Initial Publication Date: March 1, 2018

Teaching Quality Framework Initiative

Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado at Boulder

Program Description

This effort provides framework for supporting and assessing teaching quality across all departments on a campus (i.e. a Teaching Quality Framework, or TQF). The TQF has two essential elements: (1) categories that define teaching as a scholarly activity, and (2) a change process for implementation. To assess teaching quality, we draw on three perspectives--faculty members, their students, and their peers--as sources of data. The TQF scholarly categories are held constant across departments, but each department contextualizes them according to the specifics of their discipline. The implementation strategy is grounded in theories of organizational change and is designed to lead to campus-wide adoption. This strategy is not a top-down mandate; it focuses on bringing together key faculty leaders and departments and providing them with a structure to co-create, test, and evaluate an assessment system in the context that makes the most sense to them.

Program Purpose

Whether on the local or national level, there are increasing calls for attention to the quality of teaching in higher education as a means to improve student outcomes, including increased retention, graduation rates, and diversity (e.g., President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). These calls also align with the needs of faculty, who are being called upon to develop and assess their teaching in more robust ways (e.g., Berlinerblau, 2017; Davidson, 2017). While there exists more knowledge than ever about effective educational practices based on how students learn (e.g., National Academy of Sciences, 2015; PCAST 2012), there remains a significant gulf between this knowledge and actual teaching practice (AAU, 2014; Henderson et al., 2010). At most universities, particularly research-intensive ones, a large fraction of this disconnect can be traced to the systems that assess, reward, and support teaching excellence. These systems and underlying values contain a number of limitations that can impede improved teaching (AAU & Cottrell, 2017). Realignment of these structures and addressing conflicting values have the potential to address the divide between knowledge and practice (AAU, 2014; Fairweather, 2008).

Program Goals

There are several goals that guided the development of the TQF structure and process. One critical goal is to create a method for evaluating teaching that is both summative-for example, in evaluating tenure and promotion (T&P) cases-and formative-to support faculty reflection on their teaching and to align institutional resources to such ends. Another goal is to more efficiently use the resources, mostly time, that are already allocated to teaching evaluation.
For example, the TQF focuses on gathering data about faculty members' teaching from their peers, their students, and themselves, just as our current system; however, it only uses each source to provide feedback that aligns with what it is uniquely positioned to assess. Thus, the development and rollout of the TQF will require an initial investment of time and work, but may not require additional resources in the long run. A third goal is to leverage the collective efforts of multiple departments to create a shared pool of resources. As a campus implements a TQF, it will develop a bank of evaluation tools generated by pilot departments, and possibly some of the approaches described in this book. Eventually, other departments will be able to use these starting points for developing their own teaching assessment strategies without having to repeat work. Finally, the most important goal of the TQF is to improve undergraduate education by providing faculty members with incentives and support to become better teachers. By establishing a discipline-specified set of criteria, this process externalizes the value-system and goals of education and thereby may serve as an anchor around which the substantial institutional resources to enhance teaching might be aligned.

Program Activities

Notes and Tips

Evidence of Success

The project is currently underway but we have active involvement from 12 disciplinary units, senior administration, deans and the Boulder Faculty Assembly.

Future Work

References and Accessory Materials

A variety of resources and writeup for this project that are currently underway can be found at:

This approach to improving teaching quality is one of many supported by the AAU and the Bay View Alliance. In particular with the support of NSF, we draw from similar approaches at U Kansas, U Massachusetts Amherst, and Michigan State University.