Responding to Student Evals 2011/2012 Part 1: Psyc 217 Research Methods

Thank you to each of my students who took the time to complete a student evaluation of teaching this year. I value hearing from each of you, and every year your feedback helps me to become a better teacher. Based on last year’s feedback (upon which I reflected here) and my additional professional development, I made quite a few changes to my teaching in 2011/2012. I have created graphs depicting results from the University Module Items, which are 6 questions that are asked about every instructor across campus. I have posted those graphs (and the precise wording of each question) here for your consideration.

Please note that with respect to the open-ended responses, I appreciate and consider every thoughtful comment. The ones I write about are typically those that reflect common themes echoed by numerous students.

I am in the process of writing reflections on the feedback I received from each of my courses. After writing about Research Methods, I realized I should probably break up this post, as it was getting quite long! More is to come!

Psyc 217 Research Methods

As noted in last year’s reflection, my major goal this year was to address head-on the fact that on average, students rated the fairness of my evaluations as notably lower than my other UMIs, and many students discussed evaluations in the written feedback. In response, I made four key changes to the course: (1) instead of one long midterm that spanned two classes, I restructured the course so one shorter midterm came earlier and one came later; (2) I revisited every single exam question and ensured I could tie it closely to at least one learning objective in class and/or in the texts; (3) I re-read the assigned chapters in one of the two textbooks and wrote learning objectives I shared with my students (because that particular text has none); (4) I added extra emphasis on the importance of studying from the learning objectives.

I noted two interesting differences in students’ feedback this year relative to last year. First, ratings of fair evaluations jumped by a third of a point. What also jumped by a third of a point was ratings of clear expectations. It seems that the changes I made to the course could have increased both clarity of expectations and perceived fairness. It hadn’t occurred to me before that these two items seem reasonably related to each other: having evaluations that align with clear expectations is one way to operationalize fairness. I wonder about the extent to which these items are correlated (but I don’t have access to the raw data, so can’t test that).

It was especially interesting to read the comments in light of this mean-level analysis. Some students reported that the midterms were too challenging (especially the 2nd), requiring advanced application of concepts. At the same time, other students reported appreciating the challenge. For example, someone wrote,

The midterms were the best written midterms I have wrote at UBC. They were challenging but unlike in some other psyc courses, they went far beyond mere memorization and into deep understanding. Thanks Catherine!

The mixed set of comments suggests to me that I’m on the right track toward an appropriate level of challenge, but I could still be clearer in warning students about the need to apply concepts on exams. I’m not quite sure how to do that, but I’ll give it some more thought for sure. I just looked back at the midterm means and noted that the 2nd midterm average was about 7% lower than the first. I will be aiming to make that one a bit easier (while remaining consistent our departmental requirements). It will still be challenging, but I’ll aim to align it more closely with the first midterm in difficulty.

Many students reported appreciating my enthusiasm for the material and for designing engaging lessons that were interactive. Many students noted learning effectively from interactive elements including the clicker questions, “what’s in the bag?” activity, and groupwork (although a minority of others mentioned they didn’t feel like they learned from these elements). In fact, some people recommended using even more interactive learning activities! Here’s a representative comment that focuses on my interactive style:

I really enjoyed how Catherine broke up class with activities rather than just lecturing all the time. This engaged the students and made concepts easier to learn. I also enjoyed the lab component, although I was nervous for it in the beginning. Iclickers are a great idea, they make you pay attention and try to comprehend the concepts as they come at you, also if you don’t get one right, you know what to focus on while studying! Overall, the active, cheerful, outgoing attitude of professor Rawn encouraged me to want to do well in this class, and in my future!

Thanks for all of your feedback! Even though I’ve now taught this course 8 times, every time is a new adventure, and there is always room to grow!

Stay tuned for reflections on more courses…

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