Supporting Efforts to Document and Assess Teaching and Learning

Mason faculty are documenting their teaching and learning efforts for many different institutional purposes. 

Curated by the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning and Faculty Affairs and Development, the information below aims to provide guidance to Mason faculty, reviewers, and LAUs in support of efforts to document and assess teaching and learning.

Why might faculty document their teaching and learning efforts?

There are many reasons to document our teaching and learning efforts. We ask our adjunct faculty and term faculty to document their teaching as part of the faculty appointment process (e.g., hiring or appointing to new contracts); tenure-line and term faculty must create dossiers as part of promotion, tenure, and/or annual review processes; and faculty across appointment types are documenting their teaching and learning for various teaching awards.

Beyond these reasons, which lean more toward the evaluation of our performance in educational settings, documenting our growth as educators and sharing this documentation with colleagues can provide valuable reflective insight and formative feedback; that is, it serves to deepen our understanding of and strengthen our approaches to teaching and learning.

Examples of Evaluative Reviews:

What principles should guide our approach to reviewing teaching and learning documents?

  • Reviews should be fair and equitable.
  • Reviews should be holistic, considering all the available evidence.
  • Reviews should align with the stated criteria and values, as defined by the Local Academic Unit (LAU).
  • Review criteria and processes should be transparent, consistent, and collaborative; faculty being reviewed should have ample notice of review processes and be invited to provide relevant input or documentation.

What are minimum expectations of competence?

The Mason Faculty Handbook provides guidance for the promotion and tenure of our term and tenure-line faculty. Specifically, for term and tenure-line faculty, high competence is the minimum threshold for promotion from assistant to associate professor. The minimum threshold for term faculty promotion to full professor is genuine excellence, while the minimum threshold for tenured faculty promotion from associate to full professor is high competence.

Beyond considerations for promotion, the hiring and reappointment and renewal processes require a demonstration of teaching competence for all fulltime faculty.

Mason also has a policy for the Evaluation of Adjunct Faculty, in accordance with the requirement from SACSCOC that the university publish and implement policies pertaining to the evaluation of all faculty members. Adjunct faculty members are essential to our goal to provide high-quality education for all Mason students. Per the policy, adjunct faculty members are evaluated in accordance with the evaluation procedure established by each college or school, to include the provision of feedback and suggestions for continuous improvement.

What might peer reviewers or evaluation committees want to keep in mind when evaluating colleagues on teaching and learning?

Peer reviews of teaching and learning provide the most valuable and reliable information when all aspects of a candidate’s documentation is taken into account. Documentation of course materials can include syllabi, assignments, or other course materials; examples of student learning assessment, such as feedback on student work or the development of rubrics; the design and assessment of teaching innovations; engagement in curricular initiatives; course and curriculum assessment; student mentoring; participation in professional development activities; and more.

Different elements of the documentation provided should be considered individually to determine how they represent a faculty member’s teaching and learning; the collection of provided documentation should then be evaluated holistically in alignment with university and local academic unit policies, with no one element dominating the review.

It is also useful to keep in mind the following:

  • Identify the purpose and performance level of the review. If this is an evaluative review and the minimum satisfactory performance level is “high competence,” ensure that those standards are being used for the review.
  • Align the review process with guidance from your Local Academic Unit (LAU) about what is expected of faculty members in their teaching—including any specific expectations for faculty members in a particular status or career stage. If any of the faculty member’s courses also fulfill another requirement (e.g., for Mason Core or for an accrediting body), the review should address relevant criteria or expectations for these goals. And remember the holistic nature of the process. Taken together, does the documentation provided meet the criteria that have been set forth by the LAU for a given performance level?
  • Look for evidence of growth as an educator. Most faculty become more skilled as educators over time. It is not uncommon to hit some “bumps” along the road as faculty teach different kinds of classes, teach classes across different kinds of course modalities, or experiment with innovative approaches to assignments and/or other course activities. It is important not to discourage risk-taking, but rather to look for evidence of growth and learning as faculty experiment with new courses, new modalities, and new approaches.

What are best practices for peer observations of teaching and learning?

Peer observation provides the most valuable and reliable information when it is done in a structured manner. Critical aspects of this structure include steps to take before, during, and after the observation.

Before the observation

Align the review process with guidance from the Local Academic Unit (LAU) about what is expected of faculty members in their teaching and ensure that the faculty member is aware of these expectations. If the course also fulfills another requirement (e.g., for Mason Core or for an accrediting body), both people should understand what criteria or expectations are relevant. If it is appropriate—as for a once-a-week course, a special format course, or an online course—a reviewer should clearly identify what portion(s) of the class or course will be reviewed.

Identify and clearly communicate the purpose, audience, and timing of the review: Will this review be used for formative guidance or as part of a formal evaluative assessment (e.g., re-hiring or promotion)? Who will have access to the reviewer’s comments (e.g., the faculty member who was being observed, the chair of the academic unit, the faculty evaluation committee, and/or the tenure review committee, etc.)? When do the observation and the report need to be completed, and will there be an opportunity for the faculty member to review and/or respond to the report before it is finalized?

Schedule brief conversations between the faculty member and the observer to help establish expectations and contexts. It is helpful to discuss the course, its objectives, and the faculty member’s approach to reaching those objectives. This can also provide context for the specific activities or concepts featured on the observed day or section and allow the faculty member to identify any issues to which the observer should pay particular attention.

During the observation

Look for evidence of both teaching and (potential) learning. With reference to the LAU guidelines, the reviewer should observe and record elements that show the faculty member’s presentation and/or leadership regarding the course subject matter, and the faculty member’s strategies for supporting all students in making progress toward key course outcomes.

After the observation

Schedule a brief conversation to discuss the results of the observation. Issues that can be useful to discuss include the faculty member’s perception of whether the class went as expected, clarification about the intent or context of specific themes or activities, and/or the implications of specific class elements for longer-term student learning.

Provide a report with a balance between breadth and depth. The reviewer may use a checklist, departmental guide, or class timeline to ensure that multiple elements of the faculty member’s teaching are documented; also select one or two features of the teaching that seem especially relevant to the faculty member or the academic unit’s goals to provide more specific commentary on.

Provide a report that balances — and distinguishes clearly between — facts and judgments. The reviewer should provide specific descriptions of what was observed alongside conclusions or recommendations about the faculty member’s performance.

Summary Table of Minimum Expectations of Competence

This table summarizes the minimum expectations of competence for hiring, reappointment, and promotion of Mason faculty across rank and appointment type.

Summary Table of Minimum Expectations of Competence

Summary Table of Criteria and Possible Evidence for Documenting and Assessing High Competence in Teaching

This table offers examples for the types of criteria that one might consider when evaluating a faculty member for High Competence in Teaching. These criteria are generally applicable to courses offered in different modalities, whether face-to-face, hybrid, fully online, or field/clinical supervision.

The table also suggests possible evidence that a faculty might use to demonstrate their meeting certain criteria. It is important to note that these are indicators of evidence. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should faculty be expected to speak to each. Evidence could be in written format, narrated, or observed.

Download a PDF

Summary Table of Criteria and Possible Evidence for Documenting and Assessing High Competence in Teaching

Summary Table of Criteria and Possible Evidence for Documenting and Assessing Genuine Excellence in Teaching

This table offers examples for the types of criteria that one might consider when evaluating a faculty member for Genuine Excellence in Teaching. Note that faculty must demonstrate the criteria for High Competence, in addition to showcasing their efforts that meet Genuine Excellence, as defined by their Local Academic Units (LAUs). These criteria are generally applicable to courses offered in different modalities, whether face-to-face, hybrid, fully online, or field/clinical supervision.

The table also suggests possible evidence that a faculty might use to demonstrate their meeting certain criteria. It is important to note that these are indicators of evidence. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should faculty be expected to speak to each. Evidence could be in written format, narrated, or observed.

Download a PDF

Summary Table of Criteria - Excellence in Teaching