Category Archives: evaluation

Quick review of student evaluations.

I just got my anonymous evaluations from Winter semester, when I had all my classes do the evaluations.

20% of my students fear me, and say I am intimidating or that they are scared to come and talk to me.

80% of my students fear me so much, they write down that I am awesome and love me, no doubt because they are terrified of retribution.

5% add pictures of cats to their comments.

Stop, Go, Change?

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.

My report card.

So, evaluations from last semester surfaced earlier this week. As I have said before, evaluations are an opportunity for students to take a pot-shot, and if not for the fact that they actually carry weight in the hiring process, I wouldn’t even bother worrying about them. Because basically, evaluations tell you how good you are at massaging the egos of a bunch of speshul snowflakes.

I must confess that I stooped to a bit of evaluation-pandering last semester, schedualling the evaluation for the class following a class I knew would go well, and during which I shamelessly gave out chocolate. As a result, my numbers were quite respectable (and don’t get me started on the statistical nonsense being perpetrated in our institution, which calls 4.0 out of 5 the acceptable average; grade inflation, anyone?). Do I feel dirty? Not to any extent that can’t be cured by a nice bath bomb.

Last semester’s students were embarrassingly reluctant to give additional comments, given that it was a writing class – oops! Perhaps because they were reasonably harmonious, and didn’t have any major complaints about things that are not in my control anyway – like the schedualling of the class, or the imposed common curriculum, the temperature of the room, or the odour of that one guy.

Written additional comments do tend to be educational; I think I learnt the most important thing about North American Snowflake culture from the student who commented that “when students give a wrong answer, she doesn’t even say ‘thank you for trying'”. Before that, I had no idea that my snowflakes were expecting to be thanked for their dumbassed utterances. Not that this comment caused me to change my behaviour, but it was an insight into just how incredibly narcissistic these products of self of steam edumacation really are.

This most recent evaluation had a little bit more WTF-ery with regard to student laziness. Of the few comments I received, most were positive, but there were two that had similar comments, clearly intended to be criticism. Are you ready? Apparently, I have a quite utterly unreasonable expectation that my students will pay attention and retain information. In other words, “she won’t repeat things if she thinks she has said them enough times for us to remember them, like more than 2 or 3 times.” Specifically, I am charged with only giving the instructions for the exam (which consisted of: “you will be writing 2 essays, one on a reading I will give you in advance, one on a ‘surprise’ topic based on class discussion”, so hardly rocket science) only 3 times in the hearing of one student, who thus, it is charged, “is not 100% confident I know what is required”.

Got all that? Because I am not going to repeat myself.

Rating My Students

Student evaluations of instruction are a thorn in the side of any instructor; it’s like, once a semester, they get to throw a free punch, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Of course, you get quite a few who only manage a swing and a miss: “this teacher were to tuogh on spelling and grammer,” but others do manage to connect, and it’s the ones that hit you in unexpected places that can really be disheartening. I don’t mind the random jabs at my meanness, or my dress sense, but the one who said, “do not mock people who are funnier than you,” really stung.

I know it’s not just me who has angst over evaluations; look at all the ink spent on navel-gazing. And what do we learn from all this scholarly research? That student opinions of their teachers are swayed by chocolate. Nice. That’s really going to make me roll philosophically with those punches. If chocolate is all it takes, why would anyone stress about good teaching? But no, I will take the high road.

I do get a chance to make my case; there’s a form I have to fill in that talks about my teaching in the classes that have student evaluations, where I get to complain about the heating system making a sound like a jet taking off, or the fact that the motion sensor attached to the lighting in the room was located too far away from the teacher’s desk, so that halfway through the class, all the lights would go out, and students would need to stand up and wave their arms to make them come back on. There’s a leetle tiny space on that form for comments about student behaviour; just enough room to write, “never have I seen such a group of egregious sloths – these reluctant slugs could not even get it together to read children’s picture books.”

But, let’s face it, this is not enough. The fact that this is not enough is the whole reason Rate Your Students exists, bless their tiny cotton student-loathing socks.

This semester, I am preparing an Instructor Evaluation of Students. Based loosely on my institution’s Student Evaluation, it will have 20 items for me to rate my students on a 5 point scale. Here are the items:

  1. The student shows interest (real or feigned) in the subject.
  2. The student demonstrates respect for the instructor and classmates.
  3. The student’s behaviour is not actively disruptive to the class.
  4. The student demonstrates an openness to new concepts.
  5. The student makes use of offered opportunities of assistance.
  6. The student’s personal hygiene is inoffensive.
  7. The student does not actively try to make the instructor’s life harder.
  8. The student makes a visible effort to learn (includes grunting).
  9. The student responds to instructor’s overtures to promote participation (i.e. will respond to a direct question if eye contact is made).
  10. The student comes to class.
  11. The student shows an understanding of the duration of the class (is on time, does not leave early).
  12. The student does assigned reading.
  13. The student attempts to meet deadlines.
  14. The student accepts responsibility for handing in his/her work on time.
  15. The student demonstrates an ability to follow simple directions.
  16. The student gives some priority to fitting this class into his/her life.
  17. The student is responsive to instructor requests and/or advice.
  18. The student shows an understanding of grading standards.
  19. This student shows an awareness of the existence of other individuals.
  20. I would recommend this student to others.

That way, I will have hard numbers at which to point and laugh. And I’ll post them here, so others can do the same. I have not decided yet whether to rate all my students, including those who drop the course (skews negatively), or only those who make it to the end of semester and receive a final grade (skews positively), but I have the whole semester to ponder. Suggestions welcome.