I view the assessment of my performance as a crucial part of my job, and central to being an effective professor. I have three primary ways in which I measure my effectiveness: qualitative, casual feedback from students in conversation and email, peer-based classroom observations, and quantitative student evaluations.
Qualitative Student Feedback:
While difficult to quantify, an effective instructor has to be sensitive to how students are responding to teaching strategies. Obviously this means frequently checking in with students to assess their progress, but it can also mean keeping a careful eye on attentiveness and mood in-class, student participation, the number of students interested in continuing the dialogue outside of class, and the number of students attending office hours. During my time at York College, where I taught Western Civilization and Introduction to Philosophy, my office hours were very often completely full, and I often had to extend them into my own time. Many students who were struggling with the essay-writing components of the classes felt they could benefit from one-on-one time reviewing outlines or rehearsing their arguments. I took the popularity of my office hours to be a sign of my approachability and helpfulness. Additionally, while at York I was the only professor from the department of History and Philosophy to be the subject of a profile written the student newspaper. This again was an indication of my approachability and popularity as an instructor. Additionally, at both York and Parsons I have had many students attempt to sign up for my second semester section after having me in their first semester, which I further took to be evidence of my capabilities. However, students are more likely to be generous with kind words than they are with criticism, and standout casual feedback from students must be taken with a certain amount of caution. While I’m proud of my success by this measure, I realize it would be a mistake to take this as representative of the entire class. Therefore it is important to also pay attention to other assessment vectors.
“Thank you for being the amazing teacher and human being that you are. I am grateful to have you as a teacher”. (L. Conto, March 16, 2016 email)
Peer-to-Peer Classroom Observations:
This form of feedback can be very valuable, as it provides the perspective of an outside observer who shares my pedagogical goals. The classroom observations I have received so far have been overwhelmingly positive. Below are some selected passages from these reports. Many of the full reports can be found at the bottom of this page.
Professor T. Kirk, observing a section of Introduction to Philosophy at York College:
“Professor Evans’ class session evidenced careful preparation and selection of thoughtful examples to illustrate how and why artificial intelligence was a compelling (and problematic) implication of materialism. Students were quite engaged in the session, and such broad and passionate engagement is crucial for active learning. The instructor effectively used a combination of pedagogical strategies to engage students, and there was a respectful and humour-infused rapport amongst all in the room. …To so effectively engage students in a philosophical exercise at York College is a rare and admirable feat.”
Professor S. Hux, observing a section of Western Civilization at York College:
“[Evans] created a serious and at the same time very relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, and never had to wait long for student responses to his questions as he walked them through the Kantian theses in the text. … I had heard that word had gotten around among the students to the degree that some will take his course in the spring because of ‘advertisements’ from his fall semester students – and I can see why. … I recommend we keep this young man on the faculty as long as we can!”
Professor P. Pecorino, observing a section of Introduction to Philosophy at QCC:
“Evans captured the attention of the learners early on an held it throughout the class. He raised questions while presenting the material and elicited responses as he proceeded. The entire class was attentive to his presentation. …He displayed an ability to explain material with clarity and organization. He engages students and attempts to have them relate the concepts being covered to their lives. … The class was handled in a straight-forward, professional manner. All requirements were presented clearly and the instructor managed the class very well.”
How this feedback is influencing my pedagogy:
These peer-to-peer reviews, while very positive, also helped me identify areas in which I can improve. In particular, I learned that I sometimes use a vocabulary or cultural references not ideally suited to freshman students. I have sought to remedy this issue by continually checking in with students to see that they are following my train of thought. I also learned that it is a good idea to return in-class discussion to the texts under consideration. While having students express their own ideas is a central part of a good philosophy class, it is important to emphasize how their own ideas are connected to what they have been reading.
Student evaluations can be difficult to interpret for various well-known reasons, but I believe that they can cumulatively provide some measure as to the success of the instructor and/or the course in question. Below are some of the results from various student evaluations, grouped according to institution (again, some of these full reports can be found by following the links at the bottom of this page). Following these I describe how these results have helped me develop as an instructor.
Queensborough Community College:
- 85% of students from my section of Introduction to Philosophy at QCC responded with “strongly agree” or “agree” to the following prompts:
- The instructor provides well-organized and logical instructions
- The instructor has increased my knowledge of the subject matter
- The instructor encourages students to ask questions and participate in class
- The instructor maintains a classroom atmosphere of respect towards differing viewpoints.
- The comments from these same evaluations clustered around a few main points:
- I create a “comfortable atmosphere” in the classroom
- I explained ideas effectively and made them interesting
- I convey a sense of expertise of the material.
- I help motivate students to think for themselves.
- Over three semesters at York College, I averaged 4.3 out of a possible 5 on all questions, indicating an above average evaluation for my department.
- I received more positive feedback on my introductory philosophy course (a multi-semester average of 4.61), over which I had complete control, than on my sections of “western civilization” (a multi-semester average of 4.00), which used a departmentally created syllabi.
- The areas for which I received the most positive feedback (above 4.7 calculated across all semesters) in were:
- “Has a good command of the subject”
- “Raises challenging questions and/or issues”
- “Is willing to explain”
- “Makes helpful comments in class and/or on papers/tests”
- “This course increased my appreciation of the subject”
- The areas in which I received the least positive feedback overall were:
- “Independent of the instructor, I would recommend this course”
- “The instructor holds my attention”
- “I found the course worthwhile”
- “The assignments were worthwhile”
- I had one section of Western Civilization (Winter 2013) that was below my own expectations (3.43/5). I recall it being a difficult class largely owing to the presence of one or two students who arrived with an almost combative attitude that helped to generate a tension in the room throughout the semester. I recall being advised by peers that “sometimes you just get a bad section”, but I believe I could have found better ways to approach the situation.
Parsons School of Design:
- Over three semesters at Parsons (one in New York and two in Paris) I received positive feedback overall.
- 86% of respondents felt I was, overall, either “effective” or “very effective” as an instructor.
- 80% either agreed or strongly agreed that I was “able to communicate the subject matter” well, and that I “taught with enthusiasm”.
- 82% of students agreed or strongly agreed that I was “respectful of ethnic and cultural differences and diverse points of view”
- 71% of students were able to agree or strongly agree that I was able to motivate them to do their best work.
How this feedback is influencing my pedagogy:
Overall, this feedback has given me considerable confidence as an instructor, and cumulatively provides evidence of my teaching effectiveness. Particularly for instructors at the early stages of their careers, confidence can be an important factor in creating a positive and authoritative atmosphere in the classroom, and this feedback has been very helpful.
At the same time, this data has also helped me identify areas in which I can grow, and it is important to recognize such areas in order to develop as an educator. Central issues I have identified are:
- While creating a “relaxed” atmosphere and using humor to maintain student attention can be key tools in creating an active learning environment, it is important to recognize that there is a danger of being too relaxed, or too much of an entertainer rather than an educator. I believe that I have begun to overcome my initial desire (common to many novice instructors) to be liked by students, and now am more interested in earning their respect.
- While I seem to be effective with the strongest and average students, I can make more effort in reaching out to students who aren’t doing as well. While I do try to make sure all students are comfortable in approaching me for help, I can likely do more to actively approach those who need it.
- In-class discipline can be a weakness for me. I have been fortunate enough to have had very mature students for the vast majority of my teaching experience, but I can develop more resources for dealing with the occasional disruptive student through consultation with peers. My most recent experience at Parsons Paris has been particularly helpful in helping me gain tools for maintaining appropriate classroom order.
- I believe that a large part of successful learning involves motivation on the part of the learner. For this reason, I was disappointed by the results of responses to the prompt concerning my ability to motivate students to do their best work, even though it was over 70%. While I believe part of the result is owing to the experimental nature of the curriculum, this is a measure I would like to improve on.
- Finally, while the overwhelming majority of students have responded that I am ‘respectful of difference’ when asked, I am eager to make sure that no students are ever in a position to disagree with that statement, and will strive to maintain as open-minded and respectful a classroom as I can.
For more the original data sets from which this information has been pulled, follow the links below.