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Documenting Teaching Using a Teaching Dossier or Portfolio

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At a research university such as UCLA, faculty are generally more aware of colleagues’ research than their teaching. Further, getting information about colleagues’ teaching is more difficult than getting information about their research. There are usually a variety of concrete materials to use in evaluating research, including articles, books, artistic contributions, expert testimony, and various measures of professional recognition. Because teaching is usually a transaction between a single faculty member and one or more students, colleagues’ knowledge of this transaction is necessarily limited. The teaching dossier or portfolio, analogous to an art portfolio, has been proposed as one solution to the issue of documenting effective teaching.

Such a portfolio usually contains a thoughtful and thorough narrative supported by appendices of teaching materials. Portfolios are often an essential part of the personnel decision-making process for instructors. Also, a good self-review narrative can be very useful for improving one’s teaching, for winning a teaching award and for applying for future positions. As was stated earlier, documenting teaching effectiveness often leads to teaching improvement, and even reward. 

Possible Content of a Teaching Portfolio
in (1991) lists the kinds of materials that one might include in a teaching portfolio. The specific items selected will depend on an instructor’s particular teaching assignment and activities. However, the real secret of assembling a successful portfolio is knowing whom to ask for what. Some of his ideas for sources of data are given below. The Office of Instructional Development would like to thank CELT (The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) at The Pennsylvania State University for permission to adapt their “Creating a Teaching Portfolio” guide for the UCLA context in this section.

Portfolio Sources

Data from Oneself
Self-analysis and self-reflection are far too often overlooked in the assessment of teaching and learning, yet they are central not only to the processes of assessing teaching, but also of improving it. Thus they are an essential part of any teaching portfolio.

Faculty members can provide their own perspective on virtually every aspect of instruction. Self-reports should be primarily descriptive as opposed to evaluative—what were you trying to do, why, how, and what was the result? Consequently, these documents will more easily reflect development than those from other sources. Self-reports should also be compared with data from other sources. Because feedback that provides new information is most likely to produce change, it is by virtue of such comparisons that personal growth and improvement occur. Data from oneself might include:

  • a list of courses taught, with brief descriptions of course content, teaching responsibilities, and student information
  • a statement of philosophy of teaching and factors that have influenced that philosophy
  • examples of course material prepared and any subsequent modifications that were made to accommodate unanticipated student needs
  • a sample syllabus or lesson plan
  • a record of teaching discoveries and subsequent changes made to courses regularly taught
  • a description of efforts to improve teaching (e.g., participating in seminars and workshops, reading journals on teaching, reviewing new teaching materials for possible application, pursuing a line of research that contributes directly to teaching, using instructional development services, and contributing to a professional journal of teaching in your discipline)
  • evidence of reputation as a skilled teacher, such as awards, invitations to speak, and interviews
  • personal reflections on your growth and change as a teacher (including awards won and indicating future teaching promise)

Data from Others

Obviously, different people can provide different kinds of information about an instructor’s teaching. For example, it is probably counterproductive and inappropriate to ask students about the breadth and completeness of an instructor’s content knowledge since, from their point of view, such expertise should be a given. The more obvious and appropriate judges of this information would be department colleagues. Likewise, such colleagues are usually not good judges of whether an individual is prepared for class, arrives on time, or is available for office hours. Clearly, getting the right kinds of input from each group of individuals is what will give a portfolio its strength and depth.

As the immediate beneficiaries of teaching, students are in an ideal position to report and comment on a number of variables, such as which instructional strategies helped them learn the most and whether the instructor came prepared to class, was available during office hours, or provided useful comments on papers. Other data that only students can report involve any change in their level of interest as a result of taking the course, how much the course challenged them, and whether they felt comfortable asking questions. The most common ways of obtaining student feedback about these aspects of teaching include:

  • interviews with students after they have completed the course
  • informal (and perhaps unsolicited) feedback, such as letters or notes from students
  • systematic summaries of student course evaluations—both open-ended and restricted choice ratings
  • honors received from students, such as winning a Distinguished Teaching Award.

Other materials often referred to in the literature on teaching portfolios are the “products of good teaching.” In a sense, these are really a subspecies of the broader category "data from students" and might include:

  • examples of the instructor’s comments on student papers, tests, and assignments
  • pre- and post-course examples of students' work, such as writing samples, laboratory workbooks or logs, creative work, and projects or fieldwork reports
  •  testimonials of the effect of the course on future studies, career choice, employment, or subsequent enjoyment of the subject

Colleagues within the department/school are best suited to make judgments about course content and objectives, the instructor’s collegiality, and student preparedness for subsequent courses. Departmental/school colleagues can provide analyses and testimonials that serve as a measure of:

  • mastery of course content
  • ability to convey course content and objectives
  • suitability of specific teaching methods and assessment procedures for achieving course objectives
  • commitment to teaching as evidenced by expressed concern for student learning
  • commitment to and support of departmental/school instructional efforts
  • ability to work with others on instructional issues
  • reports from classroom observations
  • statements from those who teach courses for which the instructor's course is a prerequisite
  • evidence of contributions to course development, improvement, and innovation

The most significant administrators who may not necessarily be included in the previous category are the department chair and the school or divisional dean. In their supervisory capacity, these administrators are generally well suited to make summary statements about overall performance over time. In doing so, they can help those who will read and interpret the portfolio by organizing and assimilating all the other information from various sources. It is also appropriate that these individuals draw attention to special recognition for teaching such as a university-wide or department/school teaching award, such as the university Distinguished Teaching Award.


Arrangement and Presentation of Portfolio Components
An instructor's teaching portfolio is, and indeed should be, highly personal. There is, therefore, no specifically recognized format. In the most general sense, such a portfolio is likely to contain a short reflective narrative followed by an appendix of supporting documentation. Beyond this, selection and arrangement should be done so as to best reflect the argument you wish to make (for example, that one should be selected for the job, or be given departmental funding to teach a course).

Reflective narrative
This is a key piece of any portfolio. It includes the major claims an instructor wishes to make about their teaching, and indicates how these claims support their case. It is always advisable to use specific examples which narrate these claims and which give them flavor. For this one can draw on the DATA FROM ONESELF section above.

Supporting materials/data/documents
These elements are used to illustrate the claims and examples in the reflective narrative, and hence to support the overall argument. For this one can draw mostly, though not exclusively, on the DATA FROM OTHERS section above. One might include, for example, a table of standardized student evaluations, as well as a sample lesson plan or syllabus. Supporting materials are most conveniently located in appendices. They need to be carefully selected so as to not be too lengthy (just pick the clearest example to support the point), and should be arranged and labeled for the convenience of the reader. Points made in the narrative should be referenced to specific pages or parts of the appendices if at all possible.

Getting feedback as part of the process
Once a portfolio outline is complete, and before the final draft is written, it is always a good idea to check it for balance. In particular, it is important to make sure that the "data from others" comes from multiple sources (students as well as colleagues).
In addition to making a strong case for an applicant, a portfolio should reflect the instructor as a person. As is the case for teaching in general, the best portfolios are those that are constantly revised and updated. Input from colleagues and friends can be invaluable in this process.

Suggested Readings:
Davis, B.G. 1993. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Edgerton, Russell, Patricia Hutchings, and Kathleen Quinlan. The Teaching Portfolio: Capturing the Scholarship in Teaching. AAHE Teaching Initiative. Washington, D.C.: AAHE, 1991.

Seldin, Peter. Successful Use of Teaching Portfolios. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co., 1993.

Seldin, Peter. The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co., 1991.

Shore, Bruce M., et al. The Teaching Dossier: A Guide to Its Preparation and Use. Ottawa: Canadian Association of University Teachers, 1986.

Zubizarreta, J. 1999. In Seldin, P. et al. (1999). "Changing Practices in Evaluation Teaching: a Practical Guide to Improved Faculty Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions." Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.

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