Last week we talked about how the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is planning to measure teaching excellence. Our summary was that the National Student Survey and Graduate Employment are superficial methods of measuring teaching excellence, and benefit staff more than students.
The above metrics ease into the slipstream of the contemporary student making their way through university: somebody who consumes education, at an expensive price, and as such demands the best quality service. They are the 'how did we do today?' reviews of education. They can be completed quickly, compiled, quantified and evaluated en-masse. They both come after the product, and they are designed to package the whole university experience into as easily as analysable format as possible. They are fast metrics.
So how do we, as an indebted, frustrated and often, anxious group of education consumers actually want excellent teaching to be measured? It’s worth thinking about the Slow Movement again.
Slow metrics would understand that a 3-4 year course is not reducible to one survey and a cursory glance at your LinkedIn profile. More than this, they would view quality teaching as something that develops over time, as students and staff relationships, like any other, take time to establish. Slow metrics would be more regular, at least one for every year of study. They would be thoughtful, carefully worded and expansive (IE, more words than numbers).
This is not to say that measurement scales aren’t useful. Likert scales, or the “on a scale of 1-5” measurements allow us to very quickly gather data, for a variety of different scenarios. They work well when combined with a written summary which allow students to expand upon their numerical choices. But we should be cognizant to the fact that some data doesn’t fit well into these categories. “I’ve enjoyed some lessons for lecturer 1, but less from lecturer 2, and my seminar leader has been absent for two tutorials, and the computers in room c27 are slow” is a good example.
Where might you go to get more honest, expansive accounts of student experiences? There is a place, and if you teach, like Joe does, it’s a mildly terrifying prospect. www.ratemyprofessor.com is a fascinating insight into what happens when students are given the freedom to review outside of the formal feedback systems in the USA. Students can be harsh, and anonymity is the fortress from which scolding, scathing cauldrons of derision are poured, but many of the reviews are positive, almost to the point they actually offer no constructive criticism.
There are obvious problems with Rate My Professor. The UK equivalent worryingly relies on “that familiar and commendable British sense of fair play”, and is ambiguous about how much ‘free speech’ they will tolerate before stepping in. We do feel that most people aren't malicious, and offensive reviews are the results of student frustrations in teaching from those who have inadequate or absent methods of addressing their negative experiences, and are left feeling powerless. The TEF could correct this.
Rate My Professor does produce some interesting results. Just because Joe is apprehensive of being rated by students who have the freedom to say, well, anything, that's not necessarily a bad thing, nor that student's default setting is ‘eviscerate’. Furthermore, the website uses comment boxes and Likert scales for assessment, but the variables are appealing, and resonate with us as students and ex-students.
- Teaching Ability (Lectures)
- Teaching Ability (Seminars)
- Intranet Support
- Office hours/Approachability
Rather than just evaluating ‘the lecturer’, we would like to analyse a broader profile of their teaching efforts. This includes preparation, marking, pastoral roles, ability to respond to student questions and assessment. Departments could receive a score for their efforts to make students feel like they are part of a community, through their student engagement activities and support for subject societies, sports teams etc. Teaching should be assessed within the broader environment in which it takes place.
The TEF should encourage students to regularly provide substantive feedback, and provide assurances that honest, constructive and critical feedback will be welcomed by staff. Likert score could make up the mark that goes towards the TEF, and written justifications below could go to the department. Offensive, discriminatory or hateful reviews should be discounted and, of course, investigated if they could be classed as a crime or in breach of university protocol. The privilege to review staff should come with the responsibility to do so fairly and helpfully, but we think students will happily rise to the challenge.