If you were not content with the way one or more of your classes went, here are some ways to think about changing teaching strategies in the coming semester. These suggestions are culled from some of the literature on teaching excellence and on the use of student evaluations of teaching.

  1. Focus on the one or two elements

    of your teaching where improvement could be the most productive. To determine what these areas are, you may want to see if there are certain elements that get lower marks in all your courses, or in the same course over a series of years. You are looking for established patterns.
  2. Don't over-interpret evaluations

    when their reliability is low. When less than 10 students total have filled out the evaluation form and when less than 2/3 of the class has filled out the evaluation form, the evaluation's accuracy can be seriously compromised. (So return to looking for patterns over time or over a set of courses.) In addition, beware of investing too much meaning in any one student opinion.
  3. Try to add specific, concrete, behaviorally oriented questions

    to your teaching evaluation form in order to get more information that can guide your development. This option, available on IDEA forms, allows you to tailor-make the IDEA form to your needs. Remember, when using the IDEA form to select only the 3-5 essential or important objectives that relate to your teaching methods and objectives.
  4. Think about using your own formative evaluation instrument.

    Simple as they are, the two old stand-bys still work. "What was most effective for promoting student learning in this class?" "What was least successful in this class?" Be sure to frame these questions with words like "effective" or "successful" and avoid words that would get popularity answers. I often say something so that students realize that I truly want to know what should be improved. I also find it productive to ask a question like "What could be added to this class that would help you learn better?" I have even asked very direct questions: "You seemed to have trouble remembering xyz for more than a week. What would help more permanent learning take place?"
  5. Consult with others

    when planning new strategies for dealing with teaching tasks where you have previously been less successful than you wished. Consultation is a form of brainstorming and could take several different forms. Use as many of these as you feel interested in.
    • Talk to a colleague

      in or outside of your discipline, but preferable someone whose teaching is highly appreciated by students and recognized as rigorous by colleagues.
    • Consult your local, teacher-friendly Center for Teaching and Learning.

    • Ask a variety of faculty

      about how they would handle a specific situation that is giving you problems. Let others help you generate a set of strategies.
    • Consult the literature on teaching.

      The three most recommended books on teaching techniques are all available in the Center for Teaching and Learning. They are Joseph Lowman's Mastering the Techniques of Teaching, Barbara Davis' Tools for Teaching and W.J. McKeachie's Teaching Tips.
    • Consult an online source of teaching ideas.

      One that comes highly recommended is Berkeley's Compendium on teaching techniques. You can consult it at the following URL:
      http://teaching.berkeley.edu/compendium/


You can manage to improve your courses and evaluations a lot by just getting in the habit of improving one thing each year. I have been tinkering with my courses ever since I started teaching and find that this habit of constantly struggling to improve has kept my teaching energized as well as helped me develop.