For my teaching effectiveness observation assignment, I chose to obtain student feedback from a class using a focused student feedback form. My first step was to find a faculty member willing to let me observe a class and administer a survey. I thought this would be a fairly simple matter since I work at small college, know many faculty members, and count some as personal friends. In fact, the availability of so many options made the choice difficult. Should I observe a science class and its associated lab? How about watching a mathematics professor teach statistics to freshmen who were in the class only because it was required? I also considered creative classes such as art and theatre. To make the decision easier, I developed three criteria. First I believed it would be easier for me to evaluate a class if I had interest in and some familiarity with the subject matter. Second, I wanted to observe a class in which students would be learning “big ideas” and not simply concepts. Third, I wanted to evaluate a class which had a reputation for lecture as the primary teaching method.
I still have bad memories of my required science courses at the Air Force Academy, particularly the labs. I had no interest in being reminded of those moments. Although I enjoy mathematics, I didn’t want to sit through general education courses which might include students who refused to engage, and I’m not familiar enough with concepts of the advanced classes to observe with any confidence. Finally, I’m not very creative and feel it would be difficult for me to accurately gauge the effectiveness of the faculty member. My interests are in the humanities and in recent years I’ve read theological works of C.S. Lewis and those associated with him such as George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton. This criterion pointed me toward Religion courses.
Religion also had the advantage on the second criterion. After becoming familiar with Perry’s Scheme of cognitive development, I’ve pondered the mechanisms, even if used unintentionally, which move students from one stage to the next. For college students, the most difficult movement can be from the early dualistic stages to the multiplicity stages of the scheme. It’s at this transition that students’ prior knowledge, which consists of right and wrong answers, is first challenged. Neumann and Campbell (2016) argue that learning occurs at the intersection of concepts being taught and the learner’s prior assumptions, so I wanted to choose a class in which learning was likely to occur. Since many Berry College students come from strongly Christian families and consider their religious views to be big and inviable ideas, I think Religion classrooms might be a good place to observe: 1) the teaching of big ideas to students who care about these ideas; 2) students’ being challenged to transition away from dualistic thinking; and 3) the intersections where learning occurs.
Religion faculty members at Berry, like many humanities faculty members at Berry, have a reputation for delivering engaging, and in some cases, entertaining lectures. The student engagement movement in higher education has, perhaps unwittingly, fostered the belief that lecture doesn’t engage students and should, therefore, be avoided. The phrase “sage on the stage” is sometimes used as a derisive description of college lecture methods. In our last class meeting, however, we heard that lecture can indeed be an effective method to engage students. I want to test this idea by evaluating a class taught by a popular assistant professor of Religion known for his skills as a lecturer.
With the professor on board, I turned my attention to the second element, developing a focused student feedback form for a classroom observation. According to Goe, Bell, and Little (2008) effective classroom observation can provide useful information about classroom behavior and activities but requires knowledge of the subject-matter in order to develop subject-specific questions needed for student surveys. It’s important, therefore, I meet with the faculty member in advance in order to determine his goals for the class and the content he is attempting to teach. An internet search reveals that many colleges and universities use techniques developed by Angelo and Cross (1993). The authors suggest developing a three to five question survey when using the focused feedback technique. Since there is no standard template, I will craft a five question survey based on questions in a sample survey from Angelo and Cross and a survey used at the University of Alabama Birmingham.
Goe, Bell, and Little (2008) also claim that effective classroom observation requires a well-trained observer. Unfortunately, I’m not a highly experienced instructor but am hoping that the concepts I’ve learned so far in class will help me build a viable survey instrument and obtain useful information about student learning.
Angelo, T.A., & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
Goe, L., Bell, C., & Little, O. (2008). Approaches to evaluating teacher effectiveness: A research synthesis. ERIC Digest. Retrieved from ERIC database (ED521228).
Neumann, A. & Campbell, C.M. (2016). Homing in on learning and teaching: Current approaches and future directions for higher education policy. In M.N. Bastedo, P.G. Altbach, & P.J. Gumport (Eds.), American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political, and economic challenges. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.