Collect Information about Your Teaching

Consciously collect data about perspectives to deepen your understanding of your teaching effectiveness and your students’ experiences.

The irony of teaching is that it’s at once a very public act – all students’ eyes are on us – and yet it is also private as only students see our work, and as students they are often quiet or filtered in their responses to our queries, giving us feedback through the screen of the power imbalance and their own limited perspective on what constitutes excellent teaching of a subject they are just learning. In these pages, we present a variety of strategies that teachers can use to help them see their teaching from multiple perspectives.

Collect Feedback from Students

Instructors can seek information from students in many different ways, including:

  • Exit Tickets: Ask students to write briefly about what they learned in a class session, what they are confused about, or what questions they have to get instant feedback that you can use to plan the next session as well as the next time you teach this particular topic.
  • Exam wrappers or post-assignment reflections: Have students reflect on their experiences on an assignment to garner insights into how things are going and how students are approaching the course and the material.
  • In-class “feedback” sessions: Invite discussion among students about their learning to gather information and also support students’ meta-cognitive development. To implement, ask students to write quietly about what elements of the course they have found most innovative, exciting, and impactful on their learning. Then put students in small groups and task them with selecting one point to develop and present to the class. The idea here is to have students think on their own, think with others, and share their perspectives on learning.
  • Simple surveys that invite student feedbackSurvey students at mid-semester, for example, to gain insights into what is working well and what isn’t working so well, enabling you to make changes and also providing materials to reflect on. Examples include:
    • Sample surveys from OFE, also available on Canvas Commons for direct copy into your course. Simply log in to Canvas and click “Commons” in the far left-hand navigation, and then search “OFE” and “survey.” You can make an anonymous survey in Canvas by setting it as an “ungraded survey” and clicking on “anonymous replies” in the settings.
    • Your own survey, focusing on specific questions that are easily answered, such as: “Which of the following in-class activities have you found most useful?” Or, “On a scale of 1-5, how accurate and useful do you believe each of the following assessments is in gauging your learning?”
  • Formal University Student Surveys: All faculty except faculty who have received tenure will have student evaluations run automatically in their classes every semester; these are typically available for review shortly after final grades are due. In some ways, these surveys provide the least helpful information as they tell you what the students who have just left your class think. Although they can be uncomfortable to review, try reading your student evaluations slowly, like a social scientist. That is, read with some detachment, seeking out consistent themes. Read especially the comments, but put aside the errant comments from a student who offers a perspective that is not echoed by others, and focus on themes that are actionable.
    • Surveys are managed by Institutional Research and Effectiveness. For more information, see Course Evaluations.
    • Review your Student Course Surveys: The questions asked of students were created by your department. You will see mean scores for multiple-choice questions and student commentary to open-ended questions.
      • Students typically rate Montclair courses high — with most students rating instruction “high” or “very high.” As you review these scores, look for areas that you would hope to change. For example, are you satisfied with how intellectually satisfying your students perceive your course to be?
      • For open-ended comments, look for highs and lows, and only attend to consistent themes. If one student makes an unusual comment that is not echoed by other students, it is unlikely to be a comment you need to take into consideration as you develop your teaching. However, if several students express that the course pace was too fast, or that a particular assignment was especially valuable, that’s information to attend to. You can adjust your pace, and you can duplicate or expand the specially valued course assignment. Common topics to look for themes within are:
        • Course Design — Topics covered, assessments, workload, alignment of content and assessments, organization, design for varied learners
        • Pedagogy — Connection with the professor, activities, community, critical thinking, the effectiveness of lectures
        • Inclusivity — Diversity of course materials, sense of inclusion, support, and fostering of belonging
        • Discipline Course content’s relevance to the anticipated course subject.
      • Some comments and scores are very hard to respond to, and you may find that students’ dissatisfaction is universal to the course — all sections of it — and not just your section. For new instructors, this is a good question to ask your chair, or you can seek a consultation with OFE for discussion.
Collect Information from Peers
  • Peer observations: Your department and contract may require these on a set schedule. You can supplement any required observation with one from the Office for Faculty Excellence that can be informal, unofficial, and shaped to address your particular concerns.
  • Peer observation template: COMING SOON
  • Syllabus and assignment review. Working with colleagues or the OFE service, ask for advice on your syllabus and/or assignments. Use your peer’s vantage point as a fellow traveler with a fresh set of eyes to understand the strengths and weaknesses of things like design, clarity, communication, and rigor. It may be helpful if you ask your peer reviewer specific questions based on elements or areas where you have seen student confusion or struggle.
Collect Information from Yourself
  • Teaching journal: Set aside a notebook or document dedicated to recording your thoughts over the semester, writing in it fairly regularly. Ideally, you could write notes in the few minutes after class, but often this is not practical. This is not a space for self-judgment, but for capturing ideas and observations fairly close to the moment that you can return to later. Some things you might note include:
    • Begin the semester by reflecting on your goals for each course you are teaching.
    • After each class or once a week, make brief notes on how your class went.
      • What worked especially well? 
      • What seemed to fall flat? 
      • What supported learning? 
      • What failed to support learning? 
      • What thoughts do you have for possible changes? 
      • What exercise, reading, or other course material do you wish to reconsider in the future?
    • Revisit your pre-semester goals at mid-semester or another logical spot, making notes for yourself about how well you have achieved them, how they have shifted, and what you should do going forward to meet these goals.
  • Annotated Syllabus: Make a copy of your syllabus to annotate and take notes on as the semester progresses. Scribble digitally or otherwise right on it, noting successes and challenges. For example, note:
    • successful readings, engaging discussion prompts, activities that worked well
    • readings that are too hard, elements of an exam that students perform poorly on, activities that didn’t quite work

Documenting-Evidence-of-Effective-Teaching: A checklist (opens as a PDF)


Move to the next step: Plan Your Teaching Development


For more information or help, please email the Office for Faculty Excellence or make an appointment with a consultant.

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