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  • Classrooms as Laboratories in the R-1 UniversityCracking the Problem of How Best to Value Teaching
  • John Webster (bio)
Making Teaching and Learning Visible: Course Portfolios and the Peer Review of Teaching. By Daniel Bernstein, Amy Nelson Burnett, Amy Goodburn, and Paul Savory. Bolton, MA: Anker, 2006.

Anyone who has yearned for the day when teaching at research-intensive colleges and universities is better respected and rewarded than it is now is familiar with the obstacles in the way of such a day's dawning. Among many, two in particular stand out: teaching's institutional invisibility, and the difficulty of accurately assessing teaching effectiveness. Neither of these will surprise even casual observers of the postsecondary landscape. For the first, it simply recognizes that while students see, hear, and talk with teachers all the time, and while for many of us teaching makes up a very significant portion of the time we spend "at work," that work rarely takes place in ways that are visible to colleagues or departmental entities. And as for the assessing of teaching, the same invisibility applies —though a veneer of mandated teaching surveys and peer review procedures makes this harder to see. Our students do regularly evaluate most of us via mark-sense forms or other means, but few of these assessments actually tell us much about such matters as what or how well students learned. Few of them even tell us what a given instructor's course learning goals were, much less put such goals in a context of alternative possible [End Page 185] goals, or explain why one set of goals was chosen over any other. How can you recognize as good teaching that which is neither seen nor assessed?

Making Teaching and Learning Visible: Course Portfolios and the Peer Review of Teaching sets out to address both of these issues and to do so in such a way as might transform the face of teaching and learning at research-intensive institutions. Both an account of the University of Nebraska's Peer Review of Teaching project and a how-to-do-it manual for anyone who might like to follow suit, it focuses, as its title promises, first on the development and writing of course portfolios, and second on establishing a peer review of teaching programs based on the portfolios so produced. The premise for all is that combining the research-friendly processes of peer review with a well-thought-out course portfolio development program will not only make teaching "visible," but will do so in a way that research-intensive institutions will enthusiastically support.

That's a tall order, but one this book goes a long way toward filling. It is eminently readable, and all eight of its chapters explain and illustrate in language neither preachy nor condescending a method for thinking powerfully about what each of us does in a classroom. Though the book addresses general issues in the scholarship of teaching and learning, it is not set up as a theoretical account, nor does it spend time with traditional educational research. Rather it models a way of being scholarly and reflective about teaching and learning that virtually any faculty member in any postsecondary position can adopt without having to submerge her- or himself in the research literature of pedagogy. The book's authors certainly don't discourage that kind of work, but this book explicitly aims to show ordinary faculty straightforward ways to gain a clear and informed sense of what they already do as teachers, along with ways to make that new awareness powerfully visible to other faculty.

The book's early chapters describe two kinds of course portfolios, the benchmark portfolio and the inquiry portfolio. Both start from the assumption that teaching is ideally not just an orderly presentation of material to a group of willing hearers but a complex form of intellectual work. Following Charles Glassick, Mary Taylor Huber, and Gene Maeroff in Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professorate (1997: 5), they characterize teaching as the work of a scholar who "is well-prepared, uses appropriate methods, gathers and considers relevant evidence, and reflects publicly on what has been learned in the process." The object of the...


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