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CBE Life Sci Educ. 2017 Winter;16(4). pii: es5. doi: 10.1187/cbe.17-02-0032.

Aligning Practice to Policies: Changing the Culture to Recognize and Reward Teaching at Research Universities.

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Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697.
Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.
Department of Chemistry, Graduate School, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202.
Department of Physics and Center for STEM Learning, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309.
Department of Psychology and Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045.
Research and Graduate Studies, College of Science, and Department of Physics, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.
Department of Chemistry, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695.
Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.
Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824.
Association of American Universities, Washington, DC 20005.
Association of American Universities, Washington, DC 20005


Recent calls for improvement in undergraduate education within STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines are hampered by the methods used to evaluate teaching effectiveness. Faculty members at research universities are commonly assessed and promoted mainly on the basis of research success. To improve the quality of undergraduate teaching across all disciplines, not only STEM fields, requires creating an environment wherein continuous improvement of teaching is valued, assessed, and rewarded at various stages of a faculty member's career. This requires consistent application of policies that reflect well-established best practices for evaluating teaching at the department, college, and university levels. Evidence shows most teaching evaluation practices do not reflect stated policies, even when the policies specifically espouse teaching as a value. Thus, alignment of practice to policy is a major barrier to establishing a culture in which teaching is valued. Situated in the context of current national efforts to improve undergraduate STEM education, including the Association of American Universities Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative, this essay discusses four guiding principles for aligning practice with stated priorities in formal policies: 1) enhancing the role of deans and chairs; 2) effectively using the hiring process; 3) improving communication; and 4) improving the understanding of teaching as a scholarly activity. In addition, three specific examples of efforts to improve the practice of evaluating teaching are presented as examples: 1) Three Bucket Model of merit review at the University of California, Irvine; (2) Evaluation of Teaching Rubric, University of Kansas; and (3) Teaching Quality Framework, University of Colorado, Boulder. These examples provide flexible criteria to holistically evaluate and improve the quality of teaching across the diverse institutions comprising modern higher education.

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