Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Teaching portfolios - what are they and how do I create one?

Sally Wijesundera
Centre for Staff Development
University of Western Australia
With the current Australian focus on quality teaching many universities are asking for detailed teaching portfolios to be presented for appointment, promotion and tenure. While there are long standing conventions on how to present academic qualifications, research and publications, teaching portfolios are relatively new.

A teaching portfolio is a summary of your major teaching activities and accomplishments. It describes documents and materials which collectively suggest the scope and quality of your teaching.

Sources of information that assist with the preparation of teaching portfolios will be highlighted and their suggestions explored. Available for viewing will be a selection of exemplary teaching portfolios used in successful promotion applications. As well, the University of Western Australia's booklet A guide to Teaching Portfolios and their Role in Promotion will be distributed.


Creating a teaching portfolio

A teaching portfolio is a summary of your major teaching activities and accomplishments. It describes documents and materials which collectively suggest the scope and quality of your teaching. It can be likened to the portfolios of work collected by other professionals such as artists, photographers and architects. There are a variety of reasons for compiling a teaching portfolio some of which are listed in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Reasons for maintaining a teaching portfolio

    Evidence in applications for grants, appointments, tenure, promotion, or consultancies
      Teaching performance is assuming an increasing importance in all these areas. Applicants are now expected to produce evidence about their academic teaching accomplishments.

    Self-evaluation, reflection and improvement

      A teaching portfolio will provide you with an invaluable record of your work as a teacher and thereby assist you in planning your future development.

    Planning for Staff Development Review discussions

      A portfolio helps you prepare for the once every two year staff development review-planning discussions that were recently implemented at The University of Western Australia.

    Fostering discussion about teaching

      Keeping a portfolio and encouraging others to do so creates an environment where discussion of teaching practices becomes the norm.

    Evidence of work quality

      In these days of increasing accountability there may be occasions where the quality of your work is challenged. Documentary evidence contained in your portfolio may prove invaluable to defending your case.

Don't wait until you need to present or refer to your teaching activities to prepare a portfolio. It is wise to collect information on a continual basis. Preparing a detailed portfolio can be difficult in a short time, and certain items may be hard to get at the last moment, e.g. student ratings. It is also easy to forget details of past efforts and aspects of your professional development that have become part of your current practice. By collecting material over time you will have a wide selection of information from which to choose when presenting a teaching portfolio.

In creating your portfolio you may choose to keep all your information on a work processor, or in a file or a box. The material can be edited at some time later, but it provides the basis from which you can select when you wish to present evidence to some external audience. It may not be appropriate that the portfolio be submitted it its entirety, but rather you should extract information relevant to your target audience. It is important to bear in mind that the purpose for which the portfolio is to be used determines what is to be included and how it is to be arranged.

Presenting a teaching portfolio

While there are long-standing conventions on how to present academic qualifications, research and publications, teaching portfolios are relatively new. The recording of competence and effectiveness in teaching is at your initiative, in the same manner as the recording of your research and service accomplishments. The teaching portfolio concept enables you to take responsibility for what items or criteria to include or exclude. A teaching portfolio for appointment, promotion and tenure should be a relatively succinct document which contains information from a variety of sources. It would be wide to arrange the format of a teaching portfolio in a way that highlights teaching accomplishments and strengths, in order to create your desired impression. Particular emphasis ought to be given throughout to your achievements and to your distinctive and exceptional activities. Since the portfolio is a highly personalised product, no two will be exactly alike. The content and organisation will differ widely from teacher to teacher.

Not all items about teaching are valid and reliable for submitting in applications for appointment, promotion and tenure.

In this context, validity refers to the extent to which any given type of information is appropriate for the purposes of making a judgement about teaching. For example, graduates' opinions of your performance six years ago are not valid measures of your current teaching practice. However, recent samples of quality manuals or study guides written by yourself, reflect a valid qualitative measure of your current teaching practice. Furthermore, validity is enhanced by obtaining information from several different sources that will reflect a range of teaching activities.

Reliability refers to the extent to which information about teaching is dependable, stable and consistent. For example, reliable information about your teaching should include material collected over a reasonable period of time using measurement techniques that will consistently produce similar results.

Portfolios often begin with background information that establishes the context for the more specific evidence to be presented later. You may wish to include here details about your current and recent teaching responsibilities and practices (Table 2.1) as well as statements covering your personal teaching objectives (Table 2.2). An executive summary or contents page could aid clarity for the reader.

Following the introductory details, selected information on chosen teaching activities and solid evidence of their effectiveness can be presented. These should be aspects which are most applicable to both your teaching responsibilities and the criteria against which your portfolio is to be judged. Prepare brief, factual statements of explanation which convey both the quantity and, more importantly, the quality of your work. You could arrange the statements in order of relevance and significance. Wherever possible, the teaching activities should be substantiated, or able to be substantiated, by supporting evidence. Areas to consider include:

The range of information about teaching that can be collected and presented is very broad indeed. The following is a suggested list from which to select items for inclusion in a teaching portfolio.

Table 2.1. Teaching Responsibilities

ItemDescriptionComments
1. Subjects taught and supervisedList of course titles & codes, year, points value, enrolments, hours, level of responsibility, and a brief description of the way each course was taught. Number of honours and postgraduate students supervised. Research group activities directed. Schedule of times you are available to students outside class. All of these items establish the context in which teaching occurs. They reflect workload and professional issues, not necessarily merit. Statements shouldbe brief and focus on current and recent teaching. Earlier teaching can be listed summarily. This information provides context and background for judgements of other information and is valid where it reflects your normal duties. Reliability can be enhanced by referring to official departmental records.
2. Concurrent related dutiesConcurrent teaching related duties and responsibilities e.g. course coordination
3. Departmental expectations and resourcesSummary statement of your department's policies, expectations and resources in relation to teaching. A statement by the head of department assessing your contribution to the department and how the department plans to use your skills in the future.

Table 2.2. Personal Teaching Objectives

ItemDescriptionComments
4. Teaching philosophy and methodsSummary of your own practices, approaches and attitudes and student learning. Evidence of the way you monitor or evaluate your classes and teaching. How you identify student difficulties and encourage participation in courses and programmes. Description of student assessment methods and rationales, and feedback to students. Methods in supervising postgraduate students. Summary of your qualifications and main strengths as a teacher. These items provide a basis for judgements of other information presented. This is an opportunity to direct attention to the areas you consider most important in your teaching. The information may be valid, but reliability of the statements must be confirmed by relating them to other evidence provided. Teaching merit can be established if comparative data is provided to demonstrate superiority of practices.
5. Steps taken to evaluate and improve your teachingChanges might be as a result of others' evaluation or self-evaluation, time spent reading journals on improving teaching, reviewing new teaching materials or exchanging course materials with colleagues.
6. Teaching goalsA personal statement describing teaching aims, objectives and goals for the next five years.
7. Representative course syllabiDetails of course content, objectives, teaching methods, reading lists, homework assignments, student assessment procedures, reflective statements as to the course construction.

Table 2.3. Teaching-Related Professional Activity

ItemDescriptionComments
8. Teaching innovationsExamples of innovations designed or adopted and their effectiveness. This might include work carried out as part of a teaching development grant or a video of your teaching. Information about any of these activities substantiates your professionalism as a teacher. Merit may need to be demonstrated e.g. by special recognition, reviews, awards, comparisons with others or demonstrated leadership. Merit is also reflected by materials or methods which have been acknowledged by others and which subsequently have been used elsewhere.
9. Course, curriculum or departmental developmentRevising, setting up or running a course, programme or internship. Contribution to the improvement of teaching in your department.
10. Course and instructional materialsList and examples of quality course materials, manuals, outlines, new projects, assignments, study guides, reading lists, annotated bibliographies. Publication of a textbook or other instructional materials.
11. Use of technologyDescription of how audiovisual or computer-based materials were used in teaching.
12. Teaching ResearchPursuing research that contributes directly to teaching.
13. Teaching publicationsContributing to a professional journal on teaching in general, or in a specific discipline.
14. Teaching associationsParticipating in seminars, workshops and professional meetings intended to improve teaching and learning (e.g. UWA's Innovative Teaching Forum, HERDSA[1] activities)
15. Use of support servicesUsing general support services, such as CSD[2], in improving one's teaching.
16. Teaching developmentParticipation in seminars, workshops etc. to improve your teaching and that of your discipline and institution.
17. Teaching consultanciesTeaching consultancies in outside institutions and agencies or requests for demonstrations of effective teaching methods.
18. Securing GrantsSuccess at securing grants for teaching related activities e.g. CAUT[3] grants.

Table 2.4. Information from Students

ItemDescriptionComments
19. Formal student feedbackStudent, course and teaching feedback. Statements that such data has been collected (e.g. SPOT[4]) and provide a short summary of the results. Also provide summaries from structured individual group interviews and from student committees. Include here any formal feedback from alumni or from postgraduate students. Formal student feedback refers to properly designed, administered and interpreted student surveys. These provide reliable and valid information for establishing merit. Rules for the administration of student evaluations and processing of the data must have been observed and should be stated.
20. Informal student feedbackUnsolicited comments, including letters received and articles in student newspapers.Informal student feedback may be unrepresentative of the opinions of all students taught, and can only be used for illustrative purposes.
21. Teaching awardsAwards for teaching excellence presented by student bodies.These reflect merit, provided that they are officially recognised or have been appropriately refereed.
22. Student outcomesWhat your students have learned and achieved. Student or class grades improvement on teacher-made or standardised tests. Exemplary student work: essays, creative work, reports, lab workbooks, publications, presentations on course-related work, advanced study and your influence on students' career choices.Student scores need to have comparable data (e.g. previous course pass rates, norms, course pre-test/post-test). Exemplary student work presented must be as a direct result of your teaching methods and encouragement, and indicate development of technical or specialised skills. State % studying further in the field or your courses.

Table 2.5. Information from Peers

ItemDescriptionComments
23. Formal peer feedbackFeedback from colleagues (team-teachers, subsequent course teachers, peers, HOD) regarding aspects of your teaching that are generally not evaluated by students (e.g. course development, content and administration, teaching materials, student assessment, text selection, reading lists, student support practices) and out-of-class activities such as instructional and curricular development and teaching research. The reliability of formal peer feedback is enhanced by providing two or more evaluations over an extended period, by different colleagues.
24. Classroom observationsReports from colleagues or independent observers who have viewed you in the classroom.These are generally not considered valid or reliable for promotion applications for a number of reasons. Can be included as illustrative evidence that you are actively interested in developing and improving your teaching.
25. Assistance to colleaguesEvidence of help given to colleagues on course development or teaching improvement (e.g. contributing to departmental seminars or workshops, acting as a mentor, letters of acknowledgment or thanks). Professional exchanges with colleagues inside or outside the institution. This might focus on course materials or methods of teaching particular topics.Information establishing that may of the rest of these activities (25 to 28) are undertaken substantiates the professionalism of yourself as a teacher. Merit may need to be demonstrated e.g. by special negotiation, awards, comparison with others, etc. Reliability is enhanced by retaining appropriate documentation.
26. Request for adviceRequests for or acknowledgment of advice given to committees on teaching or similar bodies.
27. Invitations to teach, present or publish.Invitations to teach from outside institutions and agencies or to demonstrate effective teaching methods. Invitations to present at conference on topics about teaching. Invitations to contribute to the literature on teaching.
28. Teaching awardsTeaching honours or other peer recognition and awards for excellence in teaching.

There are a number of sources of information to assist with the preparation of a teaching portfolio. Some of these are:

Footnotes

  1. Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia
  2. UWA's Centre for Staff Development
  3. Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching
  4. UWA's Student Perceptions of Teaching system
Please cite as: Wijesundera, S. (1995). Teaching portfolios - what are they and how do I create one? In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p276-280. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/wijesundera.html


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