Evaluation of Teaching

Purposes of teaching evaluation

Generally speaking, there are two main purposes of teaching evaluation in higher education, namely for accountability to stakeholders and improvement of teaching effectiveness. Locally, higher education is mainly supported by government funding. It is only natural that Government would like institutions to put in place measures of quality assurance for teaching and learning, which together with research and social services comprise the three main functions of higher education. Other than the Government, there are also other stakeholders, in particular students, who would also like to see the quality of teaching and learning of an institution being placed under scrutiny.

The other purpose of teaching evaluation is to provide information and feedback to instructors in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Teaching, like all other professional practices, has to be continuously and systematically examined, reflected on and improved. Evaluation can help teachers to identify problems in their teaching and learning and hopefully provide ways to tackle them. 

Two approaches to teaching evaluation

Corresponding to the two purposes of teaching evaluation, are two different approaches to teaching evaluation, namely, summative and formative teaching evaluation.

When a teaching evaluation is conducted with the purpose of accountability in mind, then the outcome of the evaluation would often be an overall assessment of the teacher's teaching performance, and sometimes judged in comparison with those of his or her peers. Because results of such summative evaluation will often be used to help the university management to make personnel decisions, such as contract renewal, substantiation and promotion, they are often done formally using more formalized procedures.

While student evaluation of teaching (for example, by means of "student ratings" or SFQ surveys in HKUST) is often used to provide a summative evaluation of teaching at higher education institutions, it is by no means the only method available. The Senate Committee on Teaching and Learning (CTLQ) at HKUST has issued a paper entitled "Guidelines for the use of the summative evaluation of teaching" which emphasizes the importance of incorporating other forms of feedback into the summative teaching evaluation.

When an evaluation of teaching is designed primarily to help the teacher to improve his or her teaching, then it is often referred to as formative evaluation. Unlike summative evaluation which aims to make judgment about the teaching performance of the teacher, this activity aims instead to find out aspects of the teacher's teaching that should be improved and possibly come up with suggestions on how they can be improved. Because the data collected from the evaluation is mainly for the consumption by the teacher(s) teaching the course, there is less need for the procedures to be standardized. Teachers can decide what data to collect, when and how to collect them. For example, a teacher who has tried a new approach to teach a topic, might want to find out how students respond and how it can be improved. Given the purpose of such evaluations, they are often done during the semester and not at the end of it. In addition evaluation that is to be useful for teaching improvement needs to be richer in detail than is typical for most summative evaluation approaches, which often rely on a student's endorsement of a general statement about teaching.

It should be said that the two kinds of evaluations are not mutually exclusive, in the sense that an evaluation which aims to do a summative review of a teacher can often provide useful information for him or her to make improvement in his or her teaching. The different labels mainly reflect the underlining purpose of the exercise, and accordingly the choice of data collection methods, timing, people involved and distribution of results, etc.

At HKUST, summative evaluation of teaching is often delivered through the Student Feedback Questionnaire Survey exercise. Faculty and instructors are encouraged to use other forms of evaluation such as peer review of teaching and to use portfolios to help them document and reflect on their efforts in teaching. As for formative evaluation of teaching, though no effort has been made to find out how common such a practice is within the teaching community at HKUST, there is no doubt some members are doing it in their classrooms. Basically any methods that can help the teacher learn more about his or her own teaching can be used, such as focus group meeting with a group of students, asking students to give informal feedback at the end of the class, or video-taping your lectures and reviewing it with a colleague.