In April 2016 HSE Academic Council approved the new regulations for awarding performance bonuses to faculty members who are selected by students and alumni as the best teachers of the year. University bulletin 'Okna Rosta' prepared a long-read about the history of the project and the changes in how the best teachers are selected, and The HSE Look is glad to offer the English version to its readers.
Over the past decade HSE has been developing as a research university, aiming to increase the quality of its publications and to establish its academic reputation globally. However, teaching practices still receive a lot of attention, dating back to the time of HSE being a rather small institution with a focus on Master’s degree education, and the university offers different incentives to those who excel at teaching innovations and quality.
Naturally, there are many ways to find out who is 'the best' teacher; it could have been a recommendation from a Dean or academic director of the programme, or a decision of an expert committee. While these methods are valid, HSE gives the choice to the students, since they spend the most time with the teachers, and to alumni, as they can say how valuable their learning experience was for professional success.
The first Best Teacher elections were held in 2011, and the principle remains the same: students and alumni can select up to two lecturers and workshop supervisors. The winners receive not only the recognition and respect of the university community, but also a bonus to their salary.
Elena Artyukhova, Deputy First Vice Rector, who helped to launch the project six years ago, talks about the changes which happened over the years.
In 2011 the students were voting on paper forms, and the process very much resembled regular elections; the turnout was 32%, and we spent a lot of time processing the results. Impressively, 236 faculty members received the 'Best Teacher' award, and it quickly turned into an important university event, with its history displayed at the website.
Many students wrote letters of gratitude to the teachers on the back of the voting forms, and in 2012 we turned this idea into a regular project, offering the opportunity to students. It is especially important for meaningful relations between students and teachers, and while the voting became electronic in 2012, paper letters remain a tradition. Last year students wrote 250 letters, some teachers got as many as 10 each!
In the next years we took different measures to make the elections more accurate and easily accessed by students. The Centre for Institutional Research developed software for voting which was installed in certain classrooms –'voting stations'– and helped to count votes quickly and eliminate mistakes.
In 2012 the students had two weeks to vote for the best teachers, and the schedule for voting stations availability was synchronized with the timetable of each academic year, which allowed us to raise the turnout to 41%. Next year, we modified the vote counting procedure so that it provides more equal chances for faculty members who teach at large undergraduate programmes and small graduate programmes. We introduced a multiplier system based on the number of students in the programme, and kept fine-tuning it, so that all teachers have equal chances.
Since 2014 international students (both full-degree and exchange students) are also able to vote for their favourite teachers. If the students stay at HSE only for the winter semester, we hold a special election session for them at the end of December, and these results are added to the main voting session in June. This way we make sure that we do not overlook a major target audience of the courses taught in English.
All of these successes, as well as the increase in participation rate (from 39% in 2011 to 49% in 2015) was a joint effort of many HSE staff members: managers of programme offices organize the voting, Centre for Institutional Research provides technical and methodological support, IT Office maintains the computers at the 'voting stations' in HSE buildings, Office of Public Relations and Online Media and HSE Website helps to raise awareness about the voting dates, procedures and results, and Financial Planning and Accounting Offices implements the decisions about salary bonuses.
The Best Teacher Award became very important for both faculty and students, and in 2016 the procedure underwent another transformation.
Igor Chirikov, Deputy First Vice Rector, tells the readers about the changes in the Best Teacher Award introduced in 2016.
We introduced the procedural novelties in order to tackle four challenges: make the voting more user-friendly, raise the turnout, and make the procedure less resource-consuming and more transparent. It is important for us that the voting procedure is convenient for students, so that more of them can choose their favourite teachers. Over the last years the students kept suggesting that we make the voting accessible online, without the need to come to one of HSE’s computer classrooms. Otherwise, we create extra difficulties for students in their final year of studies since they have little to no classes in the 4th module. The technical opportunity presented itself in 2016, when Teaching Quality Assessment interface was added to the students’ Learning Management System (LMS) accounts. This year we launched the Best Teacher voting together with Teaching Quality Assessment. After completing the assessment form, the students are prompted to select two best lecturers and workshop supervisors. Unlike Teaching Quality Assessment, voting is not obligatory and the students can leave the form blank, but we hope that a greater number of them will choose to name the best teachers after they’ve rigorously assessed the year’s courses and teaching quality.
Using LMS for both the voting and the quality assessment allows us to display the list of teachers for each student with greater accuracy, as the system holds information about the students’ courses. It also helps us not to place an extra burden on programme managers, who no longer need to supervise voting stations, register students etc. After all, the end of the academic year is already a stressful time, and freeing up at least some of the managers’ time for preparing exam sessions and supervising quality assessment implementation was an important incentive for us.
Finally, one of the benefits of the new regulations for Best Teacher Award is clearer criteria for selecting the best after the voting results are counted. To qualify as one of the Best Teachers of the year you need to have at least 8 student votes from one year of one programme, and you need to get a qualifying percentage of votes. This percentage is the same for all university programmes, and ensures that the number of potential awardees is neither less no more than the total award budget for salary bonuses. In April 2016 HSE Academic Council endorsed the new regulation of performance bonuses for teachers, and it contains the new rules for Best Teacher Award bonuses as well.
In 2011 we had 236 awardees, and bonuses were paid only to those who worked at HSE full-time. If a colleague was voted Best Teacher, they received a bonus of 10 000 rubles per month if they had another academic performance bonus and 20 000 rubles if they had no other bonus. In 2015 we had a very different situation: more than 500 people received the Best Teacher Award, and other academic performance bonuses do not have any influence. The division of bonus grades depended on whether the teacher worked at HSE full-time or part-time, and the new regulation preserves this principle. HSE Academic Council decided that the Best Teacher Award should not be cancelled when the awardees change their contract type or situation at HSE (full-time or part-time, parenting leave, etc.), and the bonus should be adjusted to the new employment status.
However, as far as the voting itself goes, contract types do not matter, as students choose those whom they consider the best teachers who gave them the best knowledge and skills, and anyone can become the Best Teacher.
Best Teacher awardees share their tips for success in classroom:
Dmitriy Dagaev, Associate Professor of the Department of Higher Mathematics and Deputy Vice Rector
Firstly, teaching success depends greatly on the thorough preparation for every class you teach. The first years are the hardest and most time-consuming, but after that you acquire a certain momentum. There is a catch here, though, of becoming too assured in your knowledge and forgetting important details or not looking up new research on the topic. Secondly, you need to give the teaching your best and to give as much time and attention to the students who want to learn as they need to understand the topic fully. Thirdly, you need to spark the students’ interest and show how it could be useful to them in the future.
Danil Fedorovykh, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theoretical Economics, Faculty of Economic Sciences
A good teacher has time for students outside of classroom and the course schedule. My students know that their questions do not need to wait till the next lecture or seminar, and they can ask them via e-mail or social network messenger, and I do my best to reply promptly. Of course, sometimes I am flooded by dozens of messages per day, usually right before the exams or a deadline for a hometask. Still, I choose to spend the time answering these questions, even if they repetitive, rather than take the risk that somebody will not have an opportunity to ask something very important for their understanding of the topic.
Milana Hachaturova, Senior Lecturer at the Department of General and Experimental Psychology,
Faculty of Social Sciences, and Academic Director of the Doctoral School of Psychology
The crux of the matter is that I very much love teaching and my students. My greatest reward is to see them enjoy learning something new and understanding how it will be useful to them. If there is any “secret tip”, it’s that teaching was never a burden for me; it is the most interesting and favourite part of my work at the university. Teaching provides space for creativity, inspiration, positive environment, for a chance to listen to your students and to be heard and understood by them.