March 2013

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Teaching assessment in Catalonia: taking stock and looking ahead to future challenges

Esteve Arboix Codina - Head of Teaching Staff and Research at AQU Catalunya

This year sees the tenth anniversary of the setting in motion of the teaching assessment programme in Catalan universities. Now is therefore a good time to take stock and recognise the important work carried out by all of the agents concerned (vice-rectors' offices, quality units, the education science institutes within the universities, review panels in the universities and the Agency, etc.).

Important work has been done during this period: all of the universities in Catalonia (both public and private) now have evaluation instruments (handbooks) which have been certified by AQU and, in the successive annual assessment processes over 10,000 teacher assessments have so far been made. Aside from any reservations that there may be, the need for the assessment and evaluation of teaching is no longer disputed.

In addition to complying with the regulations pursuant to both Catalan (LUC) and Spanish (LOMLOU) legislation, the fact that accredited teaching assessment methodologies have been set in place also provides for compliance with the European standards for quality (ESG). The experience in Catalonia has also served as a blueprint for the DOCENTIA programme set up at national level.

In the late nineties, when AQU Catalunya was merely carrying out enhancement-based reviews in higher education and there was no assessment as such of teachers or teaching, numerous enhancement proposals associated with teaching (the predominance of lectures, the need to reinforce tutorial attention, etc.) were always being put forward, and we were very aware that this was a dimension that clearly needed to be improved.

In 2002 the Consell Interuniversitari de Catalunya (Inter-university Council of Catalonia) endorsed the General criteria for the evaluation and assessment of teaching by staff in public universities in Catalonia, which the Agency's Guide to the design and implementation of an institutional model for the evaluation and assessment of teaching by staff in public universities in Catalonia was subsequently based on. In 2003, AQU Catalunya released Benchmark criteria for teaching handbooks, the purpose of which was, on the one hand, to establish benchmark criteria for the universities to obtain certification for the models being used to evaluate and assess teaching by staff and, on the other, to establish benchmark criteria for the positive evaluation and assessment of teaching by university staff.

The "carrot" of merit-based additional salary allowances for teaching at Catalan universities was the perfect excuse to set up a voluntary innovative programme that was respectful of university autonomy. It is the university itself that carries out the assessment although the "rules of the game", which are common to all of the universities, are laid down by AQU Catalunya, and it is the governing body in each university that, at the proposal of the board of trustees, pays the additional teaching supplement. However, these additional allowances for teaching at Catalan universities have often led to distortion of the guidelines given in the teaching assessment handbooks, due to the fact that no priority was accorded to other uses or purposes.

When it comes to taking stock, however, the question boils down to whether teaching in Catalan universities has improved significantly as a result of the teaching support programme. In the case of research there are objective indicators that confirm that improvements have been made in any given specific objective indicator (e.g. the number of certified teachers, research premiums awarded, indexed articles, books, successful funding from competitive sources, etc.). In the case of teaching, however, measuring the impact is more complex and the participation of the main stakeholders involved is necessary, in particular the teachers and students. At all events, and going by the maxim "either evaluated or devaluated", one can say that the fact that recognised and proven assessment methodologies for teaching have been set in place is an essential step towards the enhancement of teaching.

It's true that, from the results of the successive calls made each year, over 90% of teachers who undergo assessment do so successfully. As a matter of fact, it is at the time of applying for assessment that discrimination takes place. Even though they can apply, a significant percentage of university teachers choose not to do so, which calls for an in-depth analysis of the causes for this. The objective of merit-based salary supplements for teaching at Catalan universities not being across-the-board (i.e. they are not automatically awarded to everybody) has however been achieved. To consult the data, see: http://www.aqu.cat/professorat/merits_docencia/index.html

The main foreseeable challenges in the future are the enhancement of policies dealing with teachers; improvements to the teaching assessment programme itself; and programme integration.

Firstly, the handbooks are instruments that can be put to other purposes aside from the granting of a financial supplement such as, for example, policies dealing with access, training, promotion and incentives for teachers. In this context, progress also needs to be made with regard to the "prestige" of premiums on teaching activity. In the same way that six-year research premiums have progressed from being a productivity-based supplement to an indicator that is used in many processes, premiums on teaching activity could be incorporated into university policy as another indicator.

L'avaluació docentSecondly, the teaching support programme can be improved, for example, by providing more feed-back to those undergoing assessment and reinforcing the formative element of evaluation and assessment. Teachers often receive letters from an academic authority saying that their teaching work is satisfactory, but without any further information. Now is also the time to fully incorporate students into the workings of review panels. In this regard, it is also time to fight false myths that are widespread among students, like teacher-course surveys are of no use at all. Aside from surveys, there are other mechanisms for obtaining the point of view of the students, such as deferred assessment and focus groups where existing models can be incorporated.

As to teaching staff, there are those who are of the opinion that teaching assessment is excessively bureaucratic, and that filling out forms and drawing up a self-evaluation report is a waste of time. Isn't setting aside a period of time once every five years to reflect on their teaching work the minimum that can be asked of any professional teacher? In this regard, it is worth pointing out the important work carried out at the technical level to make this stage of assessment the less tedious as possible, together with the fact that the applications developed in Catalan universities have been "copied" by other universities throughout Spain.

Another aspect where improvement is necessary is the ability to discriminate according to the handbook, as the system is by now mature enough to better distinguish the quality of teaching according to not just two categories (suitable/unsuitable), but more, and it is now possible to identify and recognise teaching excellence, as already occurs in certain universities. It is also important for platforms for sharing good practices in assessment and evaluation to be established.

The third and last challenge is that of integrating the teaching support programmes promoted by AQU, such as AUDIT and DOCENTIA, into the VSMA Framework for degree programme validation, monitoring, modification and accreditation.


Generalitat de Catalunya

C. de Sancho de Ávila, 125-129, 1a planta 08018 Barcelona. Tel.: +34 93 268 89 50

© 2013 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008