This article discusses a program at Berkeley of using videotaping of actual classes, and peer feedback, to improve teaching. While the program was aimed at graduate students, it can be adapted to use with faculty members.
Background and Purpose
Diverse and informed criticism can improve teaching, especially when coupled with video feedback. In the Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) training program which I directed in the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department, such criticism helped all the GSIs improve their teaching. At UC Berkeley, the introductory mathematics courses are typically divided into large lectures which meet with the professor, and then are further subdivided into recitation sections of about 25 students each of which meets twice weekly with a GSI. All first time GSIs are required, concurrently with their first teaching appointment, to enroll in the training program (as a course), and in the Fall of 1994 we had about 35 such GSIs. Though the course was intended specifically to improve the teaching of novice graduate student instructors, teachers and professors at all levels could benefit from the critical feedback at the heart of our program.
After an initial university-wide training workshop, the course met for the first half of the semester every Monday afternoon for about 2-1/2 hours. Each meeting consisted largely of an extended discussion of various topics on teaching effectiveness, such as the importance of knowing whether the students understand your explanations, the best ways to encourage student involvement in the classroom and how to manage groups, as well as more mathematical matters, such as how best to explain continuity, the chain rule, or inverse functions. Many of the topics we discussed are found in the text , which I highly recommend. Outside the weekly discussion session, the GSIs were required to visit each other's sections and evaluate the teaching they observed, meeting individually with the observed GSI to discuss directly their criticisms. Also, the GSIs were required to experiment in their own sections with some of the dozens of the more unusual or innovative teaching techniques we had discussed (e.g. using name-tags on the first few days of class, group exams, games such as Math Jeopardy, or having students contribute exam questions), and report back to the rest of us on the success or failure of the technique, or how the technique might be improved. These analyses were posted publicly in the mathematics department for the benefit of all GSIs and professors. Finally, twice during the semester, GSIs, while teaching their classes, were videotaped by the Teaching Consultant (a talented, experienced GSI). This video was the basis of an intensive evaluation and consultation session with the Teaching Consultant. First the novice GSI and the Consultant watched the video alone, looking for strengths and weaknesses while recalling the actual class performance. Then, while watching the video together, the Teaching Consultant led the GSI through a sort of guided self-analysis of his of her performance in the classroom. In sum, the training program relied essentially on three methods: the program's classroom discussions, peer observation and criticism, and a video consultation session with the Teaching Consultant.
The goal of the program was to improve the educational experience of undergraduates at UC Berkeley by improving GSI teaching. We therefore discussed and analyzed a wide variety of teaching techniques and topics, many of which grew out of situations that the GSIs had encountered in their own classrooms. Let me list here a few of the most important topics that arose:
All the GSIs benefitted from these suggestions and the chance to discuss their ideas about teaching in an open supportive forum.
Use of Findings
Most of the GSIs were able to immediately improve their teaching using the ideas and techniques they had encountered in the program's class meetings. Indeed, after experimenting with some of the more unusual techniques, many of the GSIs reported them to be so successful that they were now using them regularly. By attending each other's sections and giving critical feedback to each other, the GSIs became aware of certain shortcomings, such as their need to lead the discussion more, their need to write more on the chalkboard, or their need to engage more of the students. After the videotaped observations, the experienced Teaching Consultant was able to point out specific strengths and weaknesses in each GSI's teaching. One GSI, for example, was having trouble getting students to respond; the Teaching Consultant pointed out simply that he was rushing, and not allowing them enough time to answer. Afterwards, this GSI simply waited a bit longer after a question and found that his students were perfectly willing to contribute. Other GSIs were helped by the Consultant's suggestions concerning boardwork or how to recognize cues that the students have not followed an explanation.
Overall, the GSIs and I were very pleased with the structure and effectiveness of the program. The use of an experienced Teaching Consultant, I believe, was an essential aspect of it. I have, however, several suggestions on how to implement an even better program.
 Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching, Jossey-Bass, 1993.