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Workshop looks at portfolios
September 14, 1998
Student surveys. Videotape. Mentoring. Classroom observations. Four different ways to assess how well one teaches, methods that are tried and, presumably, true.
But when these are all rolled into a portfolio, and accompanied by reflection and introspection, the process becomes much more effective, an increasing number of academicians believe - including a number of leaders at UConn.
On Friday, Peter Seldin, one of the founding fathers of the movement toward using teaching portfolios to enhance learning, discussed the process of assessing teaching with more than 100 professors, about half from UConn, during the first day of the 1998 Northeast Regional Teaching Workshop, held Friday and Saturday at Bishop Center. The workshop was hosted by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and coordinated by Suman Singha, associate dean of the college.
Seldin, who lectures on portfolios regularly, is a fervent advocate of the process, which began on a few campuses in 1990 and can now be found at some 1,500 colleges and universities including, to some extent, UConn, where efforts to improve teaching have become more prominent during the past decade.
A solid portfolio, Seldin says, must contain a series of supporting documents, including not only student surveys and critiques by colleagues, but also faculty members' course syllabi, letters of invitation from professional journals or organizations to write or speak in the area of their expertise, and other highlights of their work. Most important, he says, it must include several pages of writing, created during time set aside for self-reflection.
"I place a lot of emphasis on the reflection process, which I believe serves as a springboard to enhancing one's teaching," says Seldin.
Keith Barker, director of UConn's Institute for Teaching and Learning and a professor of computer science and engineering, agrees.
"If you do something, anything, then sit down and reflect on it, you're very likely to do a better job of it the next time," says Barker, whose institute, along with the Office of the Chancellor, co-sponsored the event.
"We're looking to provide evidence of good teaching practices - helping students learn - throughout the tenure process. Right now we efficiently and effectively document the research process, but little is done to document effectiveness in teaching and the educational developmental growth of a faculty member," says Barker. "We're looking for a way for schools and colleges to do this."
Seldin brought his latest research to the conference, where he shared lessons he has learned and worked to help participants develop the skills needed to employ the teaching portfolio as a positive teaching tool. And the largest piece of that effort, he says, is reflection.
"Not just solo reflection, either," he says. "I've found that most professors do their best when they collaborate with another colleague, a mentor, someone who can ask why, gently, something belongs in the portfolio," he says.
At UConn, Barker has been working with Chancellor Mark Emmert, Susan Steele, vice provost for undergraduate education and instruction, and Robert Smith, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school, to encourage many UConn teaching assistants and other graduate students to use portfolios. Barker delivers at least three seminars a year to different groups of graduate students and, this semester, began teaching a new course called Teaching and Learning Fundamentals.
And, while he says discussions are ongoing to bring new techniques for enhancing teaching to faculty, the main thrust of the current effort is toward teaching assistants and graduate students heading out into the work force.
"I think we do our students a disservice if if we don't teach them this," Barker says, noting that an increasing number of universities expect to see teaching portfolios from job applicants. "I'd like to see it as something that every graduate student has under his or her belt by the time they leave UConn."
Seldin, a professor at Pace University and the author of numerous books on teaching portfolios, was joined Friday afternoon by Russell French, a University of Tennessee professor who discussed methods of assessing student learning, and the issues involved in the process. On Saturday, Lynn Bloom, who holds the Aetna Chair of Writing, and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources professors Cameron Faustman, Thomas Hoagland and John Riesen presented several sessions on improving student writing.