Good Teaching – What Do Students Say?

May 12, 2011

Palomar College is certainly not alone in devoting time and resources to document the variables involved in effective teaching and learning. Instructors are being asked to include student learning outcomes (SLOs) on all class syllabi. We have a Learning Outcomes Council (LOC) as well as a Palomar Outcomes Database (POD).  This issue of learning outcomes and how best to promote them was the topic of a number of studies presented and discussed at the 2010 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning.

While some have argued that students are not effective judges of what teacher variables promote student learning, most assessment programs do consider student evaluations to be important. Most student evaluations ask students to rate, on a Likert scale questionnaire, how well teachers measure up to some list of predefined characteristics. By contrast, a study conducted by Memorial University used a student survey instrument composed of open-ended questions designed to assess students’ perceptions of effective teaching. According to the report, “The primary purpose of this research was to identify the characteristics of effective on-campus and distance teaching as they are perceived by students at Memorial University, to determine if these characteristics are consistent across the two modes of delivery, and to isolate instructor behaviours that students believe are components of effective teaching in both on-campus and distance courses.” An interesting design strategy of the study was to “leave open-ended the qualities of effective teaching.” Students were not asked to rate their teaching-learning experience based on some preconceived ideas of educators but were free to discuss their perception of the experience in a narrative format. “In the analysis phase of the project, 69 adjectives that described instructor behaviours were isolated. Further analysis of these 69 characteristics, and the behaviours associated with them, distilled to nine predominant themes, indicating nine prominent characteristics and sets of behaviours . . . that are indicators of effective teaching.”

Survey Says . . .

On-campus students identified the following 9 most important teacher characteristics that best promoted their learning (1= most frequented cited, 9=9th most frequently cited).

  1. Respectful
  2. Knowledgeable
  3. Approachable
  4. Engaging
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Responsive
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

One of the research questions of the study was to determine whether or not characteristics considered important for good teaching in an on-campus environment would be similar to the characteristics important for good teaching in an online environment. The results indicated that, apparently, good teaching is good teaching irrespective of delivery modality; with some minor differences in emphases, the same nine characteristics turned up on both lists. Here is the list of teacher characteristics important to online students.

  1. Respectful
  2. Responsive
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Approachable
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Engaging
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

Those who have denigrated the concept of student ratings as being little more than a popularity contest, or a poll of which teachers tell the best jokes, might reconsider that view if other studies support this study’s results: it may be that  students are capable of identifying variables important to their learning after all.


Delaney, J., Johnson, A., Johnson, T., Treslan, D. (2010). “Students’ Perceptions Of Effective Teaching In Higher Education.” 2010 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

Assessing Your Online Class

May 24, 2010

Spring semester 2010 has just concluded and it’s way too early to begin planning for summer school! Or, maybe it’s not too early. In this blog post I want to share an interesting list of tips for doing an online class the right way. This list of tips or suggestions was developed at Humboldt State University and is titled
A Checklist for Facilitating Online Courses.”

The checklist identifies four important roles for an online instructor: managerial, pedagogical, social, and technical. For each of those roles the checklist lists specific tasks. In addition, the checklist groups the specific tasks by the time in the semester in which they should be done. For example, in the Before The Class Begins time period, a list of managerial, pedagogical, social, and technical tasks that should be considered before the class starts are presented. Other tasks in each category are associated with During The First Week, Throughout The Course, and During The Final Week.

A major value of this “best practices” guideline is that it helps us to think through the process of delivering a robust, well thought-out online class. If you take the time to go through the document you will undoubtedly get some good ideas about things to include in your online class. And even if you decide not to use many of the ideas in this guideline, just reading through them will almost certainly stimulate you to think of other things to do in your online class.

What are some of your “best practices” tips – one or two things you’ve found to be very successful in your online class?

Blackboard Faculty Spotlight

April 30, 2010

During 2009 and Spring 2010, the Palomar Academic Technology Committee (ATC), in response to ACCJC recommendations, embarked on a series of related projects to establish processes that would ensure the quality of online classes.

Ensure Quality of Online Classes

The Academic Senate requested that the ATC devise some means of validating that instructors were prepared and able to develop a high quality online class. The first step involved reaching agreement about what constituted an “Accomplished” or high quality online class. An ATC workgroup researched the literature to discover published best practices and to review what other colleges and universities had done to assess the quality of their online classes. Combining several well reviewed assessment rubrics, an ATC workgroup developed an “Online Class Validation Checklist.” This checklist is intended to assess 5 important areas of an online class:

1. Online organization and design,
2. Interaction,
3. Appropriate use of technology,
4. Universal Access, and
5. Assessment and Evaluation.


Once the full ATC had endorsed the checklist we devised a pilot-test during Spring 2010 in which we assessed 6 current online classes using this checklist. The full ATC participated in this pilot-test evaluation. The result was that the checklist was deemed useful in assessing the quality of online classes but it required some modification. The most extensive modification was to Category 4: Universal Access; this category was revised to reflect current universal access practices.

I’ll have more to say about this “online class validation” process in a later blog but here I want to focus on the high quality of the online classes that we looked at. Of course to be candid, the people who volunteered to have their online courses assessed, in all likelihood, believed that their courses were well developed – and they were right! All the classes the committee reviewed were developed using the Blackboard system, the course management system used at Palomar.

Representative of the excellent online classes offered at Palomar College is an Introduction to Sociology class taught by Professor Terry Humphrey. Terry’s Introduction to Sociology class illustrates many of the best practices that contribute to an effective and accomplished online class. I’ll highlight a couple of these features here and encourage anyone who is interested in this issue to view the video interview with Terry in which she shows her course and describes her intent in developing it. Terry’s course did an excellent job in the following areas I thought:

  • Structure and Organization – the course was organized on a weekly basis, with all the assignments, tasks, writing, quizzes, discussion board and so on grouped by weekly folders; students knew exactly what was required of them each week
  • Good use of Announcements – Terry posted announcements on a regular basis, calling the students’ attention to important details; she also made a practice of emailing those announcement directly to students (an automatic option in Blackboard) and this she felt made a big different in terms of student involvement
  • Regular and varied assessments – student learning was assessed in a variety of ways which gave students the best opportunity to demonstrate what they had learned

It seems like the things that produce the best learning outcomes in an on-campus class are the same things that work in an online class: engaging learning activities, regular assessment and feedback, and an involved instructor who values and rewards student participation. No secret here and it’s encouraging to know that it can be done with online students as effectively as with on-campus students.

Interview with Terry Humphrey about her online class

Online Class Validation Checklist