The Unrecognized Part of the Teaching Iceberg and Its Implications


Tell me if this sounds familiar. Professor Rodriguez, a seasoned faculty member, and Professor Ko, a first-time instructor, both have the same view. They believe a quality course means that the end-of-course student evaluations and the teaching performance evaluations from peer observations are fantastic. Their instructional designer talks about their courses as great examples to other instructors. They enjoy every moment in their classrooms and cannot wait to start teaching again next semester. They believe their students are learning a lot and they actually have evidence to support student learning achievement. They seem to be doing everything right from a student learning perspective, yet they’re struggling within their institution. They are exhausted, feel underappreciated, and wondering if they made good career choices.

Professors Rodriguez and Ko have great courses because they analyzed the field and their students’ needs, so they could clearly articulate how the course learning activities fit within the program goals. They reviewed many textbooks and other sources so they could compile the best resources for their students. They flawlessly implemented their course design, evaluated the course performance, and reflected on how to use these findings to improve the next course offering. Their highly effective learning activities and quality instructional materials help each student have a fantastic learning experience.

So why do these accomplished instructors struggling? One potential reason could be that there is a misalignment between the institutional reward systems, instructional support policies and the kind of work necessary for quality teaching. This comes from the decision-makers seeing only the tip of the iceberg—they only recognize the immediately visible components such as course such as lecture time or files posted in the online course. This on-stage performance gives little clue to the time and effort happening behind the scenes to create that performance.

Engaging in quality teaching is like producing a quality TV show or play. A 45 minutes show every week takes many more hours in scriptwriting, set construction, audience analysis, practice, shooting footage and editing the film. Similarly, every hour in the classroom takes many more hours outside the classroom to prepare a quality experience for students. The analysis, design, development, and evaluation phases of teaching all occur out of view, so they receive less recognition compared to the implementation phase. Yet, failures in the analysis, design, development or evaluation can quickly ruin an entire course.

Where the institutional policies do not fully recognize all components of quality and instructors like Professors Rodriguez and Ko have high personal standards for teaching, they end up burning up personal resources to maintain their standards. The instructors end up spending extra time at home for course preparation which they could have spent with their families. Courses get assigned to low-paid adjunct faculty who cannot afford to do much else than just maintain existing course content and just assign grades to students. The instructors have no time to carefully incorporate evaluation results into developing next semester’s course offering.

Quality teaching is a continuous cyclical process. It is not linear. Rewarding and recognizing the hidden phases in quality teaching, empowers passionate instructors to continue making quality courses throughout their careers.  Supports may take forms such as extra time, reduction of teaching load, financial compensation, promotion, and professional development. Cultures which support analysis, design, development and evaluation keep our current faculty vibrant and also develops the crop of future educators. Our current graduate teaching assistants learn what it takes to teach quality courses within a supportive environment.

Have you seen this too? What do you think we need to do to support quality teaching? Any comments are welcome.

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