Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My first course evaluations

I stopped by the department office and got my course evaluations (from the course I taught in June), and it's pretty much what I expected: mostly positive, with some constructive criticism and a couple (but only a couple) of very negative reviews.  In the comments section, most of the criticism will be easily rectified by making each day's lecture's organization more explicit (pretty much all I'll actually change is that I'll make a single slide that shows the roadmap for where we're going that day), and also by faking confidence.  I learned how to handle questions that I didn't know by the end of the course, by when you're only teaching for three weeks, they remember the moments where you looked like a deer in headlights a little too well.

The percentage breakdown of the survey they filled out shows that the majority of my students rated me favorably, which is encouraging.  My highest scores were regarding my availability to help and provide feedback, and the respect that I gave to students and their ideas.  And by "highest" I mean "the majority of students rated me as 'excellent' on both counts, and the one student who was mad at me even conceded that I was 'adequate.'"  I'm really happy about both of those, because I worked really hard on being available to help, and on creating a respectful space within the classroom, and it's gratifying that they noticed.  With everything else, it was in the middling-to-good range, which I know is an okay place to start.  (The lowest ranking was regarding my clarity in explaining things, and that will be rectified by making small tweaks that I've been learning.  Hooray for teaching workshops!)

I had a small handful of really negative comments, but they're all a mixed bag.  Like, one student thinks that I don't make any sense in my lecturing, and another one thinks that the grading system was harsh but my lectures were "very effective [and] well put together."  I had one absolutely negative comment (likely the same student who gave me consistently low rankings, and likely the same student who was glaring at me on the last day of class): one student outright stated that I wasn't qualified to teach the course because I'm a specialist in an earlier period, but she/he was mostly was mad that they had to memorize IDs.  (It was a pretty heated comment: he/she ended off that comment with the statement "This is not an education," because apparently the whole course was based in memorization?)  I find that comment interesting, partly because other students specified that the IDs helped to guide them in their studies, and also because on an absolute basis, the short answer part of the exams (which is where the identification part came in) constituted a small part of the final grade, and put a lot of emphasis on evaluating significance rather than on regurgitating details. 

What can I make of that?  For one thing, it would have been interesting to get feedback after they'd gotten back their essays and after they'd written the final (with a three-week course, by necessity the essay is due right before the last class).  After the final, a lot of students expressed relief at the fact that I really didn't ask them anything unexpected on the final, and found the IDs part to be easier than they expected. 

So, on the one hand, I can be relieved that the majority of students had a favourable impression of the course, and then I can learn from the helpful comments.  They all reflect things that I've been already working on improving, and so I'm glad that I'm on the right track.  I'm a little amused by how some of the comments contradict each other (I'm both organized and disorganized?  I'm both a passionate lecturer and uncomfortable in front of students?  I should use slides both more and less?), but that's what you get from a diverse group.  I'm learning how to reach out to different kinds of learners, and I'll be a lot less terrified when I teach my next course, and so the unevenness in evaluations should level out in the future.

Now, all I can do is put these away, attend teaching workshops when I can, and hope that these evaluations were positive enough to help me get further teaching work.  And focus on finishing this dissertation.

1 comment:

lifexhistory said...

That's pretty normal. I got rather low rankings on a class last semester where some said they thought the class was well organized and the others said the class didn't make sense. Sometimes it's about explaining to them at the beginning what your plan is-- and repeating it a few times.

I think the lecture/ppt outline slide is a really good idea and I have one at the beginning of every ppt presentation nowadays. I've also included a slide with 2-4 questions and concepts (4 is probably over-doing it-- KISS is key) that we will cover in lecture-- and those questions are often repeated in 3-4 lectures so they can see the overlap.

It's all little things that come together with practice and time. I'm sure you're doing a great job. The fact that you've already been reflecting on them and working to remedy them means that you were already more conscientious in your teaching them than many instructors they've likely had.