I got student evaluations back today. To summarize, it wasn’t great. Fortunately, students were relatively humane and written comments criticized the course rather than me as a person. However, student thought poorly of both of us.
Most students did not like my course*.
Their main criticisms:
Exams were too hard and didn’t reflect what was covered in lecture. They worked harder in this class than any other and it wasn’t reflected on the exams.
The content was too much for non-bio majors to know. I should have given study guides for the exams, not just the lectures.
Some students didn’t like that I used questions written by the textbook company. Others didn’t like when I wrote my own. Either way, they thought they were too hard.
They want powerpoint slides ahead of time because I lecture too fast.
Some said I need to stand up for myself more and need to put disrespectful students in their place.
I need to be more available to students, my office hours were too few.
My jokes are lame. I am rude and have a bad attitude.
GSU should be ashamed of hiring me. I am the dumbest professor on the campus. I should quit or be fired.
But some students found positive aspects:
Some students recognized my passion and desire to help and that teaching took a lot of preparation and organization.
They liked having lots of small assignments that were relatively easy that could boost their grades.
They liked my style of presentation during lecture. They liked the lecture where I used starburst candies to demonstrate evolution.
Some recognized that I knew what I was talking about.
Some interesting comments:
“You can’t make a cake and eat it too” - Actually, yes you can do both of those things. This point does not support your argument.
“She can’t pronounce ‘levers’, she says ‘leevers’”- As a biomechanist, I have heard people use it both ways. I learned it as ‘leevers’ but others may not have. Same with ‘byookal’ vs. ‘buckle’ to refer to the buccal (mouth) cavity.
While they did say that they thought the course was intellectually rigorous, they think I am asking too much. My goal was to teach rational, logical thought using biology as a medium. I want students to be able to assimilate information and understand it in a way that they can then apply it. I also want them to learn how to think about information they are presented with as an argument, so they can learn how to form arguments themselves when interacting with others, as well as gain the ability to assess information given to them from others. I tried to emphasize that this is a skill that goes beyond biology, and that it will benefit them regardless of their major. In fact, I would hold this same standard of a university student regardless of major, class, etc. It seems I failed at making that argument.
If you’re a student, please think about a course you are taking as if you were in the professor’s shoes. What kind of preparation has to happen to make this work? Think about this on the scale of how big your class is. How/why would you do things a certain way? If the answer is “to make it easy”, then I can guarantee you will have conflicts with the way the professor teaches the class. A lot of what I am seeing on these evaluations stems from a mismatch between my expectations and those of my students. As non-majors, they want an easy A. As a university professor, I want to challenge their intellect and help them develop new ways of approaching ideas, regardless of what class they're sitting in. This takes effort, and is in direct conflict with their goals.
While I want to take their opinions into account, and I value that they feel comfortable to tell me those opinions in the first place, ultimately I have a reason for everything I do. If their suggestion requires me to change the class in a way that is not supported by evidence or doesn't make sense to me (i.e. just ‘to make it easy’), I am most likely not going to do that. I recognize that there are both simple and more complex ways that I should re-structure the class the next time I teach it, and I will do that. However, I apparently cannot change students’ expectations. This comes from maturity, experience, and creating a culture that values intellectual growth as a part of education.
Moving forward, I would love to hear suggestions from others on your expectations of a university course/professor. If you have taught a university course, whether majors or non-majors, how have you aligned the course to facilitate meeting these broad goals (rather than specific course learning objectives, if any)? Perhaps what I am most interested in gaining feedback on is am I asking too much, and should I adjust my expectations?
Comments should be enabled now, so let me know what you think, but let’s please keep it positive. I am also trying to learn.
* I don't want to be defensive, but I do feel like I should explain a few things about the course. It was 230 students, mostly non-majors. They had "quick" assignments due before lecture, lectures including clicker questions reflecting what I would expect on exams, and post-lecture 10 question online quizzes, also reflecting exam questions. Assignments were a mix of those provided by the textbook company and things I came up with myself. They had 4 non-cumulative midterms and 1 cumulative final exam where most questions were the most challenging ones from previous exams (with some words changed). I did not hand back old exams (mostly out of practicality but also so they wouldn't be a crutch) but all materials were available to review in my office. All clicker questions, quizzes, and exams included 4 point multiple choice questions. Students were expected to take notes on the lectures, and I did not post powerpoint slides. I tried to break up the 70 minute lectures using relevant videos, breaks, and activities. I held office hours 2 hours per week, but in reality I met with students anytime if they weren't available during that window, often for several additional hours. I encouraged students to email me and I tried to respond to every email as soon as I could. By the end of the semester, I even encouraged a few to call my office so we could sort problems quickly if they couldn't meet in person.