There are number of good reasons for evaluating teaching ranging from the desire to improve it to demonstration of quality. The type of evaluation used will depend on the purpose of that valuation and it is therefore important that evaluators be sure of their purpose and choose the evaluation methodology and sources of evidence accordingly.
If teaching is simply regarded as transmission of knowledge, evaluation methods will focus on the individual academic, but, if teaching is seen as creating and sustaining an effective environment for learning, then it becomes the responsibility of the institution itself, of faculties, departments and schools as well as individual teachers and should be evaluated accordingly. At the institution level, for example, promotions policies which do not take good teaching into account send clear messages to academic staff with flow-on effects on student learning. At the faculty/school/department levels, curriculum decisions and assessment policies directly affect the quality of student learning and should be evaluated. Influencing these matters is often beyond the power of the individual teacher.
At the departmental/school level, key questions for the unit are:
The questions are simple to pose but in practice difficult to answer, unless the unit continually thinks through its teaching activities.
When it comes to evaluating individual teachers or courses, the distinction between formative and summative evaluations becomes vital. While, the results of summative evaluations may be used formatively, formative evaluations should never be used for administrative or personnel decision making.
Information should be obtained from a number of sources; students, peers, colleagues, graduates and possibly employers with appropriate information gathering methodology according to the type of source. In general, the administration of summative evaluations should be much more strict than for formative evaluations, although no harm is done if the higher standards of administration are applied to the latter.
Having conducted evaluations of teaching, institutions should ensure that there is support for both units and individuals to analyse the results and to make improvements. The cost of this support should not be underestimated. Without it, however, evaluation of teaching becomes a sham.
In summary, evaluation of teaching is useful if there is a clear purpose, appropriate methodology and support for improvement initiatives.