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Re-defining teaching excellence at the UW

Overview – Drafting common elements of good teaching

The Future of Teaching and Learning initiative developed a draft definition of quality instruction in winter 2022 based on a review of the existing UW faculty code, a study of similar efforts at peer institutions, and discussions with UW faculty, staff, and administrators. The draft articulates five core elements of good teaching.

The initiative sought feedback on its draft set of common core elements of good teaching during autumn quarter 2023 from tri-campus instructors of all ranks via live feedback sessions and an online form. It also encouraged units to begin discussions about how they might build on the core elements in locally-specific ways.

Broad faculty feedback and insights are currently being analyzed. Based on input, the initiative will further refine the draft and develop recommendations that it will present in spring 2024 to the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning.

A new advisory council is supporting the working group by helping ensure the work is representative of faculty input and results in actionable recommendations to the FCTL.

Watch this video to learn more about this effort and the latest draft:

Shared core elements of teaching at UW

Autumn 2023 draft

Follow link for description of shared core elements

Overall feedback on draft elements via the online form

Faculty who filled out the online feedback form were asked to rank the extent to which they agreed or disagreed that each draft element is core to good teaching. Responses were overwhelmingly positive.

Follow the link for a description of the column chart explaining feedback received on core elements via the online form.

Additional feedback on each element, as well as additional elements to consider, are currently being analyzed by the working group for inclusion in an updated version of the draft.

UW roles of the 636 participants who provided feedback

Well over 10% of UW faculty – 636 participants – provided feedback on the draft core elements of effective teaching at feedback sessions or via an online feedback form.

Participants hailed from all three UW campuses: 47% from Seattle, 19% from Bothell, and 15% from Tacoma. Another 19% attended mixed sessions where campus affiliation was not recorded, such as a Faculty Senate meeting.

Follow the link for a description of the percentages of the UW roles from the participants who provided feedback.

*Role was not recorded during faculty feedback sessions hosted by the Faculty Senate, Mechanical Engineering, Anthropology, Speech & Hearing Sciences, and UWT’s School of Urban Studies

Frequently asked questions

These FAQ were gathered during feedback opportunities in 2023 in which 636 faculty from all ranks and academic leaders on the UW’s three campuses were asked what comments or questions they had for the working group and/or relevant faculty governance groups.

Accessible Accordion

Who is involved in this? Who is on the working group?

Members of the working group include instructors of various ranks and disciplines, faculty and student leaders, academic leaders, and subject-matter experts in instructional support. All three campuses are represented. The working group has consulted and included colleagues outside of the official membership in their work.

A full list of AY22-24 members can be found in the charge letters available on the initiative website.

Are tenure track, research-focused faculty involved?

Yes. Tenure track, teaching track, and instructional experts were consulted in developing the draft. The full membership of the working group included tenure-track faculty and can be found in the group’s charge letter. In addition, the working group vetted early drafts with faculty of various ranks from across the UW’s three campuses. Early vetting included over sixty tenure track faculty, some of whom are also academic administrators or members of faculty governance groups.

Autumn 2023 feedback gathering is an important way for instructors of all ranks to ensure their perspectives are incorporated and concerns are addressed. 

Have UW Tacoma and UW Bothell instructors been involved and consulted in this effort?

Yes. UWT and UWB representatives on the working group were instrumental in this process. Academic leadership on both campuses have already provided early feedback. Both campuses are planning feedback sessions for instructors this Autumn. Instructional support teams across the three campuses are already coordinating to provide resources around common elements, which will free them up to provide locally-specific, campus-based support.

Is this an administrative, top-down effort?

No. Although it was launched by the provost and has leadership support, the work is led by instructors of various ranks, faculty senate council members, student leaders, and instructional support professionals across the UW’s three campuses. 

The task of defining good teaching is a broad-based effort that will incorporate input from instructors on all three campuses. Results will support and inform both faculty governance work and provost priorities going forward. 

Are faculty governance groups involved in this work?

Yes. By design, the working group that created this draft includes members of the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning (FCTL) and the Faculty Council on Academic Standards (FCAS). Throughout its work, the working group has been sharing drafts with and seeking input from Faculty Senate leaders and their advisory council, as well as the chairs of faculty councils. The working group is also working in tandem with existing FCTL subgroups working on adjacent issues (e.g., peer evaluation and student course evaluation). 

Once the working group has finished gathering and incorporating feedback from instructors, and is satisfied with its draft, it will make recommendations to the FCTL, which will then determine whether and how to implement the recommendations. 

The close connection with faculty governance groups that has existed from the beginning of this work is critical. Faculty governance groups are responsible for the processes that support and evaluate teaching and acutely feel the need for a shared language around good teaching. 

I already incorporate these elements into my teaching. Does this impact me?

Yes. Many UW instructors already incorporate these elements into their teaching, some of whom are not recognized or rewarded for their efforts. Colleagues may even argue with them that what they are doing is not worth their time or is not, in fact, good teaching. A common understanding of what makes up good teaching at UW can shift the conversation and thus better support the work of those already engaged in reflective teaching. 

Teaching is an iterative process – no one finishes learning how to teach. Because who, where, and when we teach constantly shifts, there is always room for improvement when it comes to our teaching practice. A shared understanding of the core elements of good teaching can help offer faculty a place to start as they begin reflecting on and improving teaching.

Why are we spending time defining good teaching? Why do we need this?

Over the last decade higher education has witnessed advances in research about teaching, learning, and student well-being: the introduction of new teaching modalities; a diversification of the student population; and an upheaval brought about by a global pandemic, The UW’s existing articulation of the elements of effective teaching (Faculty Code 24-32.C) pre-dates many of these developments. UW instructors have also expressed a desire to update and improve the evaluative mechanisms and professional development that support teaching at UW. Given all of this, it makes sense to revisit and update our shared understanding of the elements of effective teaching. Doing so will position the faculty to make improvements in student evaluations and peer evaluations, and can help align instructional support to faculty needs.

Does the faculty code currently contain language about what constitutes good teaching?

The faculty code Section 24-32  Scholarly and Professional Qualifications of Faculty Members, section C, describes the current articulation of UW “elements in assessing effective teaching.” The working group included this faculty code language as one of the key inputs in the development of the draft elements of good teaching for feedback and consideration this year. 

I’ve heard other universities are defining teaching excellence. Why don’t we just borrow their definitions?

Many universities have developed or are developing similar common understandings of good teaching because they see similar needs. While there are commonalities, there is a recognition that we need a locally-relevant definition that aligns with our UW values and teaching contexts. 

The working group reviewed teaching excellence information from three key sources: 

  1. Efforts of institutional peers (including Purdue University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Buffalo, as well as  the Association of College and University Educators);  
  2. Existing UW definitions; and 
  3. Recent brainstorming sessions of tri-campus instructors. 

Information from these sources was analyzed and synthesized to draft UW-specific definitions – those we are reviewing here.

Why are the common definitions so broad? Teaching in my area isn’t like teaching in other units.

As concepts foundational to good teaching, the core elements in this draft are intentionally broad and are applicable across disciplines and teaching contexts. But that doesn’t mean that these are the ONLY characteristics of good teaching. The draft criteria are intended as foundational. Departments or academic units may well wish to articulate additional criteria to better reflect their disciplines and teaching contexts.

Will this change how instructors are evaluated for promotion, tenure, and merit? If so, how?

The focus of this work is to create a shared understanding around instructional quality to facilitate conversations around existing processes, such as course and peer evaluations and instructional support. Determining the connection between the draft elements of good teaching and promotion and tenure criteria is out of scope for the working group. While the immediate focus of a shared understanding of good teaching is to encourage instructors to adopt a formative mindset when it comes to teaching (i.e., that  improving teaching is a career-long process), we anticipate that faculty governance groups and academic leadership may want to integrate it into evaluation mechanisms. How exactly will be up to them. If they choose to do so, it would likely take several years and involve additional feedback opportunities.

Does this apply to online and hybrid teaching? What about clinical, lab-based, and experiential instruction?

Yes. The draft core elements are meant to apply across all course modes and teaching contexts. This is why they are intentionally broad. What each element looks like in different contexts will vary. Departments, programs, and other units are invited to draft additional language that builds on these core elements and speaks more directly to teaching contexts in their areas.

How are instructors going to be supported to be able to do this?

One of the chief benefits of having a shared understanding of the core elements of good teaching is that it can inform the development of more relevant, timely instructional support resources (e.g., informational webpages, workshops, instructional videos, etc.). In addition, implementation of the criteria may require additional resources so that instructors and academic units have the support they need to succeed. The working group has recommended to the provost that professional development opportunities and instructional support resources be added to facilitate this work.

Does this effort add burden by changing expectations for instructors around teaching?

Teaching is core to the mission of the university and UW instructors are expected to teach and teach well. This effort aims to clarify and amplify values and expectations already present.  The draft criteria represent mindsets and practices that are foundational to effective teaching. 

Teaching well is a career-long commitment – no one finishes learning how to teach. Thus, the criteria serve as both a validation of the good work instructors are already doing in UW classrooms and as goals for improvement. 

Reaching these goals may require instructors to spend time and effort refining and adjusting their teaching practices. But such effort is already expected of instructors at the UW, often without clear expectations. This work to define good teaching at UW will help clarify those expectations across the UW.