No Time Like the Present

December 20, 2018

As the flurry of finals begins to slow, it’s useful to take a few minutes to reflect and prepare before closing the book on another successful semester. It can be tempting to quickly file away this semester’s course materials and not think about them until a few weeks before you teach the class again. At the same time, you can save yourself time and headache later by spending a few minutes now to think about what worked and what didn’t work so well in your courses this semester.

Reflecting on this semester’s successes and challenges
In her blog, “It’s Working for Me. Is it Working for You?,” Dr. Rita-Marie Conrad provides some useful tips for tracking what’s going well and what needs improvement throughout the course of a term. She suggests taking a few minutes each week to reflect and write out some notes to help continually improve the course.

This practice can also be useful at the completion of a course when you’ve just spent countless hours grading exams, papers, or projects, and have a pretty good sense of what students learned during the semester and will take away from the course. It may be helpful to spend a few minutes reflecting on the following questions:

  • Were your stated learning outcomes well aligned with class activities and assignments?Did student learning and engagement meet your expectations? Any surprises?

  • Were there course concepts and materials that students struggled with? Are there opportunities to approach teaching these concepts in a new way?

  • Are there course policies or other campus resource you can add to your syllabus or bCourses site so students have the information from the start?

  • Did you encounter any new approaches or practices during the semester (maybe from a colleague or something you heard during a Teaching Dialogue held at the Academic Innovation Studio) that can help you save time and energy?

Interpreting student course evaluations
In her blog, Rita also highlights the benefits of gathering feedback from students during the semester to inform your teaching practice -- things like mid-semester feedback and quick polls focused on a particular issue. While this may be something you want to consider the next time you teach, the end of the semester means the arrival of student course evaluations. These questionnaires are not always seen as the most equitable measure of good teaching, but they are often an important component of performance reviews related to teaching effectiveness. Course evaluations can also be a useful tool to glean information from your students about teaching and learning in your class. In his blog, “Were We in the Same Class? Interpreting Responses on Student Evaluations,” Dr. Richard Freishtat provides some ideas and strategies for using these evaluations to help you continually improve your teaching, including:

  • The range of responses on quantitative questions tells a richer story than the average alone.

  • Situate both quantitative and qualitative responses within your unique context along the career continuum, because students rarely do.

  • Target your highest and lowest rated items to focus on areas for specific improvement, or to help identify your strengths-based pedagogy.

  • If particularly critical comments are made, determine if there is some measure of “truth” to them or if they are an outlier.

  • Review each course evaluation holistically, not just item by item.

Taking the time to reflect on your own teaching practice and your successes and challenges during the semester can be a good way to look for opportunities to create efficiencies and to explore new ideas and approaches in the classroom. Additionally, documenting and collecting evidence of your hard work and best practices can help you tell the story of your own teaching. You can read more about Documenting Teaching Effectiveness on the CTL website or schedule a consultation with CTL staff by emailing teaching@berkeley.edu.