Senators learn more about recommendations on student ratings of teachers

Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) director Sara Marcketti outlined improvements that have been made as a result of the 2019 Joint Task Force on Teaching Assessment and Evaluation during the Faculty Senate's first meeting of the academic year on Sept. 13. She highlighted several university-level changes that have been implemented and the local-level decisions that still need to be made.

The task force, convened by the senate and the senior vice president and provost's office, identified three key themes about student ratings:

  • They are necessary and best used as formative tools considered over time in aggregate.
  • Education on their use and interpretation is necessary for students, faculty and department chairs.
  • Additional evaluation tools are needed.

At the university level, the word "ratings" has replaced "evaluations" in all communication and resources at CELT and the provost's office.

"It is a small but important shift because it says student feedback is important, but it is not determinative of teaching quality or effectiveness," Marcketti said. "Changing the terminology shifts the culture of ratings from definitive evaluations to student feedback that needs interpretation and contemplation."

Marcketti said seven survey questions have been standardized for use campuswide. Instructors may add additional questions.

The task force recommends instructors get frequent feedback from students, which leads to more productive ratings and an ability to act on it. Instructors can use in-class time to have students complete a survey and tell them the purpose of the ratings. CELT has developed several strategies to improve ratings and has an optional syllabus statement.

The task force also suggests the senate update the Faculty Handbook to require all departments to develop a rubric for evaluating various aspects of teaching.

Marcketti shared two recommendations that could be completed at the college level:

  • Adjust college governance documents to use the term "student ratings," as in the Faculty Handbook.
  • Encourage departmental retreats to develop and discuss teaching effectiveness outside of student ratings.

Marcketti said numerous changes can occur at the department level, including an exit survey to identify the top two to four courses in a major, or reminding faculty that ratings are just one method used to document teaching.

Corrective action

Senators will vote at the October meeting on a proposed policy revision in the Faculty Handbook for nondisciplinary corrective action related to faculty misconduct. A department chair and/or dean's actions are seen as coaching, not disciplining, in four steps:

  • Identify conduct concerns in writing.
  • Indicate how the faculty member should address concerns.
  • Provide appropriate resources.
  • Advise the faculty member of consequences if conduct is not corrected.

Corrective action should include a meeting between the chair and faculty member where concerns are discussed and documented in a memo for both parties. If issues persist, the chair would issue a letter of expectation that may require the faculty member to review policies, attend trainings, participate in formal coaching or other actions. Continued issues would lead to a written warning that failure to improve may result in a formal conduct complaint.

Corrective actions do not include sanctions or disciplinary action against a faculty member, but lower levels of the process can be skipped if the severity of the conduct warrants it.

Constitutional rights

A proposed change to the Faculty Handbook section on who may file appeals would remove "constitutional rights" from grounds for an appeal. The action would remove redundant language from the section. Those serving on investigative committees have been reluctant to deal with constitutional rights violations because it is a legal question outside the senate's scope.

Policy change

Senators unanimously approved a policy change that eliminates the deficiency, such as academic probation, for transfer students entering Iowa State with grade point averages below 2.0. Transferring students still must meet admission requirements, but the change gives them a fresh start at their new institution.