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.
Psyc 217: Research Methods
I went into this year especially excited about research methods, as I got to use a textbook with my own name on it! Wow, what a thrill! Perhaps reflecting this extra-potent boost of enthusiasm, my quantitative results were overwhelmingly positive this year. Interestingly, I seem to have connected especially effectively with my 10am section. Ratings from my 9am section were positive too (see the mint green bars on the graph linked above)… and on par with years past. But scores from my 10am section were the highest I’ve ever received (see the light purple bars on the graph)! Because I taught the two sections pretty much the same way, I’m not sure what can account for the difference. Suffice it to say, in my mind it was an especially awesome year… and many of my students seem to have felt that way too.
When I teach research methods, it’s often at 9 and 10 in the morning, and I do my very best every day to bring the energy. For many people, this material isn’t exactly inherently exciting. As one student wrote, “Based on what I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances at UBC, research methods is one of the most disliked courses offered at the university due to its sheer boringness.” Thankfully, this student continued, “that said, this instructor did a phenomenal job of teaching the course in a way that students found the material relevant and exciting (to the extent that this material can be exciting).” Such an assessment is the most common comment coming from my student evaluations in this course: Students expect this material to be dull, but I bring it alive. That’s exactly what I strive to do every single day. I’m satisfied that my well-caffeinated efforts are effective for my students.
A few other topics were noted by small subsets of students. Two topics drew ambivalent assessments: groupwork and in-class activities. People seem to have a love-hate relationship with groupwork. First, only a handful of people mentioned it at all, leading me to suspect that mostly people feel neutrally about it (perhaps recognizing its inherent challenges and strengths). The people who noted liking the team project still found it a lot of work, but recognized the value in it. The people who didn’t seem to work as well with teammates report viewing it as a frustrating waste of time. Each year I hear this dichotomous assessment. One thing I tried out last year in response to one particularly struggling group was a mediation meeting, during which I acted as mediator. It seemed to work well to get that group through effectively to the end of the course. To broaden this service and reach the struggling groups I don’t hear about, I am creating a form-based mediation request process for this year. That may sound like a cold approach, but I’ve given it much thought. After years of imploring people to come to me face-to-face to help solve their group challenges, I note that very few groups—or individuals struggling within groups—ever come to me. By formalizing this process, I hope to remove some of the emotion around “tattling,” and treat it as just another issue that needs to be dealt with, just like a grade change request. Hopefully this new process will help reach those extra few groups who are struggling on their own so they can move forward and perform well in group tasks.
In-class activities make material memorable, illustrate difficult concepts, up the energy and attention levels, and make learning fun. Every year, dozens of students report appreciating them. However, there is a small minority of students who don’t appreciate the time spent on these active learning adventures (yes, that’s the subtitle of my blog… see where I’m headed). I’m committed to student learning, and one of the hallmarks of my teaching philosophy is to get out of the way. And data supports my commitment to using active learning techniques (Armbruster, Patel, Johnson, & Weiss, 2009; Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011; Hake, 1998; Prince, 2004; Ruhl, Hughes, & Schloss, 1987; Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). I encourage people who are considering taking research methods or statistics with me (or any of my courses, really), to be ready to engage actively during class. If you’re not up for having fun while learning, my section might not be for you.
The last topic I’ll touch on is the textbooks. A few students noted how much they found my textbook worthwhile (yay!), with one student going so far as to say “I loved her book she wrote, very clear, informative, concise, probably the best textbook I ever used and read due to how clear it is to understand, with all the learning objectives.” I can’t take full credit for that readability (thanks to Cozby for laying such a strong foundation in his 10 prior editions!), yet I’m glad this text is being perceived as helpful. Unfortunately, the Stanovich text once again was voted unhelpful. The messages are useful, but even I find many examples dated and the chapters too lengthy for the points they make. Two years ago I wrote learning objectives and emphasized “get in, find what you need to know, and get out approach” in an attempt to make Stanovich’s text more accessible. Since then, there have been fewer complaints about Stanovich’s text, but a small, consistent group remain. I’ve been back-and-forth on this text for quite a while now, and I’m strongly considering replacing it with a few key peer reviewed articles/commentaries. I have some deep thinking to do in the coming weeks!
Many thanks to all my Psyc 217 students in 2012/2013 students who completed this evaluation. The response rate this year was 67% across both sections, which is my highest rate ever. And thanks to everyone for a really fun year of learning about research methods!
Armbruster, P., Patel, M. Johnson, E., & Weiss, M. (2009). Active learning and student-centred pedagogy improve student attitudes and performance in introductory biology. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 8, 203-213.
Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science, 332, 862-864.
Hake, R. (1998). Interactive-engagement vs. traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 66, 64-74.
Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93, 223-231.
Ruhl, K., Hughes, C., & Schloss, P. (1987). Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14-18.
Yoder, J. D., & Hochevar, C. M. (2005). Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 91-95.