Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Teaching Evals

My university normally doesn't do evals until the end of the term. However, in order to get an idea of how I am doing, and have a chance to change things that aren't going well, I gave my students a short mid-term eval.

The results were good and bad. They were below my expectations, but then I have pretty high expectations. My overall rating was somewhere between a 3-4 (out of 5). I was criticized a lot for organization, which is ironic because I am one of the best organized people on the planet, but I know exactly what they are talking about. To try and make the subject more relevant to my students (the text is pretty outdated as are all of them in my field), I have been writing example problems from lots of newer subdivisions of my field. The disadvantage of that is that I am using unvetted problems, and on occasion there are errors or the questions are poorly worded. I don't want to give them the same boring material that has been studied for the last 20 years, but new material implies the possibility of mistakes.

Also, I had tried as much as possible to emulate the professor for the previous class, especially since mine is a continuation of his course. In the process, I misinterpreted his syllabus a little bit. He said 1/2 the HWs were group and 1/2 were individual. I assumed this met that 1 week it was individual and 1 week group. Turns out it meant that 1/2 the problems each week were individual and 1/2 were group. Nobody bothered to tell me this until this eval. So in a way I am glad I asked, but I'm also thinking why didn't anybody say anything?

The final point is that they think the HWs are too long. I think everyone in every class probably thinks the HWs are too long. The thing is I think the previous prof might have been a little soft on them. The number of HW problems that I am assigning is consistent with the prof who taught my class previously, and is exactly the same as the problems that I was assigned when I took the course (Did I mention that it hasn't changed in 20 years?) In addition to all that, each course will get successively worse. So if I am soft on them now, they will feel hit by a mack truck in the next course. I am reluctant to reduce the HWs, but I am not sure how to address their concerns. How can I convince them that this is a good thing?

The good news is that I have a couple days to ruminate on all this before the next class. So, we will have a talk about everything and I will try to make adjustments. Hopefully by the end of the term. I will be getting all 5s on my evals.


At 12:58 AM , Anonymous Florirican Scholar said...

Dr. Mom, it is great that you are taking the initiative to assess
your students' evaluation midway through the course. I'm sure they appreciate your efforts to improve the course and will reward you (at final evals) for demonstrating your sincere interest in their opinions.

Re: homework length. I know we teachers initially teach as we were taught. With that in mind, I wonder: have you considered your problem sets, not for "the usual/historical length for this course" but for *necessary* content review and practice. In other words, is each problem in your homework set there because it is linked to a course goal and provide necessary practice for knowledge or skill development? If there is no "busy work"/fillers in the homework, then the homework is the perfect and _necessary_ length. As you said, students' might be having a hard time adjusting to the additional work load… everyone dislikes that, so they can't help but to complain.

Students sometimes complain about work load when they don't understand the importance of the task at hand. To help them in this regard, you might need to be very explicit about the specific goal(s) of the problems in the assignment. You might be doing it already, but it doesn't hurt to remind them at the end of class : "In the next homework, pay special attention to the problems involving X, you will need to understand that concept to perform Y in the lab, or that is the foundation for the Z course that you will take". They will still complain about the HW length, but at least they will understand why they have to do those problems and that will, in time, reflect positively in your final evaluation.

Hope this comment didn't bore you and it helps. :-)

Good luck!


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