What does it mean to value teaching? Whose views matter in assessing teaching? What is the role of student learning in quality teaching? In what ways do contextual features such as required versus elective, time of day and modality matter in whether instruction is perceived as effective? What evidence of teaching should be used to make these assessments? What support is in place to improve teaching for instructors who want and need it? There are many questions being asked at MSU and nationally* about what it means to value teaching and take it seriously in annual reviews and promotion decisions. And since beginning the transition from SIRS to the Student Perceptions of Learning Survey (SPLS), numerous groups and individuals have been wrestling with understanding past practices and finding answers to how we can collectively move forward creating a culture that values teaching, which ties directly to student success.

Since discussion about a transition in summative student feedback surveys began over 5 years ago, a lot has been learned about the many uses of such assessments that have attempted to satisfy multiple and sometimes conflicting goals including improving instruction to enhance student learning, accreditation expectations, hiring and promotion decisions, utility of specific assignments and course readings, impacts of course loads on student scheduling, etc. It has also become clear that curricula at MSU are not only decentralized and complex but do not easily align with a unified assessment system. Lab and lecture sections, interdepartmental courses, co-taught classes, courses with numerous sections, short courses and those that cross traditional semesters, and study away experiences are just a few examples of MSU’s educational offerings that contribute to fantastic student educational experiences but that make system transitions challenging. Those most directly involved in the system transition have worked closely together to think through how best to navigate these complexities, attending to local needs when possible while staying true to the value proposition of improving assessment of teaching.

Progress with major system changes is often slow and sometimes, painful. That said, each term’s use provides new insights, challenges to address, and exciting local conversations about how to effectively use multiple measures to improve and reward quality teaching e.g., peer observation, reflective essays, examples of innovative assignments, mid-semester feedback. The research on which central decisions are made is robust yet arriving at a functional system with minimal bias, equitable to all and that will address institutional, college, and programmatic needs is not easy. As units develop guidelines and ToolKits and we continue working with the new summative system to fit the needs of MSU at all levels, we hope the upgrade from SIRS to the SPLS serves as the spark that reignites our collective effort toward enhancing and rewarding quality teaching.

* See Beth McMurtrie’s Chronicle of Higher Education article, Teaching Evaluations are Broke. Can They Be Fixed? (2/16/2024)