CTL Faculty E-Newsletter

Spotlight on: Classroom Observation Methods in the Economics and Mathematics and Computer Science Departments

by Erika L.C. King and Jo Beth Mertens

As a part of the partnership between CoFac and CTL to engage faculty in discussions about the colleague classroom observation process, here we highlight two department’s methods for involving all faculty in the classroom observation process.

The Mentoring Program
in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
by Erika L.C. King, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science

Six years ago when the faculty voted into the bylaws a requirement for classroom observations, the Mathematics and Computer Science Department took the opportunity to develop a Mentoring Program. Our goal was both to ensure that we were fulfilling bylaw requirements and to support untenured faculty through the tenure process.

Our program involves assigning mentoring pairs each semester between tenured and untenured faculty. The tenured faculty member and untenured faculty member each visit a full week of one another's classes. After these visits, the mentoring pairs meet to discuss the observations and share thoughts and ideas. In addition, the pair meets with the department chair at the end of the semester to discuss student evaluations and teaching, but also progress and goals for the untenured faculty member's research and community service contributions.

Although this program involves a lot of time, it is time well spent. The discussions that occur after the classroom visits offer opportunities for all of us, tenured and untenured alike, to reflect on our teaching techniques and to continue to improve and alter our approaches as our student body changes. Informal conversations about teaching have always been common in our department, and we regularly start up conversations in the hallway on the topic of our classes or seek each other out in our offices to ask advice, commiserate, and share exciting experiences, but now it is more common for us to visit each other even outside the realm of the program's dictates.

Our mentoring pairs change each semester, allowing for conversations about teaching to be influenced by many different perspectives. This also means that most, if not all, tenured members of the department have observed the untenured members before each of their reviews, and therefore have something substantial to say about the untenured members' teaching in review processes.

Although I believe our program is working well for our department, after six years it may be time to fine-tune it. For example, how do we incorporate the Review III observations?  Should we consider requiring the tenured members who observe to write up their thoughts and ideas so that the untenured member could have an informal written record?  While such assessment will, again, be time intensive, it will be time well spent.

Click here to learn more about the Math and Computer Science Department’s Mentoring Program


Creating a Culture of Observation:
Classroom Observations in the Economics Department
by Jo Beth Mertens, Associate Professor of Economics

Our departmental goal is to have a good understanding of how we teach. To that end, we want to create a culture of observing one another teach. That means that we do not confine classroom observations to people under review, or only those at the associate and assistant levels: ALL of us observe one another.

Early in the semester, we pair up and agree to visit one another’s classes at least twice over the semester. The pairing-up is voluntary and depends on course schedules and areas taught. Our major has a group of core courses, and we all teach at least one of those cores, and we try to pair our observations so that people teaching the same core courses can observe one another and learn from each other. We also try to have at least 2 semesters of the same person observing someone’s teaching. This is especially important for observations of untenured faculty because it provides the opportunity to comment on growth in teaching when it comes time for review.

In addition, we send an announcement via email to all students taking economics classes to inform students that we will be sitting in on each other’s classes throughout the semester. We do this so that students know this is the norm and won’t think that someone is “in trouble”—an interpretation of students in the past when we first started observations.

For each observation, we have a pre-observation meeting and a post-observation meeting. We follow the “best practice” guidelines in the faculty handbook (see Faculty Handbook Bylaws: Part II, pgs. 77-79). The written report is given to the observed professor, and the observer also keeps a copy. The observer may use these notes when writing a letter for review, but the report does not become a part of the observed faculty’s record.

Our goal is to use these observations as formative tools, and the information gathered over time and across faculty members forms a more complete picture of someone’s teaching.

Click here for more Classroom Observation resources.


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