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Author: Jennifer Todd, MEd, Tonya Buchan, MSEd, Debora Colbert, PhD, and Karen Falkenberg, PhD

An international conversation around an increased focus on high-quality teaching at R1 institutions has been gaining momentum for several years. A recent shift in the conversation, focused on identifying fair and valid measures to evaluate effective teaching, continues to grow. On the one hand, individual departments and colleges look to their institutions’ teaching and learning centers for guidance in matters of pedagogy. On the other, university policies for compensation and promotion often complicate the construction of a university-wide process for developing, evaluating, and compensating high-quality teaching. Colorado State University (CSU) faced this challenge head-on through two initiatives: the faculty-led Evaluating Teaching Effectiveness Task Force in 2015 and the effort of our team from The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) in 2018. The task force was instrumental in changing the CSU Faculty Manual code, requiring departments to define effective teaching and assess it using as evidence multiple measures instead of a single average score from student evaluations. To support departments, TILT constructed a definition of effective teaching, which led to the creation of a collection of tools (the Teaching Effectiveness Framework) and a recommended process for developing and evaluating teaching at CSU.

The teaching effectiveness framework

Seven essential, interrelated domains of effective teaching practices, each grounded in the scholarship of teaching and learning, create the foundation for the Teaching Effectiveness Framework (Figure 1). The framework includes leveled criteria within each domain, a goal-setting process, a collection of teaching practices to improve student learning, and materials to measure growth in teaching effectiveness. Recently added as an essential component in the annual review process at CSU, the framework allows instructors to reflect on their teaching practice and identify areas of strength and challenge, while providing administration a process to support and evaluate this growth.

Designed to support faculty as they grow their teaching practice, the framework provides much-needed guidance during the Process for Developing and Evaluating Teaching Effectiveness at a Glance seen in Figure 1. The process recommends that faculty set a personal teaching goal for the academic year, align the goal with a domain on the framework, plan professional learning, triangulate evidence by identifying three measurement tools to demonstrate goal achievement, integrate practices into their teaching, and reflect on progress and student success. We recommend basing evaluation on goal achievement and teaching growth rather than student opinions of the instructor or one-time peer observations and evaluations.

Figure 1. Colorado State University Teaching Effectiveness Framework

For years, TILT has provided a substantial number of professional development opportunities on teaching and learning. Without redesigning all our seminars and workshops, we aligned each learning experience with a primary and secondary domain on the framework. Throughout the year, interested faculty seek out and attend sessions that align with the domain of their annual goal. In spring 2018, TILT launched Teaching Squares, a nonevaluative, growth-based peer observation program grounded in the framework. In Teaching Squares, a group of four faculty agree to observe each other throughout the semester. Participants choose a domain focus, set a personal teaching goal, and then observe others to give feedback and reflect on their own practice. Additionally, the TILT website provides best practices and supporting research for each domain so that faculty can pursue development on their own. The alignment of the seven domains with professional development opportunities and our website content streamlines the growth process for busy faculty.

Gaining buy-in: Cultural change to elevate the conversation around teaching

We shared our initial thinking and early drafts of the framework with several stakeholders—the vice provost for faculty affairs, the committee on teaching and learning, the committee for non–tenure-track faculty, department heads and executive committees, and many faculty—and asked for input and recommendations so that departments might adopt this new definition of teaching effectiveness and process for improvement. Gaining support from such groups has been instrumental in our success thus far. Our eventual rollout of the Teaching Effectiveness Framework to a larger audience provided our team with input and encouragement from faculty to continue to develop the framework and goal-setting process. Since its inception, the framework has been well received by faculty and administrative focus groups who appreciate the focus on research-based teaching and a process for growth.

Once we shared the framework with several hundred faculty and campus administrators, we realized its potential to elevate the conversation around teaching at CSU, which not only validated but also placed high value on our work. This new process provides faculty and administrators with a common language to talk about teaching as well as a common experience in which to reflect, assess, learn, and integrate new knowledge and skills into their teaching.

Text box: A department embraces the framework. 

In one case, a department that had rarely, if ever, discussed teaching at a department meeting began the goal-setting process at the beginning of the year. The department chair approached us and asked whether we could provide professional development on feedback and assessment since most instructors set a goal in that domain. The framework provided a toolbox of strategies and research related to feedback and assessment, enabling discussion and collaboration among faculty. It also gave the department chair valuable information with which to support the development of effective teaching.

In our previous experience supporting faculty, when instructors planned a class or worked to improve their teaching, they often limited their focus to only adding instructional strategies to their classrooms. The framework assigns equal importance across all seven domains. As we introduced these domains to faculty, many admitted they had never considered classroom climate, student motivation, or inclusive pedagogy as a focus to improve their teaching effectiveness. They might have wanted or hoped for a classroom that felt collaborative and supportive but did not have the knowledge or resources to make that happen. The framework intentionally calls out each of the seven domains as being independently important while acknowledging significant interdependence among them. Ultimately, if faculty focus on one domain, they are more likely to see improvements in other domains as well.

Looking ahead

Recently, the vice-provost for faculty affairs tasked departments to create promotion criteria for teaching faculty and to uphold university code by using multiple measures to assess teaching effectiveness using the framework as the tool to carry out this task. As departmental administration and faculty explore options to develop and evaluate teaching effectiveness, many have reached out to TILT to learn more about the Teaching Effectiveness Framework. These collaborative conversations have led to the refinement of the Framework as well as the development of additional tools to support faculty and administration in the goal setting, personal development, and evaluation process. During these processes, TILT continues to collect data related to faculty teaching practices, goal setting, and the framework—and will use this information to hone the framework and support faculty in their growth as effective teachers.

For further reading

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Jennifer Todd, MEd, is an instructional designer with The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) at Colorado State University (CSU), where she is leading an effort to assist faculty and administration in defining effective teaching and using this definition as a framework for setting teaching goals and improving and evaluating teaching excellence.

Tonya Buchan, MSEd, is an instructional designer for TILT and program manager for the APLU Adaptive Courseware Grant at CSU. She partners with faculty on course design and the integration of research-based educational practices and educational technology.

Debora Colbert, PhD is the director of professional development for TILT and cofounding director of the Center for Mindfulness at CSU. She collaborates with faculty across campus to create and facilitate research based, high quality programs for faculty, staff, and students.

Karen Falkenberg, PhD, is the director of teaching excellence and a team development specialist at CSU. Karen leads a team that uses research-based instructional efficacy, quality, and excellence tools; develops engagement strategies; and cultivates meaningful campus and community partnerships and effective programs for CSU’s diverse population of students.

A version of this article appears in The Best of the 2019 Leadership in Higher Education Conference. © 2020 Magna Publications. All Rights Reserved.