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      Aligning Practice to Policies: Changing the Culture to Recognize and Reward Teaching at Research Universities

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          Evidence shows most teaching evaluation practices do not reflect stated policies, even when the policies specifically espouse teaching as a value. This essay discusses four guiding principles for aligning practice with stated priorities in formal policies and highlights three university efforts to improve the practice of evaluating teaching.


          Recent calls for improvement in undergraduate education within STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines are hampered by the methods used to evaluate teaching effectiveness. Faculty members at research universities are commonly assessed and promoted mainly on the basis of research success. To improve the quality of undergraduate teaching across all disciplines, not only STEM fields, requires creating an environment wherein continuous improvement of teaching is valued, assessed, and rewarded at various stages of a faculty member’s career. This requires consistent application of policies that reflect well-established best practices for evaluating teaching at the department, college, and university levels. Evidence shows most teaching evaluation practices do not reflect stated policies, even when the policies specifically espouse teaching as a value. Thus, alignment of practice to policy is a major barrier to establishing a culture in which teaching is valued. Situated in the context of current national efforts to improve undergraduate STEM education, including the Association of American Universities Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative, this essay discusses four guiding principles for aligning practice with stated priorities in formal policies: 1) enhancing the role of deans and chairs; 2) effectively using the hiring process; 3) improving communication; and 4) improving the understanding of teaching as a scholarly activity. In addition, three specific examples of efforts to improve the practice of evaluating teaching are presented as examples: 1) Three Bucket Model of merit review at the University of California, Irvine; (2) Evaluation of Teaching Rubric, University of Kansas; and (3) Teaching Quality Framework, University of Colorado, Boulder. These examples provide flexible criteria to holistically evaluate and improve the quality of teaching across the diverse institutions comprising modern higher education.

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          Most cited references 37

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          Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics.

          To test the hypothesis that lecturing maximizes learning and course performance, we metaanalyzed 225 studies that reported data on examination scores or failure rates when comparing student performance in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses under traditional lecturing versus active learning. The effect sizes indicate that on average, student performance on examinations and concept inventories increased by 0.47 SDs under active learning (n = 158 studies), and that the odds ratio for failing was 1.95 under traditional lecturing (n = 67 studies). These results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning. Heterogeneity analyses indicated that both results hold across the STEM disciplines, that active learning increases scores on concept inventories more than on course examinations, and that active learning appears effective across all class sizes--although the greatest effects are in small (n ≤ 50) classes. Trim and fill analyses and fail-safe n calculations suggest that the results are not due to publication bias. The results also appear robust to variation in the methodological rigor of the included studies, based on the quality of controls over student quality and instructor identity. This is the largest and most comprehensive metaanalysis of undergraduate STEM education published to date. The results raise questions about the continued use of traditional lecturing as a control in research studies, and support active learning as the preferred, empirically validated teaching practice in regular classrooms.
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            Education. Scientific teaching.

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              Increased structure and active learning reduce the achievement gap in introductory biology.

              Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instructors have been charged with improving the performance and retention of students from diverse backgrounds. To date, programs that close the achievement gap between students from disadvantaged versus nondisadvantaged educational backgrounds have required extensive extramural funding. We show that a highly structured course design, based on daily and weekly practice with problem-solving, data analysis, and other higher-order cognitive skills, improved the performance of all students in a college-level introductory biology class and reduced the achievement gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged students--without increased expenditures. These results support the Carnegie Hall hypothesis: Intensive practice, via active-learning exercises, has a disproportionate benefit for capable but poorly prepared students.

                Author and article information

                Role: Monitoring Editor
                CBE Life Sci Educ
                CBE Life Sciences Education
                American Society for Cell Biology
                Winter 2017
                : 16
                : 4
                Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697
                ‡‡Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697
                Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556
                §Department of Chemistry, Graduate School, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202
                Department of Physics and Center for STEM Learning, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309
                Department of Psychology and Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045
                #Research and Graduate Studies, College of Science, and Department of Physics, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556
                @Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260
                **Department of Chemistry, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695
                ††Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
                §§Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
                ‖‖Association of American Universities, Washington, DC 20005
                Author notes
                *Address correspondence to: Emily R. Miller ( Emily.miller@ ).
                © 2017 M. Dennin et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2017 The American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (

                “ASCB®” and “The American Society for Cell Biology®” are registered trademarks of The American Society for Cell Biology.

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                December 1, 2017



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