At a small liberal arts college in the West a department-wide program has been developed to help faculty assess and improve their teaching while courses are in progress. Descriptions of what led to this effort, the steps already taken, the resources involved and plans for the future are presented. College teaching is usually formally assessed at the end of a course by students and occasionally through observation of classes by another (more senior) faculty member. These assessments, along with other documentation of teaching, are evaluated as part of annual or multiyear reviews. This approach to assessment and evaluation does not, however, provide a teacher with timely feedback on his or her performance and effectiveness.
This article discusses what a department can do to help its members improve their teaching while courses are in progress. We draw on over six years of experience with extensive curricular and pedagogical reform in mathematics at Occidental College, a small, residential liberal arts college with strong sciences and a diverse student body. Our specific concern is assessment ways in which teachers can get information about their teaching and their students' learning.
From Curriculum Reform to Formative Assessment
Our department's interest in formative assessment is a natural outgrowth of our work in curriculum reform. As the calculus reform movement of the past decade began to develop, we examined our own program and decided to make some changes. We wanted to accomplish the following:
Within two years, all our calculus courses were using reform materials and had weekly computer lab sections. Dissatisfaction with published reform texts led us to create a great deal of our own supplementary material. New courses were introduced at the second-year level and others were modified. Subsequent conversion from a term to a semester academic calendar gave us an opportunity to reformulate the major and to make improvements in our upper-division courses as well.
Although we began with a focus on curricular reform, we soon began to also change how we taught mathematics. From the outset we formed teaching teams for our calculus courses. This was initially done to facilitate development of our own materials and to enable us to staff computer lab sections. Extensive conversations about pedagogy as well as content were a happy, if unexpected, result.
Modifying what we were teaching was not enough to meet the goals of our reform. By also changing how we teach, we have made substantial and encouraging progress towards these goals. Many of us have made some effort to become acquainted with the literature on pedagogy and educational psychology, both in general and as it applies to mathematics. Our growing interest in assessment parallels increased attention to student outcomes in educational theory and administrative policy.
The Role of the Department
It is certainly possible for an individual teacher to learn and adopt new methods of teaching on their own. However, it is unusual for many to make significant changes in their professional practice without some institutional support. The department can provide leadership and support for improving teaching. The expectations of one's colleagues and the resources the department can offer are especially important.
Our department believes it is possible and important to improve teaching, and shares a strong expectation that its members will do so. This expectation is communicated in daily conversations, through policy decisions such as adopting calculus reform and team teaching, by directing resources to improving teaching, and through the exemplary practice of senior members of the department. It has also been an important criterion in hiring new members. The climate created by these expectations is especially welcomed by junior faculty who care deeply about teaching and still have much to learn. This climate enables them to improve their teaching while also advancing in other areas of professional development.
There are many ways a department can help its members obtain resources needed to improve their teaching. Many of these involve investments of time rather than money. Here are some of the things our department does internally:
Interaction between the department and the rest of the college has been important in developing and maintaining college-wide resources for improving pedagogy. The Dean of Faculty provides support for faculty attending conferences and workshops related to teaching and provides matching funds for grants related to teaching. We also benefit from the resources of Occidental's Center for Teaching and Learning. This center offers faculty opportunities to learn more about college teaching, including:
Several Mathematics faculty were also instrumental in developing LACTE, the Los Angeles Collaborative for Teacher Excellence. This National Science Foundation supported collaborative of ten area colleges and community colleges sponsors many activities aimed at improving the training and continuing education of elementary and secondary teachers. These include faculty development workshops and course development release time for college professors who are educating future teachers.
A Departmental Retreat and Assessment Workshop
Several of us in the Mathematics Department began learning more about formative assessment through meetings, workshops, and reading. Our program of curricular and pedagogical reform had reached a point where we felt assessment could be very helpful. Together with the Center for Teaching and Learning, we planned a one day departmental retreat and workshop at the start of this academic year, focussed on assessment.
Prior to the workshop, the Center for Teaching and Learning provided each member of the department with a personal Teaching Goals Inventory  and readings on classroom assessment. In the morning, the department discussed a number of issues related to teaching and curriculum development. Having devoted a lot of energy in previous years to lower-division courses, we focussed this time on students making the transition to upper-division courses. A shared concern was students' abilities to engage more abstract mathematics.
In the afternoon, the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning led a workshop on formative assessment. We began by discussing individual and departmental goals, as revealed by the Teaching Goals Inventory. This was an interesting follow-up to the morning's discussion and modeled the value of assessment. A number of points were raised by the Teaching Goals Inventory which had not emerged in the earlier conversation. In the second part of the workshop, we learned about specific assessment techniques and set specific individual goals for ourselves on using assessment.
Some techniques concerned assessing teaching per se. The course portfolio was described as a way to assess and document one's work for subsequent evaluation and to support scholarship on teaching. Several of us decided to develop a portfolio for one or more courses we were teaching this year. (See  in this volume for further information on course portfolios.)
We also learned about several techniques for classroom assessment of student learning, drawn from the excellent collection by Angelo and Cross . An "expert-groups strategy" was used during the workshop to teach these techniques. Individuals set goals to use some of these techniques, to learn more about other classroom assessment techniques, and to improve assessment in cooperative learning. Other goals included using assessment to help answer certain questions: what difficulties do students have in writing about mathematics, what difficulties do first-year students have adjusting to academic demands in college, what factors affect student confidence, and how can we help students develop a more mature approach to mathematics?
Findings and Use of Findings
We frequently discuss our teaching with each other. A midsemester follow-up meeting with the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning gave the department a specific opportunity to discuss its experience with assessment. A number of us have gone beyond the goals we set for ourselves at the start of the year.
Some of us did develop course portfolios. These portfolios document materials prepared for the course, such as class notes and exercises, projects, and computer labs. They may also include copies of representative student work. A journal, reflecting on teaching and student learning as the course progresses, is another important component. Other efforts in assessing teaching include the following:
Student learning is the most important outcome of teaching, and more of us have focussed on this. Reflection on the results of this sort of assessment helps us improve teaching. Here are some of the things we are doing.
While departmental activities have helped us each learn more about assessment, the process of evaluating the information we acquire through assessment has been largely informal and private. With the assistance of the Center for Teaching and Learning we are hoping to learn how to make better use of this information. Both teaching portfolios and colleague partnerships seem to be especially promising and to suit the culture of our department.
Volunteer faculty pairs would agree to help each other work towards specific goals concerning teaching and student learning. Among other ways, this assistance could be provided by observing teaching, reviewing course materials and student work, and meeting regularly to discuss teaching and learning. These partnerships would be an extension of the work of our teaching teams.
Our experience with formative assessment is one facet of a serious and long-term departmental commitment to improving the teaching and learning of mathematics. We believe that the depth of this commitment has been essential to the progress we have made. Critically reviewing the undergraduate mathematics curriculum to decide what to teach, and training ourselves to teach mathematics in ways which best promote student learning, are challenging and ongoing processes. The cooperation of department members helps us take risks and learn from each others' experience and strengths.
In reflecting on how this departmental commitment has been achieved and maintained, we find the elements present which have been noted in studies of successful institutional change in secondary education . We began with a history of commitment to high quality traditional instruction at an institution which allowed individuals and departments to take some risks. The decision to become involved in calculus reform was supported by a majority of senior faculty in the department and enthusiastically adopted by the junior faculty and new hires. Teams for teaching and curriculum development soon led to a culture in which mathematics, pedagogy, and the interaction of these two are our constant focus. The college and the National Science Foundation provided adequate financial support for equipment, release time, conferences and workshops. Through the Center for Teaching and Learning, the college also provided a critical source of expertise. Finally, we have been given time to learn and create new ways to work as teachers. For us, a cooperative departmental approach to learning about assessment has been natural, efficient, and has further strengthened our program.
 Angelo, T.A. and Cross, K.P. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd edition, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco, 1993.
 Fullan, M.G. The New Meaning of Educational Change, 2nd edition, Teachers College Press, New York, 1991.
 Grasha, A.F. Teaching with Style: A practical guide to enhancing learning by understanding teaching and learning styles, Alliance Publishers, Pittsburgh, 1996.
 Knoerr, Alan P. and Michael A. McDonald.
"Student Assessment Through Portfolios," this volume, p. 123.