Changes ahead for teaching assessments, grad assistantships administration

Recommendations from a task force that studied teaching assessments and evaluations were shared at the May 7 Faculty Senate meeting, which co-chair and senate president-elect Jonathan Sturm said will guide further discussions for changes that "meet the needs" of faculty and instructors.

The joint task force, formed by the senate and provost's office in August 2018, included faculty and student members. It was charged with reviewing ISU's current assessment procedures, researching best practices nationwide and providing recommendations for improvement.

"Teaching assessment is central to faculty recognition and reward structures," said Sara Marcketti, task force co-chair and director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. "Current research indicates that student end-of-semester evaluations are one important data point, however they should NOT be the exclusive data point for teaching evaluation and assessment."

The task force recommendations include phased implementation for improvements in three areas:

  • End-of-semester student feedback/evaluations
  • Faculty Handbook guidelines and procedures
  • Rubrics/criteria for assessments

"As we reviewed the current literature and met with scholars to study these issues, the task force believes that the holistic review of teaching should include many sources of input," Marcketti said. "We suggest a phased approach which would likely involve a two- to four-year process resulting in sequential steps in improving the model for evaluating teaching at Iowa State University."

Examples of early phase recommendations include:

  • Allowing students time to complete rating surveys during class
  • Providing faculty with survey results within two weeks of the semester's end
  • Defining a "holistic perspective" on teaching with multiple data points (for example, student ratings, peer and self evaluations, course materials, advising/mentorship and curriculum development)
  • Requiring all departments to develop a rubric by 2022 that considers their unique needs
  • Identifying and assisting early adopters with developing department rubrics

"This may become quite an evolved process, we'll have to see," Sturm said. "[Getting feedback] needs to happen next so this is not a series of recommendations from just a small task force, but becomes part of what branches out to the university."

Graduate student pay periods

Graduate College dean William Graves presented changes for administering graduate student assistantships, in part to take advantage of efficiencies provided by the Workday platform for payroll, human resources and finance work as of July 1. He also cited increased competitiveness for students with offers from multiple institutions as a factor in the changes.

"The Graduate College is very concerned about graduate recruiting and the welfare of graduate students. We want to make Iowa State as competitive as possible as a venue for graduate education," Graves said.

Workday's "period activity pay" divides the total stipend by the number of months assigned to the appointment, rather than the number of days. Graves said that provides graduate assistants with equal monthly payments.

"The students probably will find this a benefit for budgeting purposes," he said.

Graves said no policy changes were made and most things will stay the same, including the types of assistantships (research, teaching and administrative), appointment levels and period/term options. Common terms are full calendar year and full academic year.

Appointment start and end dates remain flexible, for example to accommodate late-semester grant funding. Information and an FAQ about graduate assistant appointments and stipends is available on the Graduate College website.

Graves said his office will closely monitor the changes over the next year -- especially exception requests -- for adjustments that may be needed in FY 2021.

"I think for most faculty members, there shouldn't be a great deal of change," he said. "We need to use this coming year, in my opinion, to assess how well this is working."