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A useful exercise November 19, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, older son, teaching.
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Since I began teaching this class, I’ve had this nagging question in my head: is what I’m doing effective?  I’ve contemplated inquiring as to whether anything changed in terms of retention or GPA of students who went through the class before versus after I started teaching.  It would be good to track that as much as possible, so that I could see if changes in the class manifested in changes in those retention-type numbers, although I wonder if I would be able to evaluate micro-changes in the class that way given other issues seem to swamp data about student behavior.  (It may just be me, but I’ve noticed that when the economy is good, more of my students seem to be interested.  When it’s not good, I have a lot of students who are back in school because they think it’s the only way to get a better job or the students are very pessimistic.  It seems like the attitude of all of the students get pushed in pulled in ways like that.)  It might also be a good thing to put on my resume.  Wouldn’t it be impressive if I could say something about improving retention in the dept. since taking over the class?  Having quantitative data saying you’re an effective teacher certainly can’t hurt.

On the other hand, I’ve wondered if it was worth the time to do so or if the school would give me some reason why they couldn’t provide me with that kind of data.  Or worse yet: what if I didn’t like what I saw?  (It’s easy to attribute favorable changes to one’s efforts but seems hypocritical to evaluate negative changes as being out of one’s control.)

When I started teaching this class, which is supposed to be an academic skills class for freshmen, it was done as whatever each teacher wanted it to be.  I imagine most people put a decent amount of effort into it, but there was one year that apparently didn’t go well.  A former classmate told me that when he took the course (a decade ago?), the prof decided that, being engineers, they didn’t need academic help: they needed social skills.  They spent the entire semester playing fantasy football.  I wish I was kidding.

When I put the course together, I came up with “everything I wish I’d known as a freshman plus all this stuff on how to learn and study effectively (because I’d been reading a ton on learning disabilities because of older son) along with things I’ve observed my students really ought to know even if I knew those things at that age”.  So, I jammed a lot of stuff into the course.  And, as I said, I have no way of knowing how well it’s working as the only feedback I’ve had was student evals (which, I have to admit, have been much better than I anticipated).

At least, I didn’t until today.  I had requested to have some upper-level engineering students come to my classes to talk about their experiences and answer questions.  One student went through my class last year.  At some point, she said, “I bet you all think this class is a waste of time.” She continued, saying how useful the class was in transitioning her from high school, where she didn’t have to work much in order to get good grades, to college where things were more challenging.  She mentioned a couple of the project-type activities I had them do and said she’s using that information a lot in her upper-level classes.

I was surprised.  That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m hoping to hear, but I was surprised that she began discussing that unprompted.  (I had only mentioned in introducing her that she was a former student.)  It’s made me wonder how many other students have similar perceptions being a year or two into the program…and whether I need to rethink my view of trying to get concrete data.

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Comments»

1. karifur - November 20, 2013

Perhaps what you really need is more anectodal data. Maybe you could send a surveymonkey survey to your former students, asking some of the questions you have about the effectiveness and usefulness of the things you taught in class?

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