Headshot photo of Thomas Tobin

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thomas J. Tobin, coordinator of learning technologies at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, has co-authored the first comprehensive book on creating a more effective system for evaluating online teaching.

In “Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices,” Tobin, along with B. Jean Mandernach of Grand Canyon University and Ann H. Taylor of Penn State, recommends various strategies for effectively measuring the quality of online teaching, providing the tools and guidance that faculty members and administrators need.

“The most important part of this book for us is the life it has for people after they have read it,” Tobin said. “Our hope is that people will use what they read in this book and then contact us to say how their story is slightly different, or they might say, ‘I can confirm what you said.’ We relied heavily on case studies from how things actually go in the real world. We wanted to be in the weeds of reality and not just theory. We hope that this will spark a larger conversation among colleges and universities in North America.”

Two years ago, Tobin served as a presenter and keynote speaker along with Mandernach and Taylor at a three-day conference on evaluating online teaching. During this conference, the three experts started talking about ideas for a book based on the research that they each presented from their respective areas, especially since no comprehensive book had been written for faculty and administrators about this aspect of online teaching.

“No one had brought it all together,” said Tobin, who in the field of online teaching evaluation is best known for his work on administrative evaluation practices and policy development. “That’s exactly the reason why we did this book. There have been articles done on various subtopics within the field, but no one had written a book yet. This is, to our knowledge, the first one to be comprehensive.”

The book, available for purchase on June 1 from Jossey-Bass, shows how strategies for evaluating online teaching differ from those used in traditional classrooms and vary as a function of the nature, purpose and focus of the evaluation. The book guides faculty members and administrators in crafting evaluation processes specifically suited to online teaching for more accurate feedback and better results. The 304-page book includes chapters on best practices for student ratings of online teaching, methods and tools for gathering informal feedback and the online teaching evaluation life cycle. In addition, the book includes rubrics, forms and worksheets that readers can customize to fit the needs of their institutions.

Tobin’s motivation for writing this book goes back to a time in 1999 when a faculty member asked him about teaching an online course at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, Pa. One year earlier, the faculty member had completely lost his sight due to complications from diabetes. Tobin, who served as coordinator of instructional technology and distance learning support, remembered that there wasn’t any professional guidance at the time for faculty developers to work with online faculty with disabilities, but he came up with the solution to have graduate assistants from a nearby university be the professor’s eyes and ears in the online course. Tobin said he wanted to do more but couldn’t at the time.

“That failure caused me to step back and think, ‘Why I am doing what I am doing?’” he said. “Getting a paycheck is nice, but I realized I had an opportunity to serve people—faculty and students—whom higher education was serving poorly or not at all.”

Since that time, Tobin’s work has focused on using technology to extend the reach of higher education beyond its traditional audience. He advocates for the educational rights of people with disabilities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.