September 7, 2010

Documenting Teaching Effectiveness

We often have a sense in education that something is working (or not working) but it's difficult for us to produce the evidence that some practice or piece of technology is the reason.

The Writing Initiative at PCCC is a five-year federal Title V grant and we have numerous requirements to assess our success at improving writing and the teaching of writing at the college. Producing evidence of effectiveness beyond the anecdotal information from teachers, students and our writing consultants one of our biggest challenges.

Right now, the Initiative team is working on our year 3 report for the outside evaluators who review the grant each October.

The Seeking Evidence of Impact Initiative that is part of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) is an ambitious new initiative intended to bring the teaching and learning community into a collective discussion about ways of gathering evidence of the impact of innovations and current practices.

They are trying to bring the latest research and commentary in the area of learning technology effectiveness together. This includes white papers, articles, websites, reports, and other resources.

Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (Jossey Bass Higher and Adult Education Series)

I have been looking back into books on assessment that I used in the past. One of those is Classroom Assessment Techniques (Angelo and Cross) which is a general handbook that offers teachers at all levels how-to advice on classroom assessment, including what classroom assessment entails and how it works, and also how to plan, implement, and analyze assessment projects.

If you are new to formal assessment, the case studies that detail the real-life classroom experiences of teachers carrying out successful classroom assessment projects are useful. Although the book focuses on K-12 settings, the information often applies to higher levels too.

What the Best College Teachers Do

For higher education, Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard University Press, 2004) is also an interesting book to look to for some possible answers to what makes a great teacher great. The book was the result of a 15-year study of nearly a hundred college teachers in a wide variety of fields and universities.

One finding was that it's not what teachers do, it's what they understand. In general, lesson plans and lecture notes matter less than the way those teachers comprehend their subject and how much they value the learning process itself.

Think back on your own best teachers - especially those in high school and college - and they probably impressed you with how well they knew their subject but also with the way they engaged you and challenged their students.

For me, that always included interaction beyond the classroom Q&A. I knew that the best teachers felt that teaching really matters and that students can learn.

Classroom Research: Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching is a text more likely to be used by college faculty members in groups and in workshops. It covers topics like problem-based discussion and integrating teachers' experience with recent research and theory on learning. It also provides assessment and research projects that can be used in classes.

If you want or need to get more into the quantitative part of assessment, practitioners, Assessing Performance: Designing, Scoring, and Validating Performance Tasks has step-by-step guidance for developing, administering, scoring, and validating a range of performance tasks. Though I find developing scoring tools, training raters, reducing rater bias, reviewing scores and report results less interesting, it is a necessary part of the job for some people in any educational setting.

Part of our Writing Initiative at PCCC is to introduce students and faculty to technology. ePortfolios, eTutoring, lecture-capture technology, and supporting courses with Web materials like LibGuides are all part of our day-to-day work. Using Technology Evaluation to Enhance Student Learning, (Teachers College Press, 2004) is a look at the technologies that have real, long-term payoffs for student learning so that you can make research-based decisions concerning the use of educational technology.

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