Teaching Portfolios: A Positive Appraisal

By Seldin, Peter | Academe, January/February 2000 | Go to article overview

Teaching Portfolios: A Positive Appraisal


Seldin, Peter, Academe


Over the past decade, teaching portfolios have emerged as a popular tool for assessing the educational work of faculty members. How useful are

they? Peter Seldin, a professor of management at Pace University, champions portfolios, while Candace Burns, a professor of educational foundations at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, questions their effectiveness.

Preparing a portfolio can improve your teaching. And it certainly gives evaluators more and better information than student ratings.

HISTORIC CHANGE IS TAKING PLACE IN higher education: teaching is being taken more seriously. Countless colleges and universities are re-examining their commitment to teaching and exploring ways to evaluate and reward it. As for faculty, they are being held accountable, as never before, to provide indisputable evidence of the quality of their classroom instruction. In the past, the routine approach to evaluating teaching has relied almost exclusively on student ratings, perhaps supplemented by a testimonial letter or two. But there is much more to teaching than what student ratings critique, buttressed by one or two pat-on-the-back testimonials. The best way I know to get at both the complexity and the individuality of teaching is the teaching portfolio.

What is a teaching portfolio? It is a collection of materials that document teaching performance. It brings together in one place information about a professor's most significant teaching strengths and accomplishments. The portfolio is to teaching what lists of publications, grants, and honors are to research and scholarship. It is flexible enough to be used for tenure and promotion decisions or to provide the stimulus and structure for self-reflection about teaching areas in need of improvement.

The teaching portfolio is not an exhaustive compilation of all the documents and materials that bear on an individual's teaching performance. Rather, it presents thoughtfully chosen information on teaching activities along with evidence of their effectiveness. just as in a curriculum vitae, all claims made in the portfolio must be supported by empirical evidence.

The national movement in higher education toward using portfolios is now at an unprecedented high. Although reliable numbers are hard to come by, it is estimated that as many as fifteen hundred colleges and universities in the United States and Canada are now using or experimenting with portfolios. That is a stunning jump from the ten or so institutions thought to be using portfolios in 1990.

Portfolio Content

NO SINGLE RECIPE EXISTS FOR PREPARING A TEACHING portfolio. Since portfolios are highly personalized products, no two are exactly alike. Both content and organization vary from one faculty member to another. The items chosen for the portfolio depend on the purpose for which the portfolio is prepared as well as the discipline and teaching style of the faculty member. But from personal review of more than five hundred portfolios prepared by professors in different academic disciplines and institutions, I can say that certain items turn up in portfolios with much more frequency than others.

Good portfolios for tenure and promotion or for teaching improvement usually contain items from three broad areas: the products of teaching (student learning), materials from the portfolio creator, and information from others.

In the first category, a portfolio might contain student scores on preand postcourse examinations as evidence of student learning; student essays, fieldwork reports, laboratory workbooks, or logs; examples of graded student essays showing excellent, average, and poor work; a record of students who succeed in advanced study in the field; and student publications or conference presentations on course-related work prepared under the direction of the faculty member.

Materials generated by the faculty member might include testimonials from employers, other faculty members, or students about the professor's influence on career choice or preparation; a reflective personal statement about the faculty member's contribution to the teaching mission of the department or institution; and representative course syllabi that detail course content, objectives, teaching methods, readings, and homework assignments. …

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