111. Teaching and Learning and Teaching Evaluation

Note from the University Secretariat: The Post-Secondary Learning Act gives General Faculties Council (GFC) responsibility, subject to the authority of the Board of Governors, over "academic affairs" (section 26(1)). GFC has thus established a Teaching and Learning and Teaching Evaluation policy as set out below

The complete wording of the section(s) of the Post-Secondary Learning Act, as referred to above, and any other related sections, should be checked in any instance where formal jurisdiction or delegation needs to be determined.

111.1 Teaching and Learning


A university has at its heart two goals: the creation of knowledge, and the dissemination and preservation of knowledge. Research -- the creation of knowledge through exploration and discovery -- represents in its broadest sense the learning component of university life. The dissemination and preservation of that knowledge is the teaching component. Within a university, what is taught and how it is taught depends upon research, and the impact of research depends upon its communication. This interdependence and integration of research and teaching is what distinguishes a university from other educational institutions. Although the balance between these activities may vary, all members of the university, whether scholars or students, are learners who extend the range of their knowledge through exploration and discovery, and they are teachers who communicate that knowledge to others. (EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

The context of teaching and learning at the University of Alberta

The University of Alberta is a large research-intensive university. Research and teaching, and the important bond between them, are central to our mission, and they are carried out in a multitude of disciplines. This context has significant implications for any discussion of support for teaching and learning.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

As a research-intensive institution, the University of Alberta emphasizes the seamless relationship of scholarly activities. More than simply recognizing that what we teach flows from the work of scholars, we are convinced that post-secondary and graduate curriculum development and delivery are best accomplished by dedicated researcher-teachers and scholar-teachers. We are committed to providing the best and most appropriate environments for student-instructor and student-student interaction.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

Within this context, graduate students serve a multifaceted role during their studies: as students, teachers, researchers, mentors and grant or scholarship holders. The need to strike an appropriate balance among their responsibilities gives graduate students a unique perspective in the university community, especially with respect to teaching. (EXEC 14 JAN 2002) (GFC 28 JAN 2002)

The University of Alberta is committed to developing the teaching expertise of graduate students. The involvement of graduate students in the educational process is a vital and important resource for education and they make a significant contribution to the University?s mandate. The University recognizes the importance of the teaching of its graduate students, in terms of participation in curriculum design and course development, didactic teaching, laboratory instruction, class discussions, the provision of ongoing feedback, the preparation and assessment of assignments and examinations and the evaluation of courses and instruction. (EXEC 14 JAN 2002)
(GFC 28 JAN 2002)

The University of Alberta is a multiversity. A wide range of disciplines is professed, various research models followed, and numerous types of teaching are required within its walls. There is no one teaching model, no one answer to serve all disciplines. Development of new teaching models should emphasize appropriate use, should be derived from within the discipline concerned and the final arbiter should always be academic excellence.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

The principles of good teaching/learning

Our primary teaching roles are to educate students to the baccalaureate level, and to educate and mentor graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. The University of Alberta is also an intellectual resource for the general and professional community, and we make our faculty and courses available to that community.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

Most major University of Alberta documents of recent years discuss teaching from two points of view: strong affirmation of the University?s commitment to the importance and centrality of good teaching, and varying approaches to quality assurance in teaching. These two themes are consistent throughout the corpus of the staff agreement, strategic planning documents, reports of student and faculty surveys, and official documents of various faculties. Interestingly enough, between these two poles of, on the one hand, asserting the importance of excellent teaching in the University and, on the other, explicating a range of questions, opinions and policies about how to ensure teaching excellence, there is a large and evident gap which only becomes clearly visible when the documents are scanned as a group: nowhere, in any document, is there a clear and complete statement of what constitutes excellent teaching. It is taken for granted that we all know.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

The principles of good teaching that underlie all successful learning are applicable to all fields of study whether the arts or the sciences, whether pure or applied. They apply equally for all modes of instruction whether didactic or self directed approaches are used and whether a blackboard and chalk, hands-on demonstration or the most sophisticated technologies support instruction. They apply for all students whether undergraduate or graduate, whether on-campus or at a distance. Four such principles are intrinsic to effective teaching and learning.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

I. The teacher is a scholar who has, and can share with the student, a rich knowledge of the discipline and its place in the larger intellectual community. In his 1990 book Scholarship Reconsidered, Ernest Boyer characterizes four sorts of scholarship: teaching, integration, application and discovery. The scholarship of teaching means a professor is widely read, intellectually engaged, and has the ability to transmit, transform and extend knowledge. The scholarship of integration means that a professor can interpret and draw together insights within and between disciplines and fit those insights into larger intellectual patterns. The scholarship of application enriches teaching and intellectual understanding through the very act of application. The scholarship of discovery, which includes creative work in the visual, literary and performing arts, may engage the professor and student together in increasing the stock of human knowledge and adding to the intellectual climate of the institution. The sort of intellectual engagement implied by these scholarships is essential to good university teaching. It leads the student well beyond the acquisition of a body of knowledge and into the domain of active learning, curiosity, and insight.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

Moreover, teachers actively reflect upon, measure and innovate in their teaching practice. Teaching is both an art and a science. As an art, it progresses through critical review, study of masters, public documentation and celebration and continuous innovation. Like other sciences, teaching advances through development of theory, careful measurement and research design, continuing reflection and peer review and replication of findings.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

II. The teacher engages the mind of the student. This is perhaps the most difficult of the principles of teaching/learning to characterize. What is it that engages the student?s mind with the topic, the instructor, and the process of learning? Is it the passion of the instructor for the field of study, and his/her evident enjoyment in sharing it with the student? Is it the stimulus of curiosity cleverly awakened? Is it the glimpse through the mind of the scholar/teacher of the importance of the topic of study to that wider intellectual community? Is it the sense of accomplishment -- of the self empowered --gained by responding successfully to and beyond a teacher?s expectations? However it happens, it is rooted in the relationship between the teacher and the student, and it is essential to effective learning. (EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

III. The teacher respects the student and the student respects the teacher. We expect students will respect their teachers; it is surely a given. As teachers, we try to earn that respect by the way we conduct ourselves. But it is just as important, and perhaps not as much of a given, that teachers should respect their students. We must respect the state of their knowledge when they come to us. We must respect their goals for their study with us, even as we try to widen them. We must respect the circumstances of their lives -- work, other courses, family responsibilities. We must respect the fact they learn in different ways, at different rates, and eventually, to different levels. We must respect their ideas, their aspirations, their beliefs. We must make it evident we respect and value them as individuals if we are to be successful in engaging their minds.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

IV. The teacher ensures a good climate for learning. A good climate for learning starts with the institutional provision for the basic physical comfort of good lighting, heating, and ventilation, and the assurance all students can hear and see what they need to hear and see. It extends to such other organizational matters as having learning materials available on time, as needed, and without frustration; schedules announced and kept; appropriate assessment, and efficient and effective feedback. But above and beyond these matters, a good climate for learning is a climate in which the student is at ease with the teacher and with others in the class, and can risk questions and ideas safe in the knowledge that they will be welcomed, respected, and answered. In such a climate, the student can feel like a contributor rather than a consumer. In such a climate, engagement of the mind and intellectual growth can occur. (EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

What must students bring to the University teaching and learning environment?

To fully participate in and benefit from the teaching and learning programs at the University of Alberta, entering students are expected to arrive with a set of attitudes and skills that prepares them for academic study. These will be expanded and grow through participation in University community.(EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

These attributes/skills include:

  • motivation to participate in an active learning community that challenges and stimulates intellectual, scholarly, personal and interpersonal growth
  • a willingness to take a major responsibility for one's own learning
  • curiosity about the discipline of specialization and the integration of specialized knowledge with other disciplines and in society
  • tolerance and appreciation for diversity and multiple viewpoints
  • a sense of responsibility and respect for self and other members of the university community
  • oral and written competency in English or French, mathematical and reasoning skills, competent use of appropriate information and communication technologies
  • respect and adherence to the ethical standards of scholarship including abhorrence of plagiarism, false representation and cheating (EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)
  • What outcomes should be expected from a program of undergraduate study at the University of Alberta?

Generic outcomes include:

  • critical thinking skills
  • communication skills including oral, written and group work skills
  • the ability to learn independently
  • the motivation and ability to use personal, creative and entrepreneurial talents
  • an informed understanding of and a desire to participate in the intellectual, cultural, social and political life of local, national and global communities

Specialized outcomes include:

  • the ability to synthesize the core content in a disciplinary or professional field of study
  • knowledge of some of the "big questions" in the field
  • the skills to effectively find, synthesize and apply information in the relevant literature
  • knowledge of and the ability to use the investigative and observational methods of the field
  • interest in and an excitement for some aspect of the specialized field of study
  • understanding of the relevance and application of the specialized field of study to every day life. (EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

If we are successful in helping students develop these attributes and skills we will have both disseminated and preserved the products of our scholarship and prepared them to apply the knowledge of their field in employment or to extend that knowledge through professional programs, graduate studies or continuing education. (EXEC 01 MAY 2000) (GFC 29 MAY 2000)

111.2 Teaching Evaluation

1. Evaluation of teaching at the University of Alberta serves two purposes:

a. Summative - Evaluation provides a review and overview of an instructor's teaching that is an essential element in promotion and tenure decisions. In its summative form, teaching evaluation forms a basis for rewarding excellence, as well as the basis for withholding reward. (GFC 24 NOV 1997)

b. Formative - Evaluation provides helpful feedback to teachers by identifying teaching strengths and weaknesses and, in so doing, giving guidance for the improvement or refinement of teaching skills. (GFC 24 NOV 1997)

2. Evaluation of teaching shall be multifaceted. Multifaceted evaluation shall include the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction set out in Section 111.3 and other methods of assessing teaching designed within the individual Faculties to respond to the particular conditions of that Faculty. Such assessments shall include one or more of the following: input from administrators, peers, self, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni. (GFC 09 JUN 1995) (GFC 24 NOV 1997)

3. Recognizing that the evaluation of teaching at the University shall be multifaceted, Faculty Evaluation Committee (FEC) decisions concerning tenure, promotion or unsatisfactory teaching performance must be based on more than one indicator of the adequacy of teaching. (GFC 24 NOV 1997)

4. Assessment of teaching involving input from administrators, peers, self, alumni, or undergraduate and graduate students in addition to the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction should occur annually prior to tenure. For continuing faculty (ie, Categories A1.1, A1.5 and A1.6), such assessment will occur at least triennially. (GFC 24 NOV 1997)

5. The University shall continue to support University Teaching Services in its education programming which is focused on the development and improvement of teaching and learning and its efforts to enhance research in university teaching. (GFC 28 APR 1980) (GFC 26 SEP 1988) (GFC 12 OCT 1993) (GFC 24 NOV 1997)

111.3 Universal Student Ratings of Instruction

In recognition of the University's commitment to teaching, the General Faculties Council endorses a system of Universal Student Ratings of Instruction. This system, however, is only one part of the multi-faceted approach described in Section 111.2. (GFC 09 JUN 1995) (GFC 24 NOV 1997) (EXEC 29 MAR 1999)

The Universal Student Ratings of Instruction are administered electronically via a system known as the eUSRI system. (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

The Universal Student Ratings of Instruction are designed to provide a minimal university-wide base of information on student ratings to the parties listed in this Section. With this purpose in mind, the General Faculties Council adopts the following policies: (GFC 24 NOV 1997)

A. All Faculties will ensure that evaluation of all instructors and courses will take place each time a course is offered. The term 'instructors' is meant to include tenured professors, tenure-track professors, sessional instructors, clinical instructors, field supervisors and graduate teaching assistants with responsibilities for courses. The term 'course' is meant to include undergraduate and graduate courses, laboratory courses, non-degree courses, seminars, clinical supervision courses, and reading or directed study courses. With the exceptions noted in Section 111.3.B, the assessment will include the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction as set out below.

B. The Universal Student Ratings of Instruction will be modified in the following circumstances:

i. courses with between four and nine registered students will use a department or Faculty developed questionnaire, which may be administered via the eUSRI system, with non-scored questions, such as:

a) comments on the quality of this course;
b) suggestions for improving this course;
c) comments on the quality of instruction in this course;
d) suggestions for improving the instruction in this course. (EXEC 29 MAR 1999) (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

ii. courses with multiple instructors will use a modified Universal Student Ratings of Instruction questionnaire that will include one set of course-related questions for the entire course and one set of instructor-related questions for each instructor who has taught the equivalent of twenty percent or more of the course. If no instructor is responsible for at least twenty percent of the course, only course-related questions should be used on the questionnaire. (EXEC 29 MAR 1999)

iii. in courses with fewer than four registered students or courses such as alternate delivery style courses, the Chair, Director or Dean will arrange for an alternate method of obtaining student feedback. Such methods could include student course or program exit interviews with the Chair, Director or Dean; or a department or Faculty developed questionnaire, which may be administered via the eUSRI system, with non-scored questions as described in point i. above. (EXEC 29 MAR 1999) (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

C. The Universal Student Ratings of Instruction will take the form of a questionnaire. The following statement of purpose will be included at the beginning of the questionnaire:

The University of Alberta would appreciate your careful completion of this questionnaire. The results help instructors and departments or faculties to initiate constructive change in curriculum and instruction. In addition, the results are one important factor in decisions affecting the career of your instructor. The numerical summaries for the ten questions listed below are available through the Students' Union and the Graduate Students' Association.

The eUSRI system will be accessible only by CCID and students' anonymity will be protected. Students who are concerned about the anonymity of their responses should submit their typewritten comments within the period for which eUSRI is available to the Chair, Director or Dean , making sure to note the course number, section and name of the instructor. (GFC 24 NOV 1997) (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

Questions about this questionnaire should be addressed to your Chair, Director or Dean.

D. The anonymity of student responses to the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction is of fundamental importance in maintaining student confidentiality and encouraging the free expression of views. Under normal circumstances, the anonymity of students will be protected. Universal Student Ratings of Instruction offer an avenue of feedback, including feedback critical of instructors. It is understood that it is a normal feature of criticism that it may be regarded as offensive and/or unjustified, and that such characteristics would not justify a departure from the normal rules pertaining to confidentiality and anonymity. (GFC 28 FEB 2000)

However, the University has a parallel duty to protect the safety (physical or mental) of members of the University community. If a Department Chair has concerns for the safety of faculty, staff or students, arising from statements that are part of a Universal Student Rating of Instruction, the Chair will consult with the Dean of the Faculty. If the Dean believes that there is a valid concern for safety, he or she may recommend to the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) that the identity of the author of the statements be sought out and disclosed to the appropriate University officials. At any time during this process, the Chair or Dean may invoke the Protocol for Urgent Cases of Disruptive, Threatening or Violent Conduct (Section 91.3, GFC Policy Manual). (GFC 28 FEB 2000)

On receiving such a request from a Dean, the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) will follow the terms of the Protocol for Urgent Cases of Disruptive, Threatening or violent conduct in determining whether there is

i. reasonable cause to believe that the safety or security (including significant psychological harm) of persons may be threatened and

ii. that under existing University policies, the statements are grounds for disciplinary action and hence whether confidentiality of USRI should be breached and the provisions in Section 91.3.2 and/or 91.3.3 of the Protocol invoked. (GFC 28 FEB 2000)

If the identity of the author is disclosed, the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) will notify the author of the statements. The Provost and Vice-President (Academic) will also notify any individuals mentioned in the statements. (GFC 28 FEB 2000)

E. The Universal Student Ratings of Instruction questionnaire will use the rating scale

Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree (EXEC 29 MAR 1999)

to gather responses to the following questions:

1. The goals and objectives of the course were clear.
2. In-class time was used effectively.
3. I am motivated to learn more about these subject areas.
4. I increased my knowledge of the subject areas in this course.
5. Overall the quality of the course content was excellent.
6. The instructor spoke clearly.
7. The instructor was well prepared.
8. The instructor treated the students with respect.
9. The instructor provided constructive feedback throughout this course.
10. Overall, this instructor was excellent. (EXEC 29 MAR 1999)

These constitute the ten required Universal Student Ratings of Instruction questions. Instructors, departments, and faculties are encouraged to supplement the set of universal questions.

The questionnaire will include an opportunity to provide comments. (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

F. Certain policies are necessary in order to ensure that the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction Questionnaire is administered in as consistent a fashion as possible. These are:

i. Access to the electronic Universal Student Ratings of Instruction will normally be available from the day after the withdrawal deadline until the last day of classes. Note that an instructor may choose to allow class time for completion of the questionnaires. In these cases, the instructor will not be present in the room during the time allotted for completion of the questionnaire. Departments or Faculties will create policies to ensure that other individuals (e.g. other instructors, students within the class, teaching assistants) are available to be present in the room during the time allotted for completion of the questionnaire. Also in these cases, online access for completion of the questionnaires will still be available for the period described above. (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

ii. The Chair or delegate will be responsible for transmission of results and comments to the instructor under the conditions set out in Section G. (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

G. The numerical summaries for the ten Universal Student Ratings of Instruction questions will be reported to the instructor, the Chair, Director or Dean and students.

i. the number of students responding in each category;
ii. the median score to one decimal point for the question; and
iii. numerical values from Tukey's boxplot statistics will be provided to describe the distribution of scores in the Faculty/Department:

a. lower cut-off for outlier scores
b. lower hinge (25th percentile)
c. median
d. upper hinge (75th percentile)
e. it is expected that the upper cut-off will always be 5.0 and, therefore, unnecessary to report. (EXEC 29 MAR 1999)

Note: Statistics from Tukey's box-and-whisker plot analysis (John W. Tukey, Exploratory Data Analysis, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. 1977) have been selected to describe the distribution of USRI data. These statistics are chosen to achieve two main objectives: (i) summarizing skewed data and (ii) identifying outliers from the general population if they exist.

The median (middle of a ranked set of numbers) is generally preferred rather than the mean in defining the centre of a skewed data set.

The 25th and 75th percentiles provide information about the spread of individual scores around the median. By definition, half of the scores in a distribution are below the median and 25 percent of the scores are below the 25th percentile. Since this occurs "by definition", these values should not be used to determine whether a particular score is "good" or "bad".

The lower whisker or cut-off, which is 1.5 box lengths below the 25th percentile (box length is the distance from the 25th to the 75th percentile), defines a reasonable limit beyond which any score can be considered an outlier. Outliers are scores that identify ratings of instruction falling outside the usual distribution of the scores for the population being tabulated.

Given the nature of the USRI data, the upper whisker or cut-off (1.5 box lengths above the 75th percentile) will usually be above 5.0, and so need not be reported.


i. Access to USRI Data: Parties having access to numerical summaries of the ten Universal Student Ratings of Instruction questions and student comments will be the instructor the Chair, Director or Dean of the unit offering the course; members of Tenure Committees; and members of Faculty Evaluation Committees, including the secretary to the FEC. (EXEC 07 NOV 2011) (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

For questions selected by an instructor, only the instructor will receive the results. For questions initiated or mandated by a department or Faculty, the results will be reported to the instructor and the Chair, Director or Dean.

Normally, instructors will receive the results from the student ratings of instruction within twenty working days after the course is complete and the grade sheet has been signed by the Chair, Director or Dean. (EXEC 29 MAR 1999) (EXEC 07 NOV 2011)

ii. Access to Online USRI Data: Online access to the numerical summaries for the ten Universal Student Ratings of Instruction questions scores for all courses will be provided to undergraduate and graduate students. Instructors will have online access to USRI scores for their own courses. Chairs will have online access to USRI scores for instructors in their departments and Deans will have online access to USRI scores for instructors in their Faculties. Deans and Chairs may also request access for a designated assistant. (EXEC 07 NOV 2011)

The results will not be released online for at least ten days following the provision of the results to the instructor. (EXEC 07 NOV 2011)

Access to online USRI data is provided to students only for the purpose of assisting with the selection of courses. Neither the Students' Union nor the Graduate Students' Association will undertake analysis of USRI data available to members of those organizations. (EXEC 07 NOV 2011)

I. All results given out to students, Chairs, Directors and Deans will have the following cautionary preface:

Student questionnaires form an important part of evaluating teaching effectiveness but cannot be taken alone as a complete assessment of an instructor or course. Factors other than an instructor's teaching ability may influence ratings. These factors include class size, class level, Faculty, time of class, required versus optional course, grade expectations, student GPA, gender, race, ethnicity, age of both students and instructors.

Small differences in evaluation should not be considered meaningful. Scores will be interpreted using the rating scale defined in 111.3 (E): 1=Strongly Disagree; 2=Disagree; 3=Neutral; 4=Agree; 5=Strongly Agree. By definition, a score of 4.0 means that students agree that "Overall, the instructor was excellent." (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

J. Nothing in this section will prevent instructors from seeking other means of feedback from students during the term.

K. The central administration of the University will undertake the financing and operation of the eUSRI system in support of the University's commitment to teaching. (GFC 22 SEP 2014)

111.4 Graduate Student Teaching Awards

At its meeting of May 3, 2010, the GFC Executive Committee approved, under delegated authority from General Faculties Council (GFC), proposed revisions to the Awards for Teaching Excellence Policy (in UAPPOL); the proposed (new) Graduate Student Teaching Award Procedure (in UAPPOL); and the concurrent rescission of Section 111.4 (Graduate Student Teaching Awards) of the GFC Policy Manual, all to take effect upon final approval.

Graduate Student Teaching Award Procedure