Archive for February 8th, 2010

When I received my course evaluations for my first semester as a real professor, my previous experiences with the differences between my current and former students caused some concern.  Due to the amount of things I had to do near the end of the fall semester I had never even looked closely at the evaluation form until the registrar returned the completed forms to me.

Looking at the evaluations, I was struck by two things:  1) my teaching looked good numerically; and 2) these numbers told me next to nothing about the way students perceived my courses.  The item related to class discussions provides a good example.  I have always considered class discussions to be one of the weaker areas of my teaching, no matter how many teaching seminars on the topic I attended (maybe my students didn’t discuss things because they weren’t doing the reading).  Items asking students about the quality of class discussions reflected this (in the subtle way that a difference of .03 on a five-point scale can reflect something).  Looking over my newly opened evaluations, however, I was struck by the fact that the only question about class discussions was related to whether I encouraged them.  I did well on this item, having spent several minutes of each class prodding students to discuss things as a class.  There was no corresponding item, however, about whether my attempts at promoting class discussion were successful.  Any student assessments of the quality of class discussions would have to be offered spontaneously by students on the qualitative portion of the evaluations.

As a result, what I feel was the weakest portion of my courses received an apparently strong quantitative evaluation and a nearly-nonexistent qualitative evaluation.  While I was nervous before opening my evaluations, my feelings afterward were closer to apathy.  Nearly every semester I need to remind students that, no, merely showing up does not count as class participation.  Based on the current evaluation form, though, it seems that professors at my school are being held to this sort of “A for effort” standard.

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