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Evals! Oh happy day! February 6, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
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I had to make a run down to campus and, while there, I picked up my evals from last semester.  Apparently there were no comments on the evals because I just received a sheet for each class summarizing my ‘grades’.

I had been dreading this day for quite a while.  I had a couple of cranky students at the end of last semester.  I was also worried.  When teaching geology labs, it seemed like I got some very pissed off students who left simply nasty evals.  (I discussed this on my old blog a couple times.)  Compared to some of the other TAs, my evals usually came out worse.  A lot of this had to do with the perception that I was a harder grader.  In reality, I graded more easily on labs and more harshly on exams, so my averages were about the same as everyone else.  But that’s not what the students think.

Anyway, so I sat down with my numbers and discovered that some classes had better or worse perception than others.  For instance, my first Thursday class gave me the lowest scores (3.6 out of 5 for a couple questions) while the class right after that gave me the highest scores (4.5 of 5).  My Tuesday classes were somewhere in between.  The smallest class was the happiest, but the largest class wasn’t the unhappiest.  I’m not sure what happened with that one Thursday class, though, as it was a lot lower than the others.  Maybe I need to make sure to regale future students with my huge stack of nerdy science jokes.

They said the average for the department was around 4.2…but I realized that they were talking about the University Studies department, not engineering.  (The class is listed under University Studies, but some departments choose to have their own teachers for the class, as was the case for the sections I taught.)  I’m actually relieved that my scores were on par with the rest of the University Studies department given I heard many complaints about how much more work my students had to do relative to other sections (which weren’t being run by engineering).  Despite the fact I “worked them to death,” they were still okay with it.

That’s good because it’s not going to get any easier for them.

It’s looking,therefore, like last semester went as well as could be expected, especially given it was my first time teaching it and the whole thing was an experiment.  I wish there was some way to see if the kids really did get anything out of it to help with their long-term academic goals, though.

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1. Dr. 27 - February 7, 2012

Woo! Congrats.

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2. ferd - February 8, 2012

“I wish there was some way to see if the kids really did get anything out of it to help with their long-term academic goals, though.”

There is. You could ask them. You might need to wait a few semesters for their experience to grow and your course to fully settle in, or you can talk to graduates who return for reunions.

It floors me to hear instructors admit they had dissatisfied students, and maybe their own performance could be a factor, but they never follow up or do anything to correct the situation. If these are good students then you should ask them what’s wrong. Too many instructors are too passive about interacting with students – they merely meet the requirements of scheduled class time. They expect students to come to them. They forget that students can be intimidated by the instructor’s power over their grades. Some disgruntled students can be satisfied just by a smile and offer to help. If you know you have students who are struggling, but you do not approach them and offer outside help of some kind, then you deserve every poor evaluation you get. As long as instructors remain passive evaluations will be poor.

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mareserinitatis - February 12, 2012

I was only asked to teach this class for the fall, and I have no idea whether I will be asked to teach again. Therefore, follow-up information could potentially be very difficult for me to get. 🙂

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3. Massimo - February 14, 2012

In reality, I graded more easily on labs and more harshly on exams, so my averages were about the same as everyone else. But that’s not what the students think.

I entirely relate to that. Grades where I teach are curved, which means that there will be on average the same fraction of As, Bs and what have you in every section of the same course. And yet they are convinced that it is harder to get an A in my section than in the other one, because in my section class average is 70%, whereas in the other one it is 50% — hence, they argue, a 60% average (a C- in my section) would be a B in the other, which proves that mine is harder…

I have tried to explain to them how ridiculous this argument is, that there is no reason to expect that their 60% in my section would stay a 60% in the other, that since grades are curved their grade is determined exclusively by how many students score higher than them — to no avail, they bitch at me.
I was discussing this with a person at Test Scoring Office and she said to me “You don’t understand:it is never their fault, there has to be something or someone else to blame, and this is all they can come up with”. I am starting to think that she is right.

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4. Evals, part two « FCIWYPSC - April 21, 2012

[…] evaluations, teaching trackback I got my ratings for teaching last semester, which I discuss here.  I didn’t get back any comments, however.  When I went down to campus this week, I found […]

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