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The University at Albany provides for a variety of student evaluations of teaching. Some methods of evaluation are formal and are conducted by your specific department; others are informal and are available should you choose to administer them. All of these evaluations are designed to help you become a more effective teacher.
The University at Albany mandates course evaluation for all instructors, for all courses, all semesters. The most common form is the Student Instructional Rating Form (SIRF), on which students use a rating scale to comment on several aspects of the course and the instructor. There are also separate evaluation tools that are used in the various General Education, Human Diversity courses, and Writing Intensive courses. Departments frequently create forms for their internal use, and some departments have separate forms for TAs teaching sections and/or labs.
As a beginning instructor, you may feel that evaluation is the last thing you need to think about. Being prepared for your sections, creating discussion questions, preparing good assignments — all these activities may seem more pressing than evaluation. But evaluation can provide you with information that can help you improve your skills in all these areas.
Be aware that if you ask your students for comments on your teaching style, you may get criticisms, particularly if the section or lab is not going well. Try to take these comments graciously and use them to improve your teaching.
Many TAs associate “evaluation” with students’ responses to the end-of-year questionnaires described above. But if you wait until the end of the semester to evaluate your teaching, you won’t be making pedagogical changes that will benefit your current students. There are numerous ways of informally seeking evaluations of your teaching throughout the semester. (Return to top)
Several times during the term, pass out 3x5 cards to your students and ask them to anonymously respond to two questions, one on the front and one on the back. You can pose general questions such as “How are you finding the course?” or “Any suggestions for changing the course?” or “Any problems?” If you suspect that there is a specific problem, ask about it: “Is the pace of the laboratory sessions appropriate for you?” If your discussion sections drag, you might ask students to provide suggestions about ways to liven them up. You can also consult more informal venues such as ratemyprofessors.com to find what comments are being made about your classes. (Return to top)
Bring a box or manila envelope to class and ask students to place their unsigned comments, questions, or complaints in it. Their questions will alert you to material they don’t understand, and perhaps clear up any ambiguities or confusion at the next class meeting. (Return to top)
Mid-semester Written Evaluation
Once or twice during the semester, hand out a short questionnaire (or write the questions on the board). You can also use the mid-term survey service provided by ITLAL. If you design your own questions, make sure that the issues posed are ones you can respond to during the term; otherwise your students may develop false expectations about the remainder of the course. Respond to the students’ suggestions as quickly and as candidly as you can, explaining what you can change about the course and what you cannot or will not change. (Return to top)
Midway through the term invite a colleague or someone from ITLAL to conduct a focus group interview to find out what your students are thinking about your class. At the beginning of class, introduce the guest evaluator and then leave the room for twenty minutes. Have the evaluator ask your students to cluster into groups of five or six and take ten minutes to
Invite a teaching colleague or someone from ITLAL to observe one of your classes and make suggestions. You may find this experience most helpful if you inform your colleague of your specific goals for the class meeting or the particular technique you are trying to improve. Then your colleague can focus his or her observations and the results will be more useful to you. Be sure to let your class know that a colleague will be sitting in. (Return to top)
While watching yourself on a videotape can be a startling experience, it gives you an excellent opportunity to judge how well you conduct a class: whether you dominate discussion, whether you allow enough time for students to think through questions, whether you maintain adequate eye contact, and so on. Again, tell your students beforehand that a particular class session will be taped.
If you contact ITLAL and set up an appointment, we will send someone with a video camera to your class. You need to provide this individual with a VHS tape. Your class will be taped and dubbed onto the VHS tape, which will then be given back to you. As long as you provide the tape, this service is free of charge.
After you have had the opportunity to view the tape, we recommend that you discuss your perceptions of the video, particularly if you see something in your teaching style you would like to work on changing.(Return to top)
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