Revisiting Course Experience Evaluations

During the term faculty are required to distribute university approved evaluation forms for students to fill out and these instruments field a wide array of responses. The campus where I work is moving to online evaluations and the reaction is mixed. Regarding student evaluation I have heard lots and have blogged about the evaluation process, but these are the most common responses that I have heard recently.

They are not qualified to judge me

It’s a popularity contest more than anything else

I don’t read them

They’re useful

I read them

I bury them

I learn from them

I don’t like them

The comments will turn into a RMPish experiment

I do not want to engage in the online versus paper evaluations for this post. Much of academic life is filled with judgment. We get assessed by our peers, by our department, reviewers of scholarly presses, others up the academic food chain, and by the government and public if you are at a public institution. Frankly, everyone is always weighing in about higher education.

We judge and assess student work, yet somehow we are uncomfortable with this singular act of student assessment of our course or courses. Why? Well, that is cause for a long post. Let me speak to how I have changed my feelings about them. I think that the official university evaluations are a mixed-bag. They provide feedback. Some of the feedback is useful and other feedback is interesting and at times not helpful. I am sure we have all had this experience with a peer review:
Reviewer 1 provides good feedback and you know that they read your chapter or article. Reviewer 2 has skimmed it and refers to some work that you cited, but the reviewer did not bother to notice this. Reviewer 3 did not read your work and really dislikes the topic and offers nothing that is useful beyond you wishing evil upon this person. . Reviewer 4 refers to his or her work and how this article offers nothing new, but there are a few helpful comments.

Student evaluations can work like this, too. However, the rub is that our departments use these evaluations to measure teaching effectiveness or prowess and at times the numbers and comments do not paint an accurate picture or maybe they do?! Perhaps your students really like you and like your courses and the evaluations offer this assessment. But, maybe your students dislike you or the material and the evaluations convey this. And, that is the problem. We need to assess the larger picture and the evaluations offer one part. This is why peer evaluation is also important. But, do not stop there. If your campus has a learning and teaching center, visit it. Take some workshops and avail yourself of the various opportunities and make sure that you add these workshops to your vitae in the appropriate area.

Teaching requires work and preparation and we have a tough audience. Our students are bombarded with distractions and if they are not interested in the topic I feel like I have to catch them. But, alas, no matter what I do, I will not catch all of them.

What does this mean for student evaluations, then? They are necessary. But, faculty can respond by reviewing them and reflecting. Do you need to mix things up? Is it time to have a trusted colleague do a peer review of your syllabus and lecture? Departments also have to invest in faculty and offer opportunities for professional development and insist that faculty work on their teaching dossier. I am biased here as teaching track faculty, but am resolute in my opinion that teaching takes work. I include a photo of Stress Paul, a rubber stress ball.

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Finish the Term Strong

This post is all about suggestions for student success. As a former Undergraduate Advisor and an instructor, I am supportive of student success. I have one more week in the term and due date are looming, but I realize that many of my colleagues have one to two more months left. This post will speak to some suggestions for how students can finish the term strong

1. Go to class

2. Read the syllabus

3. Go to office hours

4. Review points one through three

Seriously, I am not kidding about the above as they are extremely important to student success. As I told a group of librarians today, I might as well say that the sky is blue; however, it is key to emphasize the obvious. There are moment when we need reminding about what is the obvious Beyond the absolute obvious, I also suggest that during the last part of the term that students manage their time well. Now is the time to focus on ending on a high note. It is to easy to finish with the best that you can do in that moment, but that will not make you stand out above the others. I encourage you to become a hermit during the last week or two as you write your papers.

What else can you do? You can visit your Writing Center and then ask if your professor is willing to chat about your draft or to review your draft. Please note that most professors will not copy-edit your draft. Please remember that your professor may have 30-400 students that term, so don’t be too hard on your professor if they are only willing to chat about your paper. If you have a Teaching Assistant, by all means go to her or his office hours. Own your education. Take charge and act like you care. Acting like you care about your education and success really does count for something.

My last words of guidance are about reading the assignments and following directions. I am always surprised and frustrated by the number of students who do not read the syllabus and think that this is not important. A student approached me recently saying, “This is a 12 point font.” I responded, “Yes, it is but it is not Times New Roman 12 and is a huge font. Please review my syllabus.” Following directions is the first part of an assignment and reflect attention to detail. Good luck with the last few weeks and your papers and final!

Graduation is a mere two months away and I can’t wait to sit on the stage and witness this momentous event. Until then, I send positive energy to my students as they wind down. Finish the term well!

 

 

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Five Things About Me

I haven’t done my Friday Fun Facts in a very long time, and it is not Friday. I thought that I would share five things about me that you may not know.

1. I worked at a Hallmark store and for a bank during most of my undergrad. One was the phone job, but both required that I work with the public. The Hallmark job enabled my obsession with great cards and post-cards. I try to send a card or two out every week to someone who has helped me.

2. I have consistently found good take aways from business management or business leadership books. Remember I have taught in the Social Sciences, Arts and Letters, or Humanities for my career, but I have found business books useful for project management and leadership.

3. I am the eldest of five siblings. And, most of what you know about eldest siblings applies. I’m not conservative, but most of the known characteristics applies and I tend to get along well with other eldest siblings. We gravitate toward one another.

4. I am an extrovert. I am more cognizant of my extreme extrovert traits and have to remind myself to dial it back, as I feel exuberant about my job and the things that I do. I think that the exuberance is amusing to my students and I am OK with that.

5. I love teaching. A switch goes on when I walk into the classroom—my classroom or another’s and I feel home. It sounds corny, but it is true.

The image is shared via @kmclellan I think I have his Twitter handle right.

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Patience and Mid-Terms

I come to my classes with a sense of compassion. The first week is a major clusterbug for everyone. And, we can ratchet this higher for the new students. What I find that I need to work on is my sense of patience during the upcoming weeks. No matter how many times I gently remind students, some will not bother to review the syllabus and email me queries that can be answered ever so quickly with a glance to the course syllabus. This term I have done something different–the quiz and the mid-term have a question related to the syllabus.

I also am aware that my class is one of four or five and once the students get into the routine, they will have a better idea regarding the protocol on campus. Until then, I read the emails, pause, smile and reply that, “As the syllabus states…” If anything, the flip side, is that the student is bothering to care to make sure that s/he gets the right information and reads the material, shows up to class on time, comes to my office hours at the right time, right? And, let’s be honest, there are moments when a keen student eye finds an error on the syllabus and I appreciate it! So, I am not perfect and I know that my students aren’t either.

I also wish that patience worked the other way. Students need to remember that I am one person serving many. My office hours are limited to some 4 because I have to teach my classes, get some administrative work, prepare for my courses, and possibly steal time for my own work. We are at the start of month two of the new term, and I am sure it will be another great, busy one. At this moment, I am thinking of Guns and Roses. Smiles. This is a reference to their song.

Dr. Seuss

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

I used my writing prompt book and I have to say that I appreciate this quote from Dr. Seuss. It speaks to me at the moment. I’ve read lots of his books to my kids and remember reading the books a long, long time ago. There is something about the books and reading them aloud that is soothing. It’s the wit and the nonsensical stories that entertain. I also think that Dr. Seuss holds a place in my memory as an academic due to the collection at the UCSD Library.

I spent many days at the library working on my grad school papers and my dissertation. The foyer occasionally displayed some of Dr. Seuss collections and I would at times procrastinate and pore through the holdings. Well, Dr. Seuss also had some war propaganda pieces and part of my work focused on Mass Political Behavior–I was doing research! In all seriousness, this quote is an important one for reflection. People who care about you  aren’t apt to take offense at what you say. The people who care about you get you and are more willing to accept you and your quirks. And, well the people who have problems with what you say…they might not be worth your time. I know that this is not a truth; however, it is worth thinking about when you interact thoughtfully with people.

Do Not Burn that Bridge

I am in the throes of letter writing and giving job references for former students and staff and have edited this post from May 2013. One of the things that I have heard from prospective employers is the ways in which a candidate or hired employee fails miserably and burns a bridge. In my line of work as an instructor, advisor, mentor, coach or supervisor, I also occasionally see a student or staff member burn a bridge. Occasionally this is done with a positive attitude or the expectation that rewards are instantaneous upon merely doing the job.

I have heard repeatedly that a good attitude can help a new employee. If you are new to a job that you are not sure about make sure that during your shift you act like you care. This job could turn into something else for you and it is hard to shake off a bad impression. Be careful with social media. Do not post negative statements about your employer or co-workers. Nothing is private online and the worst thing that you can do is make you or your employer look bad. Likewise, if you have some terrible customers you also do not want to post information about them. Be careful and smart.

Make sure that you are dressing in a way that fits the environment. If there is a dress code, follow it. If there is not a dress code, ask your immediate manager what she or he suggests. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a manager speak to you about your clothing. In my early twenties, this happened to me twice and I never wore that blouse or the skirt again. Both seemed fine with the ensemble, but giving further thought I realized that they did not meet the conservative norms of that work place. I always suggest to my students who have job interviews to think about the dropped pen exercise. If you have to pick up a pen, will you feel comfortable as you lean in to grab the pen. Bend with your knees–not your back!

Other hints for looking for work–keep in contact with people who are well-connected or who you might want a reference from at a later date. This might be a bi-annual email that updates or an occasional hand written note. Make sure that you keep your circle of references up to date with all the wonderful things that you are doing. Related to this, be careful on social media. There are numerous examples of poor use of social media. I imagine that the communications staff at one East Coast university spent part of this last Monday chatting about a student’s racist post and the follow up posts that only made his original tweet worse. While his Twitter account is now deleted, many screen-shotted the tweet. Plus, the response against his racism was swift. That original tweet could haunt him.

Overall, be smart while you are looking for work and new on the job. Even if you do not have a probationary period, your first few days, weeks, and months are scrutinized. Check in with your co-workers and manager. If you do not have regular performance reviews, ask if you could have some assessment. Think of it as a work tune up. Reflect and learn.

Students with an Edge

In my sixteen years of teaching, not one term has gone by when I do not have at least one student athlete in one of my classes. One thing that I have noticed with the vast majority of the student athletes is that they have drive. These students usually want to excel on the class. Their competitive edge extends into the classroom. They know that their coaches and education team (whoever this may be at the respective institution) expects them to show up to class and to practice. Most of these students will introduce themselves to me during the first week or two and my standard practice is to ask that their contact send me any invitational or team related travel dates. While I have taught at four different institutions none have been at a major sports school–no top ten football programs, which is often a marker for a “big name” institution. I have taught at Division 1 institutions; however, this was at the start of my teaching career.

I truly wish that more of my students had this same drive and felt accountable to their coach or team. This does not mean that my students who are not athletes are slackers! Not true. The typical student wants to do well, but knows that among their array of courses some get more effort. The student athletes are generally more competitive and want to do well in all of their courses, so it is not a big surprise to see at the annual fundraising breakfast that many of them have strong grade point averages. Can I just spend a quick moment to say that I am proud of them. Very proud. And, I know that my colleagues are, too.

It is less common for one of the student athletes to phone it in with their coursework. When I have had a student athlete under-perform, the student has immediately contacted me via email, come to office hours, or in one instance the basketball coach called me to meet with him. When I met with the coach, he made no excuses for the student and said, “His first job is being a student. Do not go easy on him.” I wasn’t going to, but let me tell you that walking into the office was an intimidating experience. I felt empowered and I know that many of my colleagues will counter with examples of grade changes or pressure by the administration to change grades; however, this is not my experience. Getting back to the students–when they under-perform they want to know what they can do to fix it. Thankfully, the student athlete under-performing in my classes is not very common. They are competitive through and through and want to do well. I do not give them any extra credit or leeway. What I want to see is more students with that fire in their belly. Be competitive and humble. The photo below is one I took at the McKinnon Pool–one of the pools where the student athletes swim.

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2013 The Year of Reflection

I’m reading lots of top ten posts about 2013 and thinking about the last year. The last year was consumed with having to find balance. This was not having some idealistic want for balance, but rather out of necessity. What have I learned in these last 12 months? Well, I’m going to share my top ten thoughts from 2013.

1. Stay Healthy–this includes exercise, sleep, and eating right

2. Say no strategically

3. Work smarter–this meant rethinking my productivity

4. Make time for family and friends

5. Say yes strategically

6. Read, relax, and run

7. Be firm

8. Honesty is important

9. Unwind

10. Happiness is more important than just about everything

The list is in no particular order. I will say this there is nothing like a health emergency to force you to rethink everything. I am forever grateful to the family and friends who were supportive during the last year, as we coped. I am looking forward to 2014. I am sure it will hold lots and I look forward to tackling it with my family by me.

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Make Sure that Your Girls Aren’t Too Ambitious

One of my students shared the Cosmo Special Report in the October 2013 issue. I photo copied the article, read it, and have carried it around for two months. I wanted to blog about it immediately, but alas, grading and other work related responsibilities got in the way of a response. Here I am just weeks before a new year begins and I am finally ready to comment on the nine page article, “The Ambition Gap” by Lorie Gottlieb. The Cole’s Notes version is that single women are more ambitious and successful than their male cohort and consequently are having a hard time finding an equal. It is more complicated than this, but this article speaks to the supposed crisis of heterosexual masculinity (see Michael Atkinson for an informed position), women’s success, and the alleged post-feminist era. Yes, the article assumes that the coupling is between a heterosexual couple.

The first point that I want to make is that we are not in a post-feminist era. We are not in a feminist era. We are in an era that extols the importance of equality, but we wring our hands when we talk about the reality of who is successful, who sits at the table, and who are the high earners. Now, clearly, happiness and ambition are not mutually exclusive. What Gottleib is getting at, though, is that men are “losing their drive” (144). She recounts story after story of the young, single, successful woman who is more successful than their male partners or former partners. Thanks to the success of Liberal feminisms, we see more women working, buying homes, and in managerial positions (Gottleib 145). However, I want to ask: which women? Surely, we need to disaggregate and examine these numbers. Lots of statistics in the US and Canada illustrate that more single headed households are women headed households. We are also quite familiar with the fact that men, on average, make more money than women. And, when we look at upper management, board of directors, and chief executive officers the picture becomes more homogenous–male and white.

On page 147, Gottlieb has a column dedicated to “Watch Out for These Red Flags.” And, what are they?
1. He has no plan 2. He doesn’t communicate 3. He’s envious of your success 4. He takes advantage 5. He’s resistant to change

I am no dating expert; however, I think that these are red flags for most in their 20s and older and not so much about an ambition gap. Gottleib offers a shallow examination, but at the same time does not ask more important questions regarding race, class, sexual orientation, education, and types of career. Women might earn 60% of the undergraduate and graduate degrees (148), but she does not break this down enough for me. Why do I care? My experience as a university professor and one who has continued to look at women, politics, leadership, and higher education, I know that women tend to gravitate to certain fields of study that do not translate into higher earning jobs. We see women over-represented in Education, Humanities, and Social Work and under-represented in Engineering, Sciences, and Computer Sciences. This, then, influences the earning power for women.

What do I like about the article? Well, it was provocative and I read it closely several times. I also appreciated her column about “How You Can Bridge the Gap.” She pulls from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (my thoughts on the Lean In movement).

She offers some points of advice: 1. Prescreen 2. Establish boundaries 3. Accept trade-offs 4. Give him a nudge

This advice is timeless and part of having a healthy partnership for heterosexual or same-sex couples. What do we do? Encourage people to think about what they want and how they want to pursue their dreams. Encourage girls to go into the STEM fields and work on the leaky pipeline for women and work. I am also concerned with this notion that women are too ambitious. There are parts of the article that equate being single with too much work success. This message is problematic.

Read the Syllabus, Please

The syllabus is the course contract. This statement sounds like a simple one, but alas, it is not. The statement might sound legalistic, but it is not. The truth is that the syllabus is our guide for the course, not a guideline, but the rules. The thing that I try to remember is that while I take special care with crafting the syllabus and the ways in which I will evaluate my students, I do not have control over their time. I need to make sure that my syllabus clearly states the all the necessary information for student success. I also know that students have multiple courses with multiple deadlines. And, as much as I want to get frustrated that they are not reading the syllabus, it is a waste of time to get frustrated about them not reading. Instead, I am prepared to re-read and revisit the syllabus as necessary prior to assignment due dates. Plus, I must remember that they have three to four other syllabi to keep track of during the term and that my class is one of many.

No, instead, I remind them about the information on the syllabus and refer them to it. Each term many will say something to the effect, “Oh, I must have missed that.” I typically smile and say, “I know that you have four other courses, it is easy to get the information mixed up.” This is a better use of my time and emotional energy. My job is not to chastise or scold. Frankly, I do not like scolding unless I absolutely have to do so. My job is to give the information and move on to the next query or item. Sure, I chat with colleagues about how syllabi are not read. I am sympathetic and am the first to talk to a colleague about what we can do to make this better. However, each term it is the same song and dance. This term I noted in two different places on my syllabus that class would not meet during our Reading Break. The note is in bold, too. My Teaching Assistants went to the class and found almost half of my class sitting in the lecture hall. They looked at the students and said, “You need to read the syllabus. There is no class today.” I  am guessing that my students really liked the material and were keen for another lecture.

What can we do? Review the syllabus with the students and review it more than once. Remind them of the deadlines and refer them repeatedly to the appropriate resources on campus. My syllabi are considerably longer than before, but I am OK with that. This means that I have as much helpful information as possible and I am doing my job. The other half of this is that the students must do their job and review the syllabus–highlighting due dates and keeping an organized calendar. Yes, I am speaking to the students owning part of this and that might require a different blog post. And, I probably should work on that blog post, but now, I am thinking about the syllabi for next term and how I need to be as clear as the water in Maui. I am pining for warmer weather–can you blame me it is almost winter and I know that in just a week I will start three weeks of intensive marking and occasionally write on papers: you should have read the syllabus and followed directions.

on the syllabus baby

Please note that the above  photo of “Sassy Syllabus Baby” is from a former student who did get permission from his family to use the photo. And, Kevin always read the syllabus. May he have a great post-university life!