Rice’s Center for Teaching Excellence offers services such as teaching consultations, in class observations and workshops to help individual instructors develop effective teaching methods. According to CTE Director Joshua Eyler, 34 percent of instructional faculty utilized these services from the center’s founding in 2012 to March 2015.
“We always want more, but we are very pleased with that figure,” Eyler said. “In comparison with our peers, that’s high. We are at least on the same curve as our peers like Northwestern [University], which has a very established center that’s been around for decades.”
Faculty schedule appointments with the CTE on an individual basis and can have CTE members sit in on their classes to follow up. All consultations are confidential and operate independently of the university’s official evaluative structure, which deals with tenure, promotion and student evaluations, according to Eyler.
“Faculty can come to us without any worry about how it will affect their career,” Eyler said. “For someone to talk about their teaching, that’s a very personal thing.”
Due to the confidentiality policy, there is no public record of courses that have been changed or restructured through consultation services. Baker College sophomore Alex Hayes said he wants to see more transparency in how teaching consultations may improve courses.
“I would like to know if utilization of CTE services actually results in improved courses,” Hayes said. “We have course review data, so this shouldn’t be difficult.”
According to Eyler, there are no reliable ways to measure course improvement.
“There are methods to measure effectiveness of our services but none are perfect,” Eyler said.
Steven Cox, a CTE fellow, said the center does not gather data on course improvement.
“The CTE is a resource for teachers at Rice,” Cox said. “Those that seek consultations with the CTE expect and deserve a consultation fitted to their unique station rather than to a generic rubric. As no metric is applied, no data is gathered.
Baker College sophomore Emily Rao said she would like to see the effects of student feedback.
“Increased transparency especially in large intro classes would be really helpful,” Rao said.
Cox said student evaluations of courses are sometimes used in CTE consultations.
“As each consultation is tailored to the individual, it is up to that individual to bring student evaluations into the mix,” Cox said.
Student feedback has been incorporated into several of the CTE’s counterpart programs. Northwestern University’s Searle Center for Advanced Learning and Teaching, established in 1992, offers discussion groups for students to provide constructive feedback directly to their professors, according to the Searle Center’s website.
Duncan College sophomore Manlin Yao said she is in favor of a dialogue between professors and students about the quality of instruction.
“Even with the end-of-semester course reviews, there might not actually be a change in instruction,” Yao said. “Students would also be more honest if they knew that their reviews are actually being considered.
Hayes said the faculty are inconsistent in considering student evaluations.
“I was frustrated to learn that one of my professors from last year didn’t even know she had received student feedback,” Hayes said.
According to Eyler, the best route for a student is to raise concerns about a course directly with the professor first, with the department chair second and with the school dean third.
“Because the CTE is not an evaluative office, we would not be involved with complaints in this way,” Eyler said.
Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said students have approached him with such complaints in the past.
“There are a number of cases of students letting me know of their concerns about the teaching in a specific course, Hutchinson said. “Students do come to me for advice or assistance, and we are always able to work through a process that results in improvement.”
All statistics available at the CTE are presented publicly at the annual Advisory Board Meeting in March.