Senior Educational Consultant
April 9, 2012
Dr. Amy Gross joined The IDEA Center in 1997 and has worked to provide exceptional service and rich resources for a continually growing list of clients nationwide. Now Vice President for Research and Development, Dr. Gross is responsible for overseeing the organization’s research and development initiatives to support its mission, vision, and strategic plan.
After working with many campuses and individual faculty over the last 15 years, a single question is consistently asked: How do I get better ratings? With my personal passion for personal reflection and professional development, I can get disheartened by the “bottom line” question. But, I also understand our need to do well and wanting to see positive results for the “bottom line” questions related to excellence of teacher or excellence of course.
A few years ago I gave a presentation at the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) titled, “Getting Better Ratings by Learning to be Better Teachers.” I have to admit, it is one of my favorites because the research is so compelling, exciting - and by thinking about “getting better scores” we can actually improve student learning!
The presentation was based on research using the IDEA Student Ratings of Instruction instrument which includes 20 teaching method items, 12 learning objectives, 2 summary items (excellence of course and excellence of teacher), and a number of student and course characteristic items. The details of the research are available in IDEA Research Report #4: Teaching “Styles” and Learning Outcomes and IDEA Research Note #1: The Excellent Teacher Item.
One of the most interesting findings to me is what we learned about predicting student ratings of overall excellence of course and overall excellence of the teacher – the two summary items that seem to appear in some form on nearly all student ratings forms.
In a nutshell (but I encourage you to the read the details), the research (using nearly 45,000 classes) found that when predicting student ratings of the course, the 5 teaching approaches (comprised of the 20 teaching methods – or what the instructor does) accounted for 73% of the variance. Teaching approaches accounted for 85% of the variance when predicting teacher excellence. Even though these studies are restricted to the questions we ask, those percentages are quite respectable. If there was no meaningful relationships, then the percentages would be much lower.
The most important Teaching Approaches for Excellence of Teacher – all of equal importance - were:
- Stimulating Student Interest (i.e., demonstrating importance of subject matter, introducing stimulating ideas about the subject, inspiring students to set and achieve challenging goals, stimulating intellectual effort)
- Structuring the Classroom Experience (i.e., clear communication, scheduling coursework to encourage students to stay up to date on their work, making it clear how topics fit into the course)
- Establishing Rapport (i.e., displaying a personal interest in students and their learning, finding ways to help students answer their own questions)
The most important Teaching Approaches for Excellence of Course were:
- Stimulating Student Interest (primary importance)
- Structuring the Classroom Experience (secondary)
Of additional interest was that if there was too much emphasis on Establishing Rapport, and the other two approaches were neglected, ratings were somewhat lower. So, if instructors are too focused on only their personal relationships with no substance, students are less likely to view the course as a good experience.
So…How to get better ratings?
How does this get back to getting better ratings by being better teachers? The five teaching approaches also predict student learning on the 12 IDEA objectives. So, if faculty members are motivated to improve their summary scores on student ratings and they focus on their teaching methods (what they do in the classroom) – they will not only improve their “scores,” but will likely improve student learning – what a bonus!
My personal preference is to focus on improving student learning – and the overall ratings should follow. But, we are each motivated differently.
As an aside, an important Teaching Approach for ALL 12 learning objectives – and THE most important approach for 8 learning objectives was Stimulating Student Interest. If we do nothing else – get students engaged!
Resources for Stimulating Student Interest
IDEA Item # 4: Demonstrated the importance and significance of the subject matter
IDEA Item #8: Stimulated students to intellectual effort beyond that required by most courses
IDEA Item #13: Introduced stimulating ideas about the subject
IDEA Item #15: Inspired students to set and achieve goals which really challenged them