March 2013

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Reflections on the use of the teaching assessment handbooks at the UPC/BarcelonaTech University

Gabriel Bugeda Castelltort

It has been five years since the UPC (BarcelonaTech University) began to assess teaching by staff at the university according to the teaching handbook. The handbook was developed according to the guidelines laid down by AQU, approved by the university's Governing Council and subsequently endorsed by the Agency. Up until the present time, the handbook has been used in the assessment of approximately 1,500 applications. The five special review panels involved in this process are currently being renewed and reaccredited. The teaching assessment handbook is also being updated to include the solution to various situations that were unforeseen and that have arisen over the past five years, including the introduction of new EHEA qualifications with the new unit measurements for teaching (ECTS credits), new contractual teaching positions, etc. Now is therefore a good time to reflect on its introduction, use and results.

To start with, it is worth pointing out that the introduction of the entire assessment process described in the handbook is based on a software application, the main objective of which is to minimise all associated bureaucratic process so that the work of the stakeholders, applicants and reviewers can concentrate on the assessment itself, instead of having to produce a series of documents. The application was developed by the UPC's Department of Planning, Assessment and Quality (GPAQ) and makes extensive use of different databases that contain most of the information required for teaching assessment applications. This means that when applicants are asked to provide the necessary information for their assessment, all that is required is for them to give their consent to the use of content stored in the database and, in a mere handful of cases, provide additional information. The functioning of the application has received very positive feedback both within the UPC and in different forums where it has been presented.

The various elements that make up the teaching assessment process are very similar to those in used in other public universities in Catalonia, and are as follows:

  1. A self-assessment of the teacher's work (self-evaluation). Each teacher has to make a personal assessment of their work. Self-evaluation forms are provided to make this easier, together with special training sessions. It is worth pointing out that, in the vast majority of cases, this is the part of the process that takes up a larger amount of time for the applicant because a full self-evaluation report is required. This is probably why this requirement has received a certain number of criticisms from teachers. Nevertheless, after actually having spent the time to do this, many teachers recognise that it is well worthwhile to reflect on the way in which their teaching work has developed and, on the basis of this, to plan ahead for the future.
  2. The planning of instruction and lessons. The volume of teaching work is assessed according to established scales. The use of the application is very important here in that the information gathered from one year to the next merely needs to be validated in the corresponding databases.
  3. Opinion of the academic managers. An assessment is made of the degree of satisfaction of the unit where the applicant is assigned (faculty and department). The academic managers issue a report on the teacher's work according to regulatory requirements. The process of collecting the reports is highly automated, and academic managers only have to upload them to the application software that supports the entire assessment process.
  4. Opinion of the students. The students' degree of satisfaction with teaching is assessed according to the mean rating for their overall assessment of the teacher’s work. This information is also gathered in the corresponding database, and it only has to be validated by the applicant. One important point under discussion is the degree to which surveys with a low student turnout are representative, a situation that is possibly occurring more frequently in the case of on-line surveys. A teacher can request that such surveys (with a low level of participation) are not taken into account in their assessment.
  5. Development and professional performance. An assessment is made of the individual's involvement in the renewal, improvement and/or innovation of teaching methods. There is a very wide diversity of possible teaching activities that come under this point, and information on these is regularly gathered in the databases managed by the GPAQ.

One of the most important agents in the entire assessment procedure is the review panel, which is responsible for writing up the assessment reports using all the information gathered in the application software. Each review panel consists of three members who are appointed by the university's Governing Council, plus one appointed by the university's education science institute (ICE). There is one review panel for each subject area for the UPC's degree programmes:

  • ICT Engineering.
  • Industrial Engineering.
  • Biological Engineering Sciences.
  • Architecture, Urban Planning and Building Construction.
  • Civil Engineering, Geology and Environmental Science.

The members of the review panels are always appointed in such a way so as to ensure maximum inclusiveness in representation with the highest possible number of departments and staff member positions. The process of renewing these panels is currently nearing completion, with half of each panel being replaced in order to ensure maximum continuity in the criteria and procedures being used and avoid any discontinuities over time.

One particular feature of the UPC's assessment handbook is that teachers who obtain the highest qualification receive recognition with merit for teaching of exceptional quality by way of a diploma signed by the university's rector.

The results of staff teaching assessment are used not just for the purposes of merit-based additional salary allowances, but also as merit that enables an individual to sit on various boards and committees that deal with various different types of requests and applications, to assess the system of staff assignment at the UPC, etc.

Every year, on completion of the teaching assessment process, all of the stakeholders are consulted regarding their opinion of the process so that any possible improvements and enhancements can be incorporated and malfunctions eliminated. Five years on, the level of satisfaction of everyone involved is at a very high level.


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