Assessing the Assessors

Up to this point, I imagine we are confident assessing students by means of homework, in-class activities, exams, essays, etc. But what about our own assessment? What is in place to grade the performance of faculty colleagues and ourselves? Is the 'tool' in place accurate, objective, fair?

This past fall I started thinking about how we maintain quality control (QC) within the faculty ranks. For several years I have served on our department’s Faculty Service Committee (FSC). The FSC annually reviews each department member based on materials submitted and guidelines to be followed. In the past it was a fairly quick but ambiguous review process. For the most part faculty would upload materials that I can best describe as “stuff” that faculty used, created, or helped develop that academic year. The "stuff" should be related to teaching, service, scholarship, etc. In general, all faculty would get stellar reviews because they had plenty of “stuff.” Not terribly satisfied with this process I worked with my department chair to create a specific set of guidelines and criteria for the evaluation process in each of the following core areas: Teaching, Scholarship, Service, and Administration. Within each faculty could earn a grade of 1-4, with 1 being unsatisfactory and 4 considered highly meritorious. The core areas are weighted accordingly in each area based on a faculty's annual contract.

In short, it has been a bit of a stress reliever to use this criteria in putting together my own evaluation package because I now can plan the year knowing specifically what needs to be accomplished and what to upload in order to earn a desired mark. And it also acts a bit as a reward system so that if a faculty goes above and beyond and accomplishes a high end achievement (and what specifically that is), that work will be favorably factored into the overall score. On the assessment side the criteria give me a workable and convenient rubric to give a more objective assessment of my colleagues.

So what does this mean for students? This framework as conceived is designed to challenge faculty to become better, with more incentive to consistently improve professionally on different levels. If done as designed students benefit from my improvement since students will learn from improved lectures, revamped course discussions, augmented personal interactions in lab and during office hours, and from other faculty-student interactions.

From that perspective it (seemingly) is a win; however, not all is shiny and made of gold. Some difficulties have arisen from other faculty in the department that are stuck in the old mind set that submitting tons of “stuff” is indicative of highly meritorious effort. It is the old quantity versus quality 'debate'. Faculty may only quickly skim the criteria and intend for subpar activities to be counted as legitimate (and scholarly) ones.

Slowly but surely, I suppose it is a work in progress. 'Buy in' will not be immediate. At the very least I am pleased that the process itself is more objective than before and values quality over quantity.