Why you do what you do in the classroom... and how to tell others about it.

The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions, second edition, by Peter Seldin, Anker Publishing Company, 1997.

Reviewed by: Dr. J. Masty

Is there a way to evaluate the quality of teaching that a professor does that goes beyond a cursory review of numeric averages generated from evaluation forms filled out by students? We are all familiar with the concept of a portfolio developed by designers, photographers, architects, and artists: it is a collection of their best works presented for review. Development of a teaching portfolio is one way for faculty to provide a structured means of documentation regarding teaching accomplishment, goals, philosophies and improvement over a period of time. Seldin defines the teaching portfolio as a "factual description of a professor?s teaching strengths and accomplishments. It includes documents and materials which collectively suggest the scope and quality of a professor?s teaching performance. It is to teaching what lists of publications, grants, and honors are to research and scholarship."

Preparation of a teaching portfolio serves two broad purposes: 1) it provides a mechanism that leads to pedagogic improvement driven by self assessment and reflection; 2) it provides thorough documentation of teaching for tenure and promotion review, post-tenure merit review, and award consideration. The content of a teaching portfolio reflects the individuality of the professor based on his academic assignments and key components that may be required by the department, the college and the University. Any individualized portfolio is organized by information provided by the professor, information provided by others, and examples that document teaching performance and student learning. Information provided by the first two sources is usually put into narrative format with samples of teaching and student learning provided as a referenced appendix to the narrative.

"Just as the student needs feedback to correct errors, the professors need factual and philosophical data to improve teaching performance." Construction of the portfolio forces you to think about what you teach and how you do it. Information the individual professor places in the portfolio includes, but is not limited to the following: course data; a statement of the individual?s teaching philosophy, strategies, goals and methodologies; examples of course syllabi with objectives and methodologies; innovations and an assessment of their effectiveness; participation in workshops and conferences designed to sharpen instructional skills; and a description of steps taken to improve teaching resulting from reflective self assessment. Preparation of the portfolio provides the stimulus and structure for reflective thinking about teaching performance and effectiveness. It may lead to the individual rethinking teaching activities and strategies, discovering what worked or didn?t work in the classroom, and to describe new strategies for areas that need to be improved.

The complete portfolio will also include material submitted by others who have had an opportunity to evaluate the individual?s teaching and its potential for enhancing student learning. Items in this category may include statements by peer evaluators, student evaluations (any salesman or provider of goods wants to know how satisfied the customer is with his product and how it can be improved), recognition of teaching excellence as evidenced by teaching awards, and documentation of efforts by specialists detailing efforts geared toward personal improvement of pedagogical skills. Seldin believes one of the most important benefits to be realized from portfolio development is working with a mentor. The mentor can be a faculty colleague in your discipline, across department lines, or an educational specialist. Collaboration with another individual who shares an interest in teaching enhancement brings insight and objectivity to teaching which is normally a highly subjective, singular and relatively isolated activity; "...collaboratively designed portfolios are an antidote to isolation and a way to promote collegial exchange focused on teaching and learning." Collaboration with the mentor provides the opportunity to combine one?s self assessment of their teaching activities with the objectivity of an interested peer evaluator. "Collaboration offers significant opportunities for strengthening the quality of teaching and learning by engaging professors in open discourse on pedagogical substance, making teaching a more public and peer-reviewed activity."

Finally, the teaching portfolio includes substantive examples that represent products of teaching and student learning in an appendix that supports the narrative portion of the document. These examples, of course, are individualized to the individual?s discipline. Such items may include pretest scores compared with post learning scores; essays or research manuscripts and how they were edited; identification of students who have excelled at higher levels of advanced course work; and identification of the postgraduate student who reflects the professor's influence on a successful career choice.

The teaching portfolio provides a means for an individual to catalog their teaching efforts, to reflect upon pedagogic strategies and methodologies, and to share these assessments with like minded individuals in an effort to improve the educational product delivered to students. In addition to becoming a vehicle for self improvement, the portfolio?s presentation of the individual?s teaching philosophy and detailed documentation "provides evaluators with hard-to-ignore information on what they do in the classroom and why they do it. And by so doing, it avoids looking at teaching performance as a derivative of student ratings."