Assessing Teaching Performance

A primary challenge of distance education is bridging the distance, both geographical and psychological, between student and teacher and student and student(s) (Moore, 1993; Moore, 2007). An additional challenge at the university level is the increase of large online courses with high enrollments. UT Arlington currently provides a wide variety of online courses, however, many are currently online courses with large enrollment (e.g., the Accelerated Online [AO] degree programs). In such online courses characterized by larger enrollment (Chen, deNoyelles, Zydney, & Patton, 2017; Nagel & Kotzé, 2010), it becomes critical to examine the tone and interaction of course participants.

Online teaching differs from traditional on-campus teaching in a number of ways. These include the potential for rapid changes (in accelerated courses) and the unique nature of its content delivery mechanism. Effective use of this teaching tool requires that faculty be expert in not only the content but in the best practices of online education. Developing expertise in online education requires faculty to have access to resources (especially instructional designers and mentors) along with formative and summative feedback.

As UTA increases its focus on providing distance learning courses, there is a need to assure that faculty are provided with necessary resources. Further, it is imperative that appropriate systems be in place for evaluating and recognizing faculty who teach in this format. It should be noted that within the overarching phrase “online teaching” at UTA, a number of different formats are being used (e.g. online sections of on-campus courses and accelerated online courses). Faculty who teach in these formats may have different needs – and thus may require different resources. Below are general suggestions for supporting excellence in both a) evaluating and assessing online instruction with particular emphasis on evaluation and feedback and b) recognizing effective online teaching practice.

Suggestions #1-3 pertain specifically to the student-course-survey while suggestions #4-6 focus more broadly on recognition and support of teaching for faculty who teach online. 

Suggestion #1: As course design is a critical aspect of online teaching, incorporate the use of established rubrics to guide evaluation of online courses as part of the annual review process and/or tenure and promotion evaluation process.

Tactic: Implement the use of objective established rubrics for online teaching and design such as:

Suggestion #2: Create specific questions in the student survey that seeks input on key elements 

 specific to online teaching/learning. Add a small number of well-constructed questions on student evaluations in online courses with a Likert type scale. Examples are below (adapted from previous questions used by the UT Telecampus for online courses). A list of specific questions could be formally constructed by an ad hoc committee of award-winning distance education faculty, avoiding questions that are duplicative of the already existing student feedback survey (SFS). Award winners of the UTA President’s Award for Transformative Online Education would be ideal. Some suggested questions pertaining to online courses are below:

  • Was the instructor available to answer questions, either in person or via email, phone, etc.?
  • Were papers, projects, and/or exams graded and returned in a timely fashion?
  • The instructor created a positive climate for learning in an online environment.
  • Students were encouraged to participate in online discussions and/or conferencing and other class interactivity.
  • The instructor’s teaching methods created an environment that encouraged online learning.
  • The course made good use of mixed media, graphics, text and other technologies.
  • I am satisfied with the way I felt connected and engaged in the learning process of this online course.

Suggestion #3: Use more frequent email communications to provide reminders to online students to submit the end-of-course evaluation (The approach should be tailored to the specific format being used – on-campus online versus Accelerated Online.) 

  • The rationale for this suggestion is that there is no designated course time for students to take the online survey. More frequent email reminders and postings can encourage greater response rates.
  • Use Civitas email tool or use Canvas email function (Inspire for Faculty) to send out an email to all students reminding them to take the Student Feedback Survey. Alternatively, for AO online courses, coaches can post and email more frequent reminders that are customized for online courses.
  • Faculty Affairs could craft and disseminate a standardized reminder email for online courses that can be used by faculty (and revised, as needed, by individual faculty) to use for these reminder emails. Provide standardized recommended language for online faculty for encouraging online students to take the survey.

The following suggestions focus more broadly on supporting and recognizing online faculty beyond the student-course-survey:

Suggestion #4: Establish a process for peer review and evaluation by award winning and other recognized faculty. 

  • Draw on previous award winners for Distance Education award to provide mentoring. Award winners of the UTA President’s Award for Transformative Online Education would be ideal.
  • Designate a person or several people in each college/department who would be mentors (ambassadors) for their college for distance and digital teaching and learning.  The University could recognize these individuals so that serving in this role could be seen as an honor/privilege, and this group of individuals could meet quarterly with the Center for Distance Education (CDE) and other online education leaders to gain new information and bring it back to their colleges–kind of like an online ambassador of sorts.

Suggestion #5: Increase resources and support for faculty who teach in an online format 

  • Development of a learning community for online instruction to assist in the initial development of competency in online education as well as continued professional development.
  • There is a need for readily accessible resources for both novice and expert faculty. A survey to identify and prioritize the educational needs might be helpful here.
  • Multimedia resources: More video-based resources through Faculty Affairs focusing on online teaching (e.g., podcasts/videos) of good practice.
  • Faculty Affairs or CDE could provide these resources. Or, faculty affairs could push out already existing resources from CDE.
  • Better ways to facilitate sharing of best practices among instructors is needed.  This could be done by supporting a community of learners (e.g., through the Professional Learning Community program run by the QEP, increased resources, scholarships for courses for teaching online (e.g., through the Online Learning Consortium).
  • Resources to help faculty learn and implement best practices for assessment of student learning, especially with large scale online classroom, use of discussion boards, quizzes, etc.
  • Those who actively use this technology could be asked what resources they would find most helpful to enhance the online experience – e.g. academic integrity resources (new testing platforms), access to specialized assessment experts who know the emerging technologies in this area, screen-based simulations and gaming technologies that support this educational approach.

Suggestion #6: Establish a process that allows recognition of excellence in online teaching 

  • Faculty portfolio of best practices (with faculty self-reflection) would be another way to document online education with screenshots for those doing annual reviews/tenure and promotion reviews.
  • Perhaps the notion of creating a recognition as a “master online educator” would be possible.
  • Incorporate self-assessment as part of an online teaching portfolio

Overall Resources Needed to Support the Above Suggestions: 

  • Increase availability of instructional designers experienced in online education to work with faculty in course design.
  • A Center for Teaching and Learning on campus would be the ideal forum for disseminating support for faculty and for organizing lists of faculty who could provide peer review and mentoring support

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