essential
requirement in appointing deans, department chairs, and similar
- Graduate school deans should require that departments employ graduate
students in fulfilling their teaching mission should show evidence that
their faculties are effectively mentoring graduate teaching assistants and
advising them about their duties to undergraduate students.
Recommendations for Deans, Department Chairs, and Peer Evaluators
- Departments should periodically review a
departmental mission statement that includes appropriate emphasis on
teaching and student learning. These reviews should address not only the
major curriculum, but also service offerings - such as courses designed for
nonmajors and prospective teachers.
- Individual faculty members should be expected to contribute to a
balanced program of undergraduate teaching. Participation of established
faculty in lower-division, introductory, and general education courses
should be encouraged.
- Departments should contribute to campus-wide awareness of the premium
placed on improved teaching.
- In addition to numerical data from end-of-course student evaluations and
on participation in specific courses, effective peer reviews of teaching
should provide a subjective assessment of a faculty member's commitment to
quality teaching. Generally this should include evaluation of a faculty
member's knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject matter; familiarity with a
range of appropriate pedagogical methods; skills in using appropriate tests
and laboratory experiences; quality of advising and other professional
interactions with students within and beyond the classroom; and active
scholarly commitment to enhancing top-quality teaching and learning.
- Department heads, in submitting personnel recommendations, should
provide separate ratings of teaching, research, and service, each with
supporting evidence, as key components of their overall rating and
- Normal departmental professional development activity should include
informing faculty about research findings that can improve student
- As appropriate for achieving departmental goals, departments should
provide funds to faculty to enhance teaching skills and knowledge and
encourage them to undertake or rely upon educational research that links
teaching strategies causally to student learning.
- Departments should recognize that in the course of their careers, some
faculty may shift the balance of their departmental obligations to place a
greater emphasis on instruction or educational leadership. These shifts
should be supported, consistent with a departmental mission, so long as
active engagement with innovative teaching is being addressed.
Recommendations for Granting and Accrediting Agencies, Research
Sponsors, and Professional Societies
- Funding agencies should support programs to enable
an integrated network of national and campus-based centers for teaching and
learning. An important goal of such a network is to conduct and disseminate
research on approaches that enhance teaching and learning in STEM.
- Funding agencies and research sponsors should undertake a
self-examination by convening expert panels to examine whether agency
policies might inadvertently compromise a faculty member's commitment to
quality undergraduate teaching.
- Accreditation agencies and boards should revise policies to emphasize
quality undergraduate learning as a primary criterion for program
- Professional societies should offer opportunities to discuss
undergraduate education issues during annual and regional meetings.
- Professional societies should encourage publication of peer-reviewed
articles in their general or specialized journals on evolving educational
issues in STEM.
Fox, M.A., & Hackerman, N. (Eds.). (2003). Evaluating and improving
undergraduate teaching in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
National Research Council of the Academies, Center for Education, Division
of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National
Submitted by R.M. Johnson, May 2004. This is a report summary and
excerpts are quoted directly from the text.
Iowa State was the first chartered land-grant institution.