Student Evaluations of Teaching 2012/2013: Part 1 Intro Psych

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. As I explained here, I’m writing reflections on the qualitative and quantitative feedback I received from each of my courses.

Introduction to Psychology

Overall, I was very pleased with my introductory psychology students’ assessments of my teaching this year. Quantitative data were all highly positive (see the orange bars here).  In the qualitative responses, many students highlighted my enthusiasm, organization, strong communication skills, and care for getting to know them as individuals. Because these themes emerge regularly, particularly from my introductory students, I have learned to embrace them and lean into them – a strategy that seems to be working! Specific features of our course/my teaching that many students noted as particularly effective include i>clickers as a way to engage attention and reinforce learning, invitational office hour as a way to connect personally with students, videos and demonstrations in class to make points memorable, and having three midterms (rather than two, as we did in 2nd term) as helpful for keeping on top of readings. For next year, I’ll switch term 2 (which will be a separate course, Psyc 102) to a three-midterm format.

Mid-way through the year, I was discussing the use of Learning Objectives with students at an IOH. During that discussion, someone suggested I keep the Learning Objectives posted somewhere throughout the class, to serve as a reminder of what students need to especially focus on understanding and doing. In response, I committed to posting the LOs before each class period on our Vista course website. That way, students can consult them throughout the class (provided they have a device to do so… which many do). Many students noted that they found this cumulative list of LOs helpful during class as well as later as an exam study tool. There are many reasons why I can’t post my slides before class, but I can commit to posting LOs. Because this simple thing seemed to be so helpful for at least a subset of students, I will continue doing this in the fall (and perhaps extend to all my courses).

Exams and papers were two discussion points that were noted in various ways in quite a few posts. Regarding exams, many students noted they were challenging (which I embrace), yet a few added that they felt unprepared for this level of difficulty. One of the things I will consider doing next year is holding an optional review session outside of class time before at least the first midterm. I’m not willing to simply re-teach material (as if coming to the review session would be enough studying, or would substitute for coming to class thrice weekly), so I’ll have to think more about how to approach them (see Regan Gurung’s Observer article). Logistically this could be tricky, especially if there are many students who attend. I’ll have to give this possibility some more thought.

For the past four years I’ve required students write a 600 word paper each term on one of two or three topics each term. All papers have in common a requirement to do something to apply a course concept, summarize what they did or saw, and explain how that event illustrates that concept (e.g., write a study plan applying principles of memory). A handful of people gave really thoughtful feedback on the main challenge this paper poses: 600 words isn’t long enough to dive deeply into the material. I haven’t been thrilled with the quality of the papers recently… in part because I simply can’t offer a scaffolded process with meaningful feedback to 250-350 students a term. To help address this feedback issue, I turned it over to the students this year. I added a requirement to the paper that people give peer feedback to four of their peers’ papers using peerScholar software, and gave people a week to incorporate the feedback they received (if they chose to do so) before final submission. To my surprise, not a single person mentioned peerScholar in their qualitative feedback. Was it just not memorable? Not helpful? I can’t tell. I recall having called a vote using i>clickers at the end of term 1 during which people endorsed it as useful and wanted to use it again… but it didn’t show up at all in student evals! I’m really not sure what to make of that, but I presume students didn’t hate it or else I’d have heard about it. I’m considering a new approach to the papers, inspired by this ToP article I wrote about a few weeks ago, while incorporating peer ratings through peerScholar as a study tool. I think that could work to satisfy both my writing-to-learn and peer feedback goals.

Notably, the graph highlights the fact that my classes of ~250 (2010/2011, 2012/2013) seem to be rated more highly than my classes of ~350 (2011/2012). Given this pattern, I am a bit nervous heading into next year. For the past three years I have been fortunate to teach some of the last three 6-credit sections of Introductory Psychology (Psyc 100). From now on, admin has decided that all sections will split into 101 and 102. The content mostly mirrors the first half and second half of Psyc 100, respectively, but with two huge differences: it’s not (entirely) the same group of students, and because neither is a prereq for the other, 102 students might not have had 101 at all (let alone with me). Having the same group of students all year has afforded me the rich opportunity to establish relationships across eight months with the same group of students. I can invite every single student to an Invitational Office Hour over that length of time – which has led me to personally meet 70% of my intro students in each of my last three cohorts. In 2013/2014, with 350 students in Psyc 101 and potentially an entirely different crew of 250 students in Psyc 102, there is logistically no way I can invite everyone. Because IOH has been so enormously successful, I will continue it. But it will need to be by random selection (plus an open invite to keen students), and I will no longer be able to offer 1% for coming and “engaging in learning” because I can’t offer that opportunity to everyone. I’ve met such interesting students and established great relationships and community through IOH… I hope people still come!

My advice if you’re choosing intro psych for 2013/2014: sign up for Psyc 101 and 102, in that order… with me J (or someone else, but I’d love to meet you!). Then, if you’re in my sections, come to IOH so we can get to know each other!

Many thanks to all my Psyc 100 students in 2012/2013 students who completed this evaluation. The response rate this year was 62%, which is among my higher rates. And thanks to the whole class for a fun year of learning about psychology!

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