Teaching and units are evaluated in a few different ways at this university. First, we use a student’s university entrance score; their ranking as a benchmark and ‘the expectation’. The expectation is that scores will continue to improve as a student progresses through a program. Second, once a student has studied for a semester we evaluate their experience of our teaching and their learning. The aggregated data is reported to schools and is also placed on the university’s website. Third, we report to Academic Board key performance indicators for learning and teaching that we developed in the Centre. They are primarily around the administration side of the role, but include the number of staff development activities completed by our academics and the proportion of sessional staff who have attended the sessional staff development program. We think the increased accountability is helping to make people aware of what the university values.
In terms of how the Centre of Learning and Teaching helps improve performance, we now have expectation standards against the student feedback. Unit Coordinators have been made aware that they must aim to achieve a minimum percentage evaluation score for a unit, of between 70-75%. The standard for first year units is 5% less because experience has told us that scores are lower. A spreadsheet aggregates all the data across the university and, where individual teachers and units do not meet the expected standard, I notify the Faculty Dean or Head of school. I then follow up to request an appointment to discuss how we can help. The change in the language from mean and median to an agreed standard has shifted people from focusing on a number.
One third of the Heads of School will ignore data, one third will tell us they are aware of the issues and they are dealing with them, while the last third will respond that they would like to converse with us about developing a program or other intervention. Interventions may include peer observation, workshops or providing individual assistance like, for example, where a lecturer’s English is poor and the students cannot understand him.
Placing the data on a spreadsheet provides an avenue for academics to compare their own behaviours and approaches with their colleagues. We identified a trend that Unit Coordinators in the humanities were getting higher scores than those in maths and engineering. This trend stimulated conversations about why. It was suggested that Unit Coordinators in the humanities do not just stand and deliver lectures; they actively engage their students in conversations. On the one hand, the maths people tell us that the only effective method of teaching is to write formulae up on a board and have students copy them. On the other hand, engineering is well advanced with their approach to learning and teaching but I think that the Head of Engineering has had a positive influence there. The Head of Maths made it clear to us that he wanted to do things his way.
I have learnt that, sometimes, you have to let people discover things for themselves and Centres like ours have to be aware of that and not try to put a stamp on everything. If we can prompt people to go out and explore for themselves, that is fine, just as long as the student experience and learning improve. Our approach is to negotiate with Heads of Schools and individual Unit Coordinators and explain how different approaches will benefit the students. We do not use ‘sticks’ here to improve performance. Only in extreme cases, will a Head of School formally manage someone’s performance. We work on the assumption that we are all professionals and experts and at meetings everyone is cordial.