From the instructor’s perspective, effectiveness can be measured by the degree to which the lessons have helped the students accomplish the established learning goals. From the student’s perspective, it is the degree to which the course meets or exceeds their learning expectations. I measure my teaching effectiveness on three levels: community, growth, and utility.
A classroom is a community of learners, myself included. I attempt to create a learning environment in which students enjoy their learning time and feel valued and comfortable engaging with me and with their peers. When asked to give feedback about my classroom community leadership, my students have said,
“Erin was one of the best lab TAs I have had. She was always open to meet outside class, answer questions in class, and she is enthusiastic about the material.”
“Erin is very interactive and helpful.”
“[Erin] promotes a fun atmosphere in the classroom.”
“[Erin] respects us.”
Ultimately, it is every instructor’s goal to facilitate learning. On a superficial level, I aim to promote learning of the material that is the focus of the course. On a deeper level, I aim for my students to improve upon their learning strategies so that they are better prepared for a lifetime of learning. To do so, I create learning opportunities that incorporate self-reflection about the learning process.
I administer mid-semester feedback questionnaires as part of this process. In a section of this questionnaire, I ask the students to reflect upon which aspects of the course (readings, group work, in-class activities, exams) help them learn best. On a recent survey, 100% of responding students said that the in-class problems helped them understand the material better while only 30% of students said that the readings helped. This information made me re-consider the readings I had assigned and also gave me an opportunity to discuss reflection upon one’s own learning with my students. When I reviewed the results of the questionnaire with students I explicitly told them to pay attention to their answers for their own benefit. This is an example of how I teach students to recognize how they learn best.
Another aspect of learning that I encourage is that of professional growth. I respect that my students will take the lessons learned in my class with them to a large variety of different careers. All of their careers will require leadership, communication, and analytical skills. I therefore create learning opportunities in these areas for my students. This has the side-effect of many of my students seeking mentoring from me with regard to their career decision-making process. One student in particular articulated to me how much he appreciated the support I gave him:
“I just wanted to say thank you for recommending me as a preceptor last semester. After a semester of learning the behind the scenes coursework, I was asked to teach my own class this semester.
I had my first class yesterday and it went a lot smoother than I had anticipated. I still have a lot to learn, but I wouldn’t be here making progress if it wasn’t for you.
I took some time to think about how I could get where I want and what that is going to require. I took your advice and set my sights on a PhD.
Thank you for everything Erin!”
My students want to gain valuable skills and knowledge from the courses I teach. My course design must therefore target the specific learning needs of my students with material that is relevant to their future careers. I achieve greater utility by establishing a culture of feedback and mutual respect. By learning about my students and asking for feedback at several points in the course, I can better tailor the lessons to their needs. On average, my students find my courses to be advertised correctly, of the expected difficulty level, and they understand the importance and relevance of the course content.