Making informed guesses about learning
The consequence of the shift of focus from what the teacher does to the mental transformation of the learner must have become clear by now. The traditional conception of teaching views it as knowledge transmission, and asks the following questions:
- What is the quality of the knowledge that the teacher transmits?
- What is the quality of the mode of transmission of knowledge?
The first question is about the knowledge content presented in the lectures and teaching materials. The second question is about the quality of exposition and presentation in the lectures and teaching materials. In this view, the best teacher is one who transmits the best possible body of knowledge in the best possible manner. In the actual practice of teaching evaluation, particularly from the point of view of students, these questions are replaced by considerations of students' reactions to teachers.
Once we shift the focus from the teacher to the learner, the questions become radically different:
- What is the quality of the learning resulting from teaching?
- What is the quality of the enhanced learning capability resulting from the teaching?
In the learner centred approach, knowledge content is indeed important, but we acknowledge that what is transmitted need not necessarily be received by the learner. What the teacher transmits then becomes the basis for making an informed guess on what the learner could have learnt. The second question about enhanced learning capability takes us way beyond the range of traditional education.
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Assessing Teaching Excellence
In the light of the above discussion, traditional teaching and teaching evaluation can be described as surface teaching and surface evaluation. It restricts itself to the issues of coverage and depth of the syllabus (question 1), and presentational aspects like pace and clarity of lecture delivery, use of audiovisual aids, and eye contact (question 2). In contrast, the learner centred approach can be described as being concerned with deep teaching and deep evaluation in that it goes beyond the above questions to address issues of enhanced learning capability.
In the preceding sections, we explored the various aspects of the learning that teaching should aim to facilitate. Now, learning is a process that takes place in the mind of the learner, and hence cannot be directly observed. In order to evaluate the success of teaching in terms of the learning process, we need to examine a set of observables. One may say that it is not simply the (absolute) "quality of learning outcome" that should act as the measure of the quality of teaching, but rather the incremental achievement on the part of the student that results from the facilitation of the teacher (a la Vygotsky). Ideally, the best way of measuring the process of learning would be to measure the learner's initial behavior (that is, behavior prior to the process of learning) and final behavior (that is, behavior subsequent to the process of learning), and measure the difference. Since we recognize the inculcation of independent learning abilities as central to excellence in teaching, this would involve observing the behavior of university graduates a few years after graduation, to find out how much they have learnt after graduation.
Though this form of assessing learning and hence the success of teaching must be considered seriously, the measurement strategies for the purposes of teaching evaluation are somewhat difficult to implement. Hence, let us turn to a relatively practical way of assessing teaching excellence, namely, the activities of the teacher that we think are likely to cause successful learning, and the learners' self reflective reports on the learning.
| Teacher's Activities
Learner's self reflection
A committee of peers can make an informed guess on the quality of teaching on the basis of the teacher's syllabus, teaching materials, classroom activities, assignments, projects, quizzes, feedback to students, and final examinations. The learner's self reflective reports on learning can be gathered through student feedback questionnaires.
Assessing the quality of teaching is not a simple matter of looking at student feedback and auditing one or two lectures. These considerations are no doubt important, but by themselves, they are grossly insufficient. The teacher's personal qualities such as knowledge, approachability, and ability to inspire, and so on, are also important, but once again, only to the extent that they feed into the teaching activities or enhance the growth of learning.
If we truly believe that teaching is facilitating learning, evaluation of teaching quality shifts its focus from the teacher to the process of learning. In the preceding sections, we explored in detail the consequences of this shift of focus. Teaching evaluation should include a careful consideration of module objectives and syllabuses, handouts, selection of readings, classroom activities, feedback to students, choice of assessment modes, and design of exercises, assignments, projects, quizzes, and final examinations. The quality of these ingredients must be assessed in the context of a reasonable estimate of the quality of learning outcome that they facilitate, in terms of knowledge, application, thinking, independent learning, communication, mind set and values, and interpersonal skills. In particular, it is important to estimate how well a teacher empowers students to become self-directed independent life-long learners.