"When all the careful, difficult, intentional, and scholarly work of planning and teaching a course is undocumented, it is lost for further use. Not only is it unavailable for the teacher's own reflection, but it is not there for aspiring teachers and colleagues to learn from. It is also unavailable to those making important decisions about hiring, promotion, and tenure, and to those mentoring colleagues who are being considered in those processes."

Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#554 Making Visible the Intellectual Work in Teaching

 
Folks:

The posting below gives some useful insights on the construction and use of course portfolios. It is by Dan Bernstein, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas and Ellen Wert, formerly of the Pew Trusts, and now an editor and educational consultant. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick reis
reis@stanford.edu
UP NEXT: The Organization of Teaching With Technology


Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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MAKING VISIBLE THE INTELLECTUAL WORK IN TEACHING

Dan Bernstein and Ellen Wert

No scholar spends months in the library, laboratory, or field and then discards the information, notes, data, and artifacts collected during those visits. The materials represent the scholar's intellectual effort during that time. They also are the basis of the books, papers, and articles that help spread ideas and information, teach others how to be scholars, and make up the record of the scholar's work that is judged during hiring, promotion, and tenure.

Yet semester after semester, most college teachers discard the evidence of the intellectual effort they put into teaching. The idea of the course, decisions about texts, assignments, creative solutions to problems that crop up during the course, innovative plans for next year-the very things that make sense of the syllabus and notes in the files and dog-eared texts on the shelf-exist only in the busy teachers' mind. Teachers design assignments and then review and evaluate their students' papers, tests, performances, labs, and projects. But typically, the only trace of that enormous effort (the teacher's as well as the students') is the students' final grades.

When all the careful, difficult, intentional, and scholarly work of planning and teaching a course is undocumented, it is lost for further use. Not only is it unavailable for the teacher's own reflection, but it is not there for aspiring teachers and colleagues to learn from. It is also unavailable to those making important decisions about hiring, promotion, and tenure, and to those mentoring colleagues who are being considered in those processes.

Documentation of the intellectual work involved in teaching-and its results-should be a critical part of each teacher's professional record. Student course evaluations and peer observation of classes, although part of the record, would be much more meaningful and useful in the context of a nuanced picture of the course.

A practical way to produce this documentation is the "course portfolio," a written record for each of the teacher's courses that includes

* The teacher's goals for the course
* A plan for achieving the goals
* Assignments and samples of student work that show the depth and breadth of learning
* Reflection on how effective the course has been and why
* Ideas for making the course better the next time
* Comment from peers on the design of the course and the students' achievement

A small but increasing number of college teachers are creating and maintaining "course portfolios." To be sure, making a course portfolio requires some planning (asking the students' permission to make copies of their work, saving copies of syllabi, assignments, notes) and some diligence. But most of what goes into a course portfolio is material produced in the process of planning and teaching a course. These materials can be organized into six sections: goals, design, student work, reflection, plans for improvement, and peer comment.

Goals

A good course syllabus spells out clearly the teacher's goals for the learners, along with a basic rationale for how the skills and knowledge they develop will fit into their larger educational program. The course portfolio starts with these statements. For example, a teacher of a foundational course in visual literacy identifies the skills and understanding that students will develop as they analyze and create textile art, photographs, sculptures, or paintings. A teacher of literary/critical theory states that students should consider both the assumptions they bring to the task of analysis and the origins of the theories they use in their analysis. A professor of material sciences states that students should be able to use abstract mathematical representations of systems to solve practical problems, rather than relying on computational approaches.

Design

In the syllabus and during the course, the teacher explains the instructional practices used in the course. The design section of the course portfolio includes these explanations plus reflections about the reasons for choosing them for this particular course and why these approaches to teaching and learning are likely to produce good outcomes for the students in the course.

Student work

Examples of student work provide evidence of the effectiveness of the course and offer a student voice that can complement the student perspective found in course ratings. At the start of each course, instructors can obtain permission to retain copies of a small sample of student work. From this, they can develop an accessible archive that shows clearly what students understand at the beginning, middle, and end of each course.

For example, to demonstrate the depth of student learning, the visual literacy instructor displays digital images of student work, commenting on the qualities of color, line, and form; the instructor also provides the feedback she gave to her students. Similarly, the literary/critical theory instructor offers essays that show how students analyze literature and question their own cultural assumptions, complete with comments and grades. The material science professor provides pages of graded examination problems to demonstrate the range of solutions that students use in solving problems. In all cases, the teachers display the breadth of student learning by reporting what percentage of learners achieves at different levels of quality. The teacher's vision of what constitutes deep understanding is thus available for discussion.

Reflection

Even the reflection section of the portfolio is not completely new work. Teachers talk frequently with colleagues about the progress of their courses and consider various reasons for their students' successes and failures. And most teachers privately ponder their own work before, during, and after the course. Taking a moment to make some notes about these conversations and thoughts is a small investment, especially in comparison with the many hours already invested in the course.

Plans for improvement

Again, during and after the course, the teacher thinks about ways to strengthen the course in the future. Committing those thoughts to writing not only helps make those plans reality, but also makes the ideas part of the record of the course.

Comments from expert peers

Colleagues with knowledge of teaching practices and expertise in the subject area can provide valuable written feedback on the quality of the course by reading the portfolio's first five sections. The readers' feedback on the course focuses on central questions about the design and delivery of the course: the appropriateness of the goals and content of the course, the adequacy of the instructional design, the depth of understanding expected of the students, the breadth of achievement across the whole range of learners in the course, and the teacher's insights and future plans for the course. Although reading the portfolio and writing feedback takes time, the colleagues who have done this report that learning about the teaching practices of others is stimulating and improves their own teaching.

In 1999, faculty and administrators on five campuses began a project to create and use course portfolios. Groups of faculty members across a variety of disciplines from the University of Michigan, Indiana University, the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Texas A&M University, and Kansas State University are participating. Together, they have developed a collection of examples of course portfolios that both instruct and inspire. These can be found at http://www.unl.edu/peerrev/. (See also at that site information about a conference on the course portfolio, March 26-28, 2004.)

What is to be gained through course portfolios?

Quite practically, course portfolios provide an accurate and nuanced record of the teacher's effort and the results of that effort. They complete the picture suggested by grades, student evaluations, and peer observation of classes. By documenting their work, teachers have the option to make it available for meaningful formative and summative evaluation during hiring, promotion, and tenure.

Also, by preserving the work of teaching, we can then spread effective practice among faculty members, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants. In the same way that advanced students are engaged by reading research articles, teachers find it fascinating to read accounts of other teachers' work and samples of student learning. Providing access to a sample of course portfolios is a very effective way to promote reflective practice as a part of the professional life of college teachers.

Moreover, the use of course portfolios can generate ongoing professional conversations of the sort we have about our disciplinary scholarship. The material in the course portfolio is rich and can give substance to our talk about teaching:

* By presenting examples of student work, teachers shift the focus of conversation from presentation style to learning and understanding

* In writing and reflecting, each teacher articulates what has been effective in promoting learning and can use those insights to improve

* By sharing work with peers, teachers are able to get helpful feedback from colleagues that can strengthen their work

Although building and learning to use course portfolios requires an initial investment of time and effort, the returns on that investment are valuable. Course portfolios can help faculty and administrators alike make better use of time in planning, teaching, and making effective decisions.

What would it take to make course portfolios a regular feature of academic life? A pioneering group of teachers on each campus can start building and reviewing course portfolios. But their efforts will continue only when faculty, staff, and administrators explore the many ways the course portfolio can be used. Equally important, faculty and administrators need to communicate broadly both the benefits of portfolios and ideas for improving the model.

References

Resources on course portfolios
March 26-28, 2004 Peer Review Project Conference: http://www.unl.edu/peerrev/conference/

Hutchings, P. (Ed.) (1998). The course portfolio. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Hutchings, P. (1996). Making teaching community property. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Bernstein, D. (2002). Representing the intellectual work in teaching through peer-reviewed course portfolios. In S. Davis & W. Buskist, (Eds.), The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer (215-229). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bernstein, D.J., Jonson, Jessica, & Smith, K.L. (2000). An examination of the implementation of peer review of teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (no. 83), pp 73-85.

Peer Review Project: http://www.unl.edu/peerrev/

Contents of a course portfolio (a handy list)
* The teacher's goals for the course
* A plan for achieving the goals
* Assignments and samples of student work that show the depth and breadth of learning
* Reflection on how effective the course has been, and why
* Ideas for making the course better the next time
* Comments from peers on the design of the course and the students' achievement

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