Updated On June 14, 2017 - 11:42am

Teaching

Like a support for the proverbial three-legged stool, along with Research and Service, Teaching is considered essential in the evaluation of academic performance. Importantly, increased tuition and fees as well as new emphasis on teaching excellence from our new UC President, are placing renewed priority on effective teaching. When CAP reviews any dossier for appointments or promotions, it looks for various expressions of the candidate’s activities and achievements in the classroom.  First of all, it relies on an accurate Data Summary for an overall picture of the amount and type of teaching – the titles of courses taught, the number of professors teaching the class, the number of students enrolled, and whether  the course is required or not.

Then, in order for CAP to evaluate the quality of teaching, statistics and personal testimonies from the student evaluation questionnaires are carefully scrutinized. When providing this material candidates should double check that the mean and standard deviations for these courses accompany this information to allow for a comparison within a program or department. CAP also takes the student comments and suggestions seriously, for they reflect a degree of effort put forth and the impact of the course on its most important recipients.        

Teaching Awards are, of course, a stellar recognition for accomplishment in this category. But CAP also looks for any form of peer review of teaching from other faculty within the same program. This kind of feedback can be especially valuable to junior faculty who are facing their fourth-year reviews as well as anticipating the compilation of their dossier for tenure a year or two later. Usually every program has its preferred approach to peer review. One way to conduct peer review is to schedule it mid-quarter so that, after the instructor confers with her/his evaluators, some sort of midstream adjustments can be made. 

Another important aspect of teaching recognized by CAP is the record on mentoring of graduate and postgraduate students. This is especially important in academic fields where faculty and students work together and publish together. In the Data Summary, candidates should list the number of graduate students they are overseeing and the doctoral committees on which they are serving. For post graduate mentoring, information regarding the students’ current standing after training, along with data on former students who have secured employment, should be included.

In cases where candidates are having problems with teaching, departments can take various steps to assist them. First and foremost departments should consider pairing their junior faculty with experienced mentors, who should be available to review and critique their mentees’ syllabi and class assignments. Mentors can also help to interpret student evaluations by pointing out which feedback to take seriously and offering various pedagogical strategies in response. They should encourage their mentees to get in the habit of collecting those syllabi from colleagues that encapsulate “best practices” in the areas of explaining course premises, sequencing lectures, providing reading tips, and appending “additional reading and research”  material to their syllabi for the exceptionally motivated students. Finally, all teachers should be fully informed about the various guides and counseling services for effective teaching available at UCLA, such as the Office of Instructional Development: http://www.oid.ucla.edu/.

In reviewing many dossiers, CAP has noticed that instructors in certain classes, usually classes that have large enrollments, routinely receive poor ratings. The trend is sometimes independent of the instructor.  Department chairs and senior faculty need to recognize that some classes may be difficult to teach well, and are encouraged to develop strategies to improve the learning experience. 

In the candidate’s personal statement that accompanies every CAP dossier, candor about teaching, its ups and downs, is especially valued.  The articulation of a candidate’s pedagogical approach, the description of new teaching techniques tried out and their results, the efforts to constructively and imaginatively address problematic issues cited by students, all testify to the candidate’s engagement in the educational mission.

Effective teaching can be taught. Negative comments in student evaluations can be reversed. New instructors struggling with large undergraduate courses can learn techniques of time management, communicative language, and digital media presentation. New instructors can improve their balance of abstract concepts and communicative illustrations. Posting and keeping reliable Office Hours and using them to their maximum advantage can be learned. The effective use of periodic quizzes and on-going student feedback can be acquired. Good note-taking is a lost art and providing handouts or downloads can be extremely helpful for students. Assigned faculty mentors must routinely and periodically meet with their mentees, and be on call to address specific problems whenever they arise.   

But strong mentorship is not only for struggling teachers. It should promote the visibility and acknowledgement of strong teachers as well, through available teaching awards, encouraging them to offer workshops for graduate students, and creating an atmosphere of collegiality and generosity in sharing syllabi. For some innovative educators, an avenue for national recognition of teaching can involve working through professional organizations and networks to redesign curriculum and produce pedagogic materials. 

CAP is offering these considerations as a way to counter the cynicism that can sometimes weaken this aspect of faculty responsibility. Yes, we are a great research university. But teaching is intrinsic to our mission. Furthermore, teaching and research go hand-in-hand. We maintain our preeminent standards of research and exploration of new ideas in no small measure because of the seminars, training, and contributions of our graduate students, and they in turn learn their best pedagogical practices from our faculty, which we expect will enrich their future careers as educators and researchers.