25 August 2011

From evaluating teaching to valuing teaching

Research counts for more than teaching at universities. This is widely known and widely discussed. Many people don’t like this fact, and blame the pursuit of research excellence on universities’ pursuit of money and prestige. These are true, but there may be another less obvious reason why universities pay so much attention to research in tenure and promotion decisions.

I’m getting ready to submit my annual merit folder, and just for this post and giggles, I compiled my merit scores for most of my career here.

Pay no attention to the means (the black dots) being different. Look at the amount of smear. My teaching scores are tightly clumped (wide boxes show where half of the scores lie). My research scores vary significantly. Some years (like this one), I published a lot of papers. Some years, I didn’t.

I didn’t include service in the graph, because few people think service should be the main way we evaluate professors. The variation for service is closer to that for teaching than it is for research, anyway.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume my personal record is not different from other faculty as a group.

You need variation to make decisions. If you want to buy a car, and every car you look at has air conditioning, you are not going to factor, “Does this car have air conditioning?” into your decision.

To me, this indicates that we need much more sophisticated measurements of teaching achievements. We can’t value teaching when we have so few ways of distinguishing between teachers.

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