As the journey of technology integration and CS educations continues, I become interested in the teaching improvements and professional development of faculty members teaching undergraduate courses. My scholarly interests in the issue originated from the faculty’s teaching outcomes in the doctoral program and at the beginning of their career as educators. After a very brief review of an existing teaching evaluation dataset, I found fascinating variations in teaching outcomes by faculty ranks (tenure-tracked faculties, clinical faculties/lecturers, and Ph.D. students).
New tenure-track faculty (first and second-year assistant professors) usually have a lower-than-average teaching evaluation at the start of their career, and can generally improve within 2-4 semesters. The three charts below show that first-year tenure-track assistant professors teaching undergrad courses received teaching evaluations that are lower than the department average and program average.
New lecturers and clinical faculty (teaching-focused faculty with no research responsibility) do not experience the lower-than-average curve initially, or at least not as apparent as the tenure-track faculty. The charts below include the teaching progressions of a lecturer and a clinical assistant professor. Their teaching evaluations fluctuated at the begging of their career; however, the ratings were on par with the department and program average.
Ph.D. student instructors‘ evaluation data also shows a below-average beginning which is similar to the new tenure-track faculty; however, they do not have more than two semesters in their doctoral program to show any steady teaching improvements. Most Ph.D. students teach for two semesters after they obtain ABD status.
Assumptions & Potential Causality
Additional statistical analysis is needed to test the hypothesis and identify factors that can influence new tenure-track faculties’ teaching outcomes. But the data samples confirm my observations and assumptions. Based on my experience working in research universities, there are three ranks of faculty who teach in the undergraduate programs – tenure-track faculty, clinical faculty, and lecturers. Both clinical faculty and lecturers are teaching-focused with additional service requirements. The tenure-track faculty’s primary responsibility is research; services and teaching are often considered secondary during the tenure process. The research focus mentality started as early as they are students in the doctoral program. According to the faculty recruiting requirements, the tenure-track faculty must have a doctoral degree in the related field. Most doctoral programs focus on research development in the subject area. Even though the doctoral students have teaching experience before graduation, there is no formalized “pre-service” training. To many Ph.D. students, teaching experience is just one checkmark on the graduation requirements. When they become job candidates, they must prepare job talks concentrating on their research projects, publication pipelines, experience working with contracts and grant agencies, etc. Their perspective as a teacher is reduced to a teaching philosophy statement in the application submission. The hiring process also concentrates heavily on the capacity of scholarly research. One can successfully pass the entire hiring process by just paying “lip service” to teaching skills and experience.
The lack of attention on teaching continues as the tenure-tracked faculty progress through the tenure system. At the annual review meetings, the committee emphasized the advancement of research and whether the junior faculty members are on track with the tenure requirements in publications and research grants. The teaching evaluation is the only evidence to showcase the capacity in teaching. When the faculty member is up for tenure, teaching evaluation and student comments are provided in the tenure dossier. However, most people received the same assessment in their department support letter for the tenure case “XXX’s teaching evaluation is on par with the department’s average.”
Suppose the statistical analysis of the teaching evaluation data shows a significant lower-than-average rating for new tenure-track faculty. We can search for potential solutions in the teacher’s change and professional development areas.
Darling-Hommond et al. defined effective professional development as structured professional learning that improves learning outcomes and influences teaching practice changes (2017). Based on my six years of teaching experience, professional development opportunities such as teaching seminars are available for all faculty. However, none of the PD activities are sequenced, structured, or systematic. Furthermore, there are no specific PD activities that target the new tenure-track faculty’s needs in course aspects, design, and delivery (Leary et al., 2020)
Collaborative PD is another area that can potentially improve the learning outcome for fresh tenure-track faculty. Idea sharing and collaborative PD in the course design context can drastically improve the quality of learning activities (Darling-Hommond et al., 2017). To my knowledge, most of the collaborative PD occurs in the program-managed courses or standard core courses such as BUS-K201: Computer in Business. The program or course coordinator organizes professional development in the context of course design. All faculties teaching the course are expected to use the standard instructional material, assignments, and rubrics. Teacher’s changes and best practices are applied to all instructors with collaborative PD activities and often with a big bang approach.
Besides the PD activities, leveraging existing instructional support services may also increase the learning outcome. Kleichmann et al. (2016) reported that teachers who combine educational curriculum materials and expert support had better student achievement than those using curriculum materials alone. There are multiple tiers of technology and instructional experts available to college instructors. For example, my institute has an Instructional Consulting and Assessment office that facilitates course development, teaching effectiveness, learning assessment, and implementing teaching innovations. The faculty also have access to a team of instructional technologists, videographers, and technology consultants in the IT office. How to effectively integrate these available resources into the PD efforts can be the key to help new tenure-track faculties avoid the common pitfalls during the first year or two.
Lastly, the most important area to explore is evaluating the current tenure system and its impact on teaching practice. In research universities, faculty members are continually facing the pressure of the tenure clock. Sometimes, teaching improvements are considered as a divergence from research and publication (Barker et al, 2015). Moreover, the misconception that you can’t be a good researcher if you are a good teacher must be dismissed.
Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Learning Policy Institute.
Leary, H., Dopp, C., Turley, C., Cheney, M., Simmons, Z., Graham, C.R., & Hatch, R. (2020). Professional development for online teaching: A literature review. Online Learning, 24(4), 254-275. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v24i4.2198
Kleickmann, T., Trobst, S., Jonen, A., Vehmeyer, J., & Moller, K. (2016). The effects of expert scaffolding in elementary science professional development on teachers’ beliefs and motivations, instructional practices, and student achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(1) 21–42.
Barker, Hovery, & Gruning (2015). What Influences CS Faculty to Adopt Teaching Practices?