For Boise State faculty who are working towards promotion and/or tenure, one of the criteria in the policy for advancement is that faculty “demonstrate teaching effectiveness.” While this may seem a logical criterion, what is lacking is the clear path or framework to prove or establish that one’s teaching methods are effective for students. The ambiguity of how to prove one’s effectiveness as an educator is cause for confusion, for both new faculty and those serving as evaluators.
Megan Frary, an associate professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering, likens the lack of direction in policy for junior faculty as “aiming at a target you can’t see.”
“Junior faculty members are working toward the goal of tenure, but ambiguous policy language means that it’s not clear what you need to do to ‘clear the bar.’ We wanted to establish a definition of what it means to teach effectively,” said Frary.
One commonly used metric of effectiveness are end-of-semester course evaluations, but as kinesiology professor Shawn Simonson pointed out, these evaluations are often treated by students as “satisfaction surveys” as opposed to actual evaluations of teaching effectiveness. In short, currently there is very little direction or framework to guide faculty in the process of ensuring that their teaching is truly effective.
To address this gap, which exists not only at Boise State but at institutions of higher education nationally and internationally, Simonson and Frary were awarded a National Science Foundation grant of nearly $300,000 through fall 2022. With this award, the team will introduce a new framework and strategy for assessing teaching, and explore challenges to its adoption by creating a ‘mock’ department of 30 volunteer Boise State faculty.
The mock department will be made up of faculty from across disciplines and will use the framework and rubric in the course of faculty evaluation. Using institutional data as the control, the team will investigate how using the framework affects faculty members’ teaching practices and attitudes about the campus climate around teaching. The team actively is recruiting faculty participants for the study, either by creating a teaching portfolio in line with the framework for effective teaching or by serving as a portfolio evaluator.
“How we measure effective teaching is a critical issue that is being discussed nationally,” said Donna Llewelyn, the executive director of the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives at Boise State. “The grant has the potential for Boise State to be a leader in developing a holistic tool that will allow faculty to assess themselves and for academic units to more efficiently and effectively measure the extent to which we are achieving our core mission of delivering impactful education to our students.”
“This is another example of how Boise State’s doing things differently,” said Simonson. “This is innovation in teaching and in assessing teaching, because not only are we doing this project, but it’s part of a larger conversation on campus about how the policy for evaluating teaching probably will change.”