Center staff can provide confidential feedback on teaching in several different ways, including: conducting classroom observations; obtaining feedback from students through mid-semester focus groups; and reviewing video-recorded teaching performances. Such feedback is always meant to be formative; we strive to help instructors to better understand how others are experiencing their instructional choices, so that they have a better sense of the kinds of adjustments they could make to enhance their teaching effectiveness. However, we do not evaluate teaching, nor are we qualified to provide summative feedback. While Center staff have expertise in and deep knowledge of effective educational practices, we are not content-area experts for most disciplines and, therefore, cannot be seen as peers, in the sense that is required for a true peer review of teaching experience.
The following list describes the core services we offer for gathering formative feedback on one's teaching. Whenever possible, we try honor every request for the services described below; however, these activities are time- and labor-intensive, which means that our ability to meet such requests is dependent upon available resources. This means we may, occasionally, need to limit an instructor's use of the services in a given semester.
All services are provided confidentially, and artifacts associated with them are shared only with the instructor who requests the service; instructors are free to share these artifacts with whomever they choose.
One important way to gain insight into how others are experiencing one's teaching is to invite an outsider into the classroom to observe what's happening. We think of this work as an act of deep observation and analysis, rather than as a teaching evaluation. The observer strives to observe specific pedagogical choices the instructor is making and the effects those choices are having. The observer has been trained to view the classroom as a living "text" - identifying patterns, observing student-to-student and faculty-to-student interactions, and documenting the time and duration of various class activities.
Before the observation, the instructor typically meets with the Reinert Center staff member who will conduct the observation. The pre-observation meeting provides an opportunity to discuss any relevant matters of class context, to set instructor goals for the observation, and to share other insights and information that may be needed for the class observation to be useful. After the observation, the observer prepares notes, typically in narrative form (as opposed to a checklist approach), in order to capture for the instructor the overall arc of what happened in the class, as well as any specific patterns observed. Finally, the observer and instructor meet again, post-observation, to discuss findings and to consider possible adjustments that may be needed, if applicable.
A good way to find out how students are experiencing a class is to ask them. Our Small-Group Instructional Feedback Sessions (SGIFs) are best suited to the mid-semester timeframe; they are modeled on nationally-recognized approaches to gathering feedback of this type. SGIFs are short focus groups with students, initiated at the request of a faculty member or other instructor. They take about 20 minutes of class time, and faculty are asked to leave the room while the session is being conducted. (Currently, we are piloting SGIFs in a small number of online courses, as well.) As with classroom observations, our primary aim in preparing the results of a SGIF is to provide a sense of patterns. Because of the importance of timing with SGIFs, we strive to share the results within a day or two. Ideally, the instructor then discusses the feedback with students and makes decisions about how she or he will respond to the feedback. All feedback collected is anonymous. For more on SGIFs, please see the SGIF Frequently Asked Questions page.
Please note: SGIFs are time- and labor-intensive; therefore, we limit them to the mid-semester timeframe (when they have the greatest potential to significantly impact student learning). Occasionally, depending on availability of resources, we may not be able to honor all requests for SGIFs.
The SGIF timeframe for the Fall 2014 semester has ended. Please check back here in January 2015 to schedule a SGIF for the Spring 2015 semester.
Like the classroom observation, reviewing a video-recorded teaching performance offers an important way to gain insight into how outsiders view the classroom experience. The video-recorded class has the added advantage of being viewable by the instructor, as well, which means she or he can compare notes with the Reinert Center staff member who reviews the video. While the Center typically does not do the actual video recording, we can offer suggestions about easy ways to record a class.