Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Teaching in higher education is influenced by multiple factors, including the characteristics of students and lecturers, disciplinary contexts, institutional cultures and approaches to teaching and learning. Various studies have shown that knowledge of the university lecturer attributes most closely associated with the quality of lecturers' teaching performance is valuable in making decisions about staff and investment in the professional development of university lecturers. There are various methods to evaluate teaching effectiveness, such as peer ratings, self-evaluation, employer ratings and teaching portfolios. Research also suggests that student feedback on teaching and courses represents a simple and practical method of assessing strong and weak elements of teaching. However, not everybody agrees that student ratings of teaching are valid and useful because they believe that students should not be evaluating the teaching effectiveness of university courses or lecturers due to their lack of educational and theoretical background. Most researchers differ from this view and concur that while student perceptions of courses and teaching may be subjective, they are important in explicating the expectations of those who learn from such courses and lecturers. As an important indicator, student feedback can clearly be used to assist in identifying salient qualities of effective teaching and lecturers. It may therefore be useful to determine what students regard as valuable and strong elements in the practices of university lecturers across disciplinary learning environments. Research indicates various variables that can be related to lecturer and teaching effectiveness. Such variables include characteristics such as enthusiasm, subject knowledge, humour, clarity, caring, friendliness, accessibility, teaching skills and innovation. The attributes that students view as indicators of effective lecturers overlap in the literature, which indicates that most students agree on the characteristics of effective lecturers. There is, however, no universally agreed upon definition of an effective lecturer or effective teaching. This article reports on an analysis of student feedback at a research-oriented university in South Africa. The analysis includes student feedback on the three top-rated lecturers (per their student feedback forms) across nine faculties in 2011. The student feedback forms consisted of closed questions whereby students had to rate the module taught and the lecturer on two separate Likert-type scales; open-ended questions on both the module and the lecturer and a section in which an overall percentage mark for both the module and the lecturer was to be awarded. The results of the student feedback forms were analysed and compared to the literature. The results were also compared for different disciplines. By analysing student feedback for top-rated lecturers it was possible to isolate quality indicators as experienced by students. It was found that (a) course and top-rated lecturer evaluations by students provide useful information towards generic indicators of educational excellence and (b) that there are similarities and differences in ratings among disciplines. The findings revealed that the main characteristics of top-rated university lecturers are enthusiasm, accessibility, friendliness and excellent teaching styles. It was also found that there are substantial differences between student evaluations among disciplines. This phenomenon could possibly be ascribed to the inherent characteristics of the field, different class sizes or the students' level of studies. In this study, the lecturers in the "soft" disciplines (e.g. social and human sciences) were rated more highly than in the "hard" disciplines (e.g. natural sciences) and it is clear that discipline-specific student feedback may be more valid and reliable than generic feedback. The article highlights findings that identified elements contributing to excellence in teaching and effectiveness of lecturers within the context of a university. The reported study may indicate to lecturers what students regard as of particular value in their courses and the teaching thereof. It also points out the strong elements of teaching which may be promoted, based on the feedback of students - an important, but not the only, information source.
Keywords : Effective lecturers; Effective teaching; Higher education; University teaching; Student feedback; Student feedback instruments; Student ratings; Student perceptions; Top lecturers; Disciplinary differences; Class sizes; Faculty differences.