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Fri Fun Facts: Student Evaluations

This week’s Fun Fri Facts is a response to students’ informal evaluations of courses. Normally I offer students an opportunity to give me feedback about my classes. I also explain to the class that I take these evaluations seriously and will often change things in a course based on the thoughtful comments.

How do I do it? I do one of two things. I ask them to take out a piece of paper and list the readings that they liked or did not like or I borrow shamelessly from Dr. Heather Tapley and ask them to list what they would like me to start doing, stop doing and continue doing. I am going to refer to some of the common student comments during the last 12 months.

1. You assign too much reading. It is hard for most professors to not smirk at this comment. My job is to assign work that will cause us to think and chat about the ideas. During the last year, I have actually cut one to two readings in my 300-400 level courses. But, the students might know this! I did re-think the course allowing more time to chat about the readings.

2. The blank assignment is worth too much or not worth enough. With these sort of comments, I really can’t make all of the students happy. I could move things around and another few would complain that they want the paper worth more (or less)!

3. You are awesome. Do not change a thing. This class is like a mental hug, massage, best part of my day. I have to admit that the handful of statements of this sort do make me smile. And, I am thankful when the same person has given me constructive comments about what I can do better. I have previously noted that my teaching is not static, it’s fluid. And, I don’t pretend to not learn from the students. So, the positive comments are appreciated and weighed with the less than positive ones!

4. The blogging assignment is great, hard work, too much work. The students who have commented on the blogging assignments during the last two years have mostly been positive. And, a few of them acknowledged that they now read all the assignments and think: How would I blog about this? Fist in air! Now, as far as the blog being too much work in most classes they have to write a series of 4-6 blog posts, but this term the class has to write 6 over the course of 12 weeks. I’m hesitant to change this that much. I see that more students understand the expectation for the assignment, so I was more clear compared to 9 months ago.

5. I like that you offer us discussion time. I don’t like the discussion time and I want to hear you lecture more. This is a tough one. I use a combination of lecture and discussion in my courses and I find that more students prefer the balance. However, there will always be the 1-2 who want to hear me lecture more. I might need to dedicate one day to 100% lecture and the next day to lecture and discussion.

6. A student or two usually comments on my office hours. I don’t have enough or that I’m not available enough for him/her. As it stands, I have as many office hours as last year and I’m teaching one less course. Compared to my colleagues I actually have more office hours, but I know that I teach more students and I do make appointments as needed. My availability is not an issue in my humble opinion. And, during the busy times of the term I will add 1-2 more hours of office hour time.

Overall, I do think it’s an important exercise to check in with the students and see what is working or not working. I always hope that my classes are successful, but I also know that I am only one part of the class. The students are an integral part of the class.

2 thoughts on “Fri Fun Facts: Student Evaluations

  1. I used to use a couple of questions that were really effective. What is the best session (and why) and if I had to revise one thing what should I focus on (and why). I suggested they could name up to 3 in each category. That was really helpful.

    I am always skeptical of requests for more lecture. Research shows that students don’t take in much from pure lecture. But I think students THINK lecture means learning more because they think you have all this expert knowledge and students are basically empty vessels so what can they learn from other students. (I exaggerate somewhat.) In fact, as you know, discussion is an active way of working with the knowledge imparted in the lecture and makes it more likely that it will stick. As such, I think you can acknowledge those comments and decide you have good reason not to do anything with them.

    • Thanks, Jo! Yup, but the students are not familiar with that research. I think they get caught up in the fact that they may or may not want to hear their classmates talk. And, this is unfortunate, as we both know that they can learn from one another.

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