Faculty survey finds high engagement, interest in undergraduate teaching

L.A. Cicero Harry Elam speaking to the Faculty Senate

Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, speaking to the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Stanford faculty members want to spend more time teaching undergraduates and are interested in improving the way they teach, but the professoriate also recommends that teaching receive more recognition within the university culture, according to the first systematic study of undergraduate teaching across all seven Stanford schools.

"The strong levels of engagement with undergraduates and healthy interest in teaching innovation and resources found in the survey suggest rich territory for the university to explore," according to a summary of the 2013 survey conducted by the vice provost for undergraduate education and presented to the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Half of the current professoriate of 3,022 instructors at Stanford – including tenure-line, non-tenure line and active emeriti – responded to the survey, which was undertaken to seek a better understanding of faculty practices, needs and interests regarding their engagement with undergraduates. The teaching survey followed the 2012 Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES), which recommended improving teaching resources and support available to faculty.

Together with the SUES report, the new survey provides a roadmap for further enhancing undergraduate teaching and learning, said Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education.

"The survey result is a very encouraging portrait of the level of faculty commitment to undergraduate teaching," Elam told the Faculty Senate. "The question for us going forward is how do we capitalize on all this energy around undergraduate teaching, and further support it, encourage it and enable it?"

Of the main findings of the report is that "faculty interest in trying new types of teaching and teaching-related activities is high," though varies by school. While lectures remain the most popular teaching approach, many faculty members are using a variety of interactive teaching strategies, including senior capstones, project-based learning, flipped classrooms and service learning.

A majority of faculty members are very satisfied with the amount of time they spend teaching undergraduates. Far more faculty members would like to increase their interactions with undergraduates than decrease them, with 20 percent of associate professors reporting they would like to spend more time teaching undergraduates, and 22 percent of all faculty in engineering.

Faculty members express high interest in various teaching-related resources, with even greater interest from women than men. Of the highest interest are online teaching resources, funding for curriculum development and mid-quarter evaluation feedback.

Most faculty members report that "undergraduate teaching, advising and mentoring helped keep them excited about their field." However, while faculty rated their work with undergraduates as "very personally rewarding," they perceive institutional rewards as lagging behind personal rewards.

"The dominant perception is that research is valued far more than teaching," the report states.

The survey and subsequent interviews with 100 faculty members led to a series of recommendations to enhance undergraduate teaching and learning throughout the university. Among them:

  • Appoint a Faculty Task Force on Teaching Infrastructure to recommend ways to facilitate engagement between faculty and undergraduates, and to make recommendations about how to enhance institutional support for effective teaching and to examine obstacles.
  • Explore the notion of providing teaching sabbaticals or fellowships, to allow faculty dedicated time to give thought to teaching and inform their work in the classroom.
  • Support faculty interest in teaching experimentation and innovation with additional programs and insights, leveraging the reorganization of the Vice Provost for Online Learning office into an expanded office dedicated to supporting innovations in teaching and learning.
  • Explore ways to increase synergy between teaching and research, to encourage faculty participation in general education and introductory undergraduate courses.
  • Add new staff positions to support teaching and increase faculty efficiency, such as instructional technologists to assist faculty in using more technology in the classroom.
  • Raise the profile of teaching in institutional decision making and resource allocation by collecting data and recognizing the teaching contributions of faculty and lecturers.

"How do we make sure we take this spirit of interest and make sure the community is actively engaged around undergraduate teaching? What can we do to give you more time in the classroom that isn't available right now?" Elam asked the senate.

Faculty discussion at the senate meeting focused on ways to reward teaching excellence, including by offering departmental awards for teaching and by adopting new metrics for evaluating and recognizing quality instruction.

In five years, the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education plans a short follow-up survey to determine if progress has been made in the areas addressed by these recommendations.

The report can be viewed at:

https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/teaching-talk/vpue-faculty-survey-undergraduate-teaching (SUNet ID required).