Posts Tagged ‘Course Evaluations’

After every semester, when I’ve recovered from grading, I get to experience the joy of getting my student evaluations back. (See previous posts on evaluations here and here.) Other than students who complain about having to write papers or complete readings or take exams, one thing that has always bothered me about evaluations is the fact that one or two students will inevitably give me a less-than-perfect score on something like “arrives to class on time” or “returns graded assignments within a cycle of the moon.” This bothers me because I always arrive to class on time and return graded assignments within a cycle of the moon, so any student who thinks I do not is either lying or not paying attention.

This semester I had students in one of my courses complete a group project and, when the project was complete, evaluate their group members, which gave me some insight into these frustrating experiences. When looking over student a few students’ evaluations of their group members, I noticed that they assigned their group members a 4/5 on measures like “completed his or her share of the work” and “contributed ideas to the group.” The interesting thing was not the 4/5 (some students rated their group members much lower than this – after all, nobody wants to deal with students!) – but that some students assigned 4/5 in these categories to both their group members and themselves. Apparently, nobody in these groups completed their full share of the work or contributed ideas to the group. It seems like I would have realized this based on other situations, but I guess that it is true for evaluations as well – some students will never be satisfied, even with themselves.

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Last semester was possibly my most frustrating as an instructor, given that two of my courses had lower-than-normal levels of class participation. Having finally received my student evaluations from the fall, it appears that my frustration was felt by at least a few of my students. Numerically, my evaluations were similar to other semesters. Qualitatively, though, it appears that a higher number of students who would have normally left the comments section blank were compelled to complain. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Very negative attitude towards teaching. Often made rude comments to students for no reason… Terrible class, terrible professor.”

“Dr. Smith tends to be rude and misunderstanding towards his students. It would be appreciated that he shows his students the respect he demands as a professor. He doesn’t relate well to college life and all that it entails.”

“he is a good teacher but he is kind of mean sometimes & comes off indifferent to helping.”

“When talking to students in class or when commenting on a student’s answer to a question, it would be nice not to receive a smartass answer/comment in response.”

“Snide comments were made to multiple students and I was offended by his ego. He acts as though he is better than us simply because he has a PhD. My suggestion would be to tone down the sarcasm.”

If one looked only at the comments above, I would seem to be a terrible professor. I understand that not all students appreciate sarcasm, and that my responses were likely harsher last semester than most. Thankfully, there were also a few students who seemed to enjoy my courses. When compiling evaluations for review by others, I always follow a negative evaluation with a positive one that contradicts it. Toward this end:

“You were a great professor. You were able to relate to us but keep respect.”

“Dr. Smith needs to be less enthusiastic with his teaching and try to be more boring and even more unpredictable with grading and pop-quizzes. His energy level is far too high for someone like me and it amazes me how someone like that can become a professor (just kidding, Dr. Smith is awesome).”

“Great professor. Very knowledgeable and always willing to help.”

Thankfully for both my students and me, this semester has been much less frustrating than last.

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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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