How to Tell if a New Strategy is Working


The concept of "getting better" implies doing something different, and that the "something different" is "better" in some way. Teaching improvement should involve trying new and different things, but also calls for assessing the new way of teaching. If you’re planning to incorporate a new element in your teaching next semester (a new assignment, a different textbook, use of small groups, etc.), also plan how you will assess its effectiveness. You’ll need feedback on two central questions: Does it improve student learning, and does it improve student reactions to my teaching? To answer these questions, you should consider using both mid-term and end-of-term questionnaires. Mid-term questionnaires offer you a chance to obtain early feedback on how students are reacting to what you’re doing and give you time to make any changes that are called for. End-of-term questionnaires seek feedback on both the goals for the course and each of the teaching/ learning activities used in the course. For each major course goal, ask students the degree to which that goal was realized for them and why. For each distinct teaching/learning activity, ask students to indicate the degree to which that activity was successful in fulfilling that purpose and why.

The Office of Graduate Studies Teaching Documentation Program is another tool to help you assess the effectiveness of a new element in your teaching. Don’t abandon an innovation if it doesn’t work well the first time. You may need to learn what to do to make the innovation effective before you see the desired advantages. If it doesn’t work after three honest tries, then it may be fair to conclude that it doesn’t work for you. But give it at least three tries before you reach that conclusion.