Last week, thanks to inspiration from the Ivory Tower Fibre Freaks on ravelry, which is one of the best professional development sources for teaching in academia that I have found, I tried a little mid-term evaluation on two of my classes.
The idea is to get some sense from the class how things are going, and unlike the stupidity that is student evaluation in the form of mandated multiple choice, I chose to do it in a way that would hopefully generate meaningful feedback. I gave students file cards, and asked them to give me 3 comments.
Stop: something you don’t like – can be about the prof, the class, the material, your fellow students, yourself, anything you like.
Go: something you do like, ditto.
Change: something about your own learning – what do you need to do to succeed in this class?
I was pleasantly surprised at how much interesting information this produced, and I have to say, it seems much more useful than the end of term eval.
For instance, in my novel class, which meets 3 times a week for an hour, I learned that students were upset about having only an hour for their midterm. I don’t think they blamed me, exactly, but they didn’t like it, even though on actual midterm day, we got to have 75 minutes for the midterm because the class after ours was cancelled. A bunch of them still took the opportunity to complain that they “only had 50 minutes for the midterm”, even though this was not true – a fascinating insight into the snowflake brain. Perception is reality, apparently.
I returned the midterms the following class, and pointed this out to them. “A lot of you complained about the time for the midterm, but since most of you got a B or better, my suggestion is: suck it.”
Most of them liked that we have rowdy class discussions in that class, but a couple of the more timid ones said they were having trouble speaking up. Usually by this point in the semester, I have stopped giving group discussion activities, but the feedback showed me that I need to keep putting them in. This morning, I gave them 2 stories and said they could get into groups to generate some ideas for a comparative essay.
I left them to get on with it, and when I came back, they had divided into 2 large groups and were having a huge argument about whether the ending of Updike’s “A&P” is optimistic or sad. I am going to count this as a win.
In my other class, which contains King of Flakes, results were much more mixed.
What they didn’t like, apparently, was that there are assignments at all, since their negative comments were all about the assessment: we don’t like short assignments; we don’t like long assignments; we don’t like research; we don’t like oral presentations.
They also don’t like class discussion, and want more lectures. Right, because thinking of things to say in discussion is effort, man.
Also that class gave me the fascinating insight that half the class thinks the other half is stupid. I’m with them.