The essays collected in this slim volume address an important problem: the lack of consensus on the subject of the evaluation of teaching in higher education. Moving beyond the historical debates about whether teaching can be evaluated or not, these essays reach toward fundamentally political questions about who should control evaluation, practical questions on how to do evaluation, and strategic questions on how the results of evaluation should be used.
The essays are grouped around such themes as the need to evaluate teaching by considering it within a larger context, with respect to content, with respect to learning as well. The essay by Robert Menges (p. 8) points to the questions that must be addressed in evaluation of teaching: Does our research include each of the following: data about the participants (both internal and external perspectives); information about content being taught and learned; and information about personal, organizational, and political contexts in which teaching and learning is occurring?
Helpful examples and case studies are offered in several essays. John A. Centra explores how faculty peers can use the review of an instructor's teaching portfolio as a form of evaluation. Bernstein, Johnson, and Smith offer an example of peer review of teaching adopted at the University of Nebraska. Randall J. Bass addresses questions raised by the use of technology in the evaluation of teaching and learning.
These essays are well written and fit together nicely. They provide an informative background for the reader who is curious about the evaluation of teaching. And they suggest a number of directions that future research on this topic could take.
Overall, however, I found the collection disappointing. The subtitle of the volume is "A Vision for the Future," and most of the essays did offer glimpses of where research and thinking on the evaluation of teaching might or should go in the future. Many of the essays had to be more inspirational than analytical, given the notable lack of research on the evaluation of teaching in higher education.
Yet several essays failed to take advantage of the opportunity to provide more detailed, pragmatic, and directive content. The article by Stake and Cisneros-Cohernour discussed how to evaluate teaching with all its attendant complexity. The essay points out that using a single measure of teaching is probably neither a sufficient nor a valid way to conduct evaluation. The essay contains several examples of how not to evaluate teaching, i.e., rating teachers on a list of bipolar teacher traits (aloof...responsive); grading teachers on teacher behavior (starts and ends on time); or ranking teachers on performance of a laundry list of teaching duties. Yet they do not provide any positive examples to illustrate their thesis that situational evaluation is necessary.
The Bernstein, Johnson, and Smith article presents interesting data on the impacts of peer reviews of teaching. For example, faculty stressed more higher level conceptual achievement by students after participating in peer review, decreasing rote memory tasks and increasing analysis and synthesis. Faculty who participated also felt that feedback was more useful. Another impact was that student achievement also increased in courses where the instructor was evaluated under the peer review program. Yet the essay fails to describe the peer review process in any detail or provide any examples of the instruments used to collect data in the peer review program.
The final essay by Johnson and Ryan pulls together the many various ideas suggested in the other essays. It provides a framework for linking the many issues and concerns raised throughout the book. It leaves us with the same questions, however, of who should control evaluation of teaching in higher education? How should it be done? And how should the results be used?