- Can teaching portfolios improve teaching?
- How are portfolios used in promotion and tenure decisions?
- Why does documenting their teaching make some teachers feel uneasy?
- What are the benefits of a teaching portfolio?
- What criteria are used to evaluate teaching portfolios?
As a vehicle for structured reflection about teaching, the portfolio offers its most exciting opportunities to teachers. It gives them the chance to think about why they do certain things in class, to consider what worked and what didn't. It encourages them to be become more self-aware about their teaching, to engage in some classroom research. It provides a means of reviewing their teaching priorities, practices, and preferences.
Portfolios can have a very positive influence on teaching. As teachers make a more conscious effort to gather a pool of information from which to draw evidence of their effectiveness, they may do a number of things:
- read about and try new teaching techniques
- attend instructional development programs
- participate in peer consultation
- use formative evaluation instruments with their students.
In other words, as John Zubizarreta (1994) says, they become "more intentional in generating actual products of good teaching." Students are the beneficiaries of that effort. He concludes:
Finally, the portfolio stands to change not only the way teaching is defined and assessed but also the degree to which it is valued in the academy. (Teaching Portfolios and the Beginning Teacher. Phi Delta Kappan.)
Most teachers create their portfolios for job search or career enhancement. For professors seeking promotion or tenure, the portfolio provides an opportunity to demonstrate their growth and progress as teachers through the use of exemplary material such as students' work, courses developed, committee work, unsolicited feedback about teaching, and so on. In the salary review process, the portfolio is a way for faculty to demonstrate excellence in teaching and thus increase the probability that good teaching will be rewarded.
As both products and processes portfolios
- are an ideal way to present documentation because they include narrative sections and samples
- encourage reflection on one's responsibilities, goals, and philosophy
- demonstrate contexts, development over time, learning from mistakes
- encourage collaboration among colleagues
"It makes me feel uncomfortable - it's too much like self-promotion." This participant at a University of Saskatchewan teaching portfolio workshop was an accomplished professor with well over 20 years' teaching experience. Why did he think it unseemly to record his teaching accomplishments?
Perhaps it's easiest to answer this frequently asked question with some more questions:
- What makes a teaching portfolio more self-promoting than a curriculum vitae, a list of publications, or a description of research activities and grants?
- Why do some teachers feel that they must be modest, uncovering only a little of their teaching, yet happy to "bare all" when it comes to research?
- What does teachers' reluctance to reflect upon, write about, and document their teaching performance say about the way they think teaching is valued at the university?
Certainly, research output is more visible, perhaps more easily quantified, than teaching accomplishment, but that should challenge us to find better ways of documenting effective teaching. It is also too easy to say that "everyone teaches" at the university and that it isn't necessary to record what everyone does. Everyone may teach, but course loads, class sizes and levels, types and frequency of assignments, amount and detail of feedback to students, teaching activities, all of these vary from teacher to teacher (Park, S. January, 1996. Research, Teaching, and Service: Why Shouldn't Women's Work Count? Journal of Higher Education.)
The portfolio benefits teachers, students, and administrators because it
- keeps a record of a teacher's accomplishments
- focuses attention on teaching and recognizes its importance
- stimulates discussion about teaching and pedagogy
- encourages the "scholarship of teaching" as teachers begin to engage in classroom research
- encourages teachers to develop and present better evidence of the quality of teaching
- provides a better assessment tool for those who hire, promote and evaluate teachers
- gives the teacher some control over the process as compiler and editor
Because each portfolio is unique to the teacher and his or her teaching context, each portfolio will be different. However, in the interests of fairness and of rigour, it is essential that standard criteria be used to rate portfolios. The principles of evaluation should include the following:
- Completeness of documentation
- Clarity of organization
- Broad selection of evidence from a variety of sources: the teacher, students, peers
- Connection between the teaching philosophy statement and the evidence:
- to what extent does the evidence show that the teacher is achieving his or her stated objectives for teaching and learning?
- to what extent does the evidence show that the teacher is contributing to the achievement of the department's and the University's goals and objectives?
The onus is on each teacher to ensure that the evaluation committee has all of the information and documentation that it requires to make a fair decision in an open and accountable way. See the University of Saskatchewan Standards for Promotion and Tenure, October 2001, D2.