After first hearing about what TAPs had to offer, I contacted the TRC straight away, anxious to learn about what I could do to become a better teacher. I have always thought quite a lot about pedagogical issues-both from the point of view of a student and teaching assistant-and decided to seize the opportunity to gain some insight into how students experience the classes I have designed and taught. When I met the Teaching Resource Center consultant a few days after my TAP to discuss the results, the butterflies in my stomach helped me to understand the reactions I had elicited by mentioning to a few people that I had requested a TAP. "What nerve!" one person said. "I would never have that done; think of how it might influence the class dynamic!" said another. Indeed, leaving the classroom so that the students could talk about their experience in the class, and their assessment of my teaching performance, was slightly unnerving. Nevertheless, the benefits of what the TAP offered far outweighed any uneasiness I faced.
During the post-TAP meeting, the TRC consultant and I discussed the class's response to the questions: What most helps you learn in this class?, What impedes your learning in this class, and what are your suggestions for improvement? As well, during the post-TAP discussion, I was given some tips that addressed issues touched upon by members of the class. For example, in response to my students' requests for more opportunities to develop their own view-points, I received some suggestions about how to facilitate group work. I also received some pointers about how to evaluate, and how to convey the evaluation of, student class participation (something I had often struggled with). There was, for me, some challenge in knowing how to handle the TAP results. For help with this, I discussed the TAP results with a faculty member from my department; he shared his viewpoint on which sorts of feedback are important to respond to-it is not the case, he said, that each piece of constructive feedback points to something you will want to change about your teaching, or the way you organize a class-and, along the way, he shared his years of experience receiving, and responding to, student evaluations.
In preparation for reporting back to the class after the TAP consultation, I made a list of the pieces of feedback we would discuss. The ensuing class discussion consisted mainly of the students' elaborating on the feedback they had given, in response to my questions about exactly what was meant by a particular comment or other. As a class, we agreed to try some group exercises. In an effort to give the students more room to reach conclusions on their own, I also focused upon being less directive during class discussions.
The process of going through a second TAP the following semester was an interesting one. It is difficult to identify areas of progress with full confidence for a number of reasons: most obviously, you have a different group of students, who may not respond in the same way to the classroom experience. Also, in my case, the two classes dealt with different topics, which posed different teaching challenges, and likely brought to the surface some new strengths and weaknesses of my teaching style. I was reassured somewhat by the fact that the second class gave me high marks for something that the first class said I could stand to improve upon; students felt as though I helped them develop their points of view and conclusions, while allowing them the space to achieve their own sense of the issues. This brings to light one of the advantages of the TAP: student feedback, with the help of the TRC consultant, identifies specific areas for improvement (and strength!), which can facilitate the setting of tangible goals on the instructor's part. On this second time around, the TAP consultation motivated me to make, during each remaining class, a point of assessing class understanding of the material covered. I strove to achieve this goal using a technique suggested by the TRC consultant for facilitating student involvement in summarizing a day's class.
in a TAP was a worthwhile experience on a number of fronts. While returning
to class after my first TAP consultation was a bit unnerving, participating
in the TAP procedure twice made me less intimidated by the feedback process
and gave me valuable experience at working student feedback into my pedagogical
style. As well, I have been inspired to monitor the student perspective
on a more consistent basis in order to avoid unpleasant surprises and
capitalize on successes. By inviting student feedback in the midst of
the term, one is more likely to receive useful comments in end-of-semester
evaluations. Most important, from my standpoint, was how the process tuned
me in to the importance of considering teaching along the lines of how
learning is aided or hindered; easy enough, one might think, though something
easier to lose sight of than one would hope. The resulting shift in perspective
continues to impact how I think about my teaching duties, and is one reason,
among others, that I would recommend the TAP.