Tag Archives: gratitude

About the new banner image

Suddenly it dawned on me… my website is woefully out of date. Time for a renovation! I’ll try not to let it get so dated next time. Well, I’ll try to try. There’s always next sabbatical in 7 years!

I chose as this site’s banner the image of the Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg (Austria) because of how I felt while taking that photo (and because I like the look of it). I was travelling on sabbatical (March 2017), and had uncharacteristically ventured off by myself up the mountain in the middle of the city on a sunny spring day. All morning I simply followed my curiosity and was rewarded by stunning views of mountains, ruins, forest, city, and the medieval Fortress. I learned about that place and myself in equal measure that day.

Finished Pottery!

So I finished all my pottery pieces in December and they were done firing by early January… and yes it’s March and I haven’t shared the results yet! Well, here I am!

My First Three Pieces

Glazed and ready for the final kiln

And finally complete!

Next came this pair of honey pots

And later a trio of bowls



which I carefully trimmed when they were exactly “leather-hard”…

But sadly, I lost this one.

It was separated from the others while drying, and I forgot to go searching for it. My best bowl 🙁



Oh well, here’s another.

Which I trimmed a bit, just to clean it up. But it wasn’t made to be a bowl so nothing fancy.


The last three pieces glazed! Just one ugly smear from a poor glazing decision. (I knew I felt like I was missing something. I was.)


Ta da! The final set!

Bottoms of bowls are so much prettier than bottoms of cylinders… but I found them much much more difficult to make!

The tallest piece turned out *almost* as big as a coffee mug.


That was a lot of work! I had no idea pottery was such a lengthy, complicated, time-sensitive process. I’m happy with the products, but more than that, I’m very glad to have tried my hand at learning something entirely new. It was an experience full of excitement, concentration, frustration, celebration, disappointment, pleasant surprises… much more than I could have expected. Thanks to the staff at Claytek and my fellow classmates for an interesting learning journey. Onward to the next sabbatical-fueled adventure!

Responding to Student Evals 2011/2012 Part 4: Psyc 218 Statistics and Conclusion

Welcome to part four–the final installment!–of my reflections on student evaluations of teaching from 2011/2012. Please see my earlier posts for a general introduction and reflection on feedback from my Psyc 217 research methods, Psyc 100 intro course, and Psyc 208 Section 002 Special Topics course. I have also posted graphs that facilitate comparison across all my courses and years I have taught them.

First, as always, I would like to thank 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. 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.

Psyc 218: Analysis of Behavioural Data

Because I have only taught this course once, I am interpreting the numerical data in reference to my other courses that I have taught multiple times. As you’ll see from the graph below (click on it to enlarge), students rated this course right on par with my others. In fact, ratings were almost exactly what I received from students in my research methods courses. Given that the third midterm was much more challenging than I had anticipated, it surprised me somewhat that students rated evaluations as fair as my students in research methods did. At 3.9 there is definitely room for improvement there (in both courses). Interestingly, clarity of expectations was also high, which lends support for my hypothesis that these two are related (see further discussion in my research methods reflection). Overall, these numbers signal to me that students are feeling positively toward this course.

After reading the comments, I must say an extra thank you to each of you for the polite and thoughtful tone used in delivering this feedback. There most common point of discussion was acknowledgments that the first two midterms were too easy, and the last too difficult and too lengthy. I absolutely agree — it was clear during the semester and is clear in the evaluations. I will make every attempt to even out the difficulty of these exams next time. What I appreciated most was the way these comments were delivered. Here’s an example:

The course was a lot of fun, and easy to understand. However, for the future, I would prefer if we can have midterms with a consistent level. It was a huge shock for me on the last midterm. 🙁

In case you’re writing these kinds of comments in the future, here’s why I found this comment particularly effective: it starts with a positive that was at least a bit specific (could be moreso), and conveys a respectful tone set by phrases like “I would prefer”. There’s no personal attack toward me here, but a fair acknowledgment of an area in this course that needs improvement.

The midterms were by far the most discussed aspect of the course. However, many people also noted how much they valued my enthusiasm and interactive style. Here’s a couple of specific comments that capture the sentiments echoed by many students in the class:

Not one minute is wasted in class. She is always teaching in innovating and varied ways.

Although still challenging, I found this course to be enjoyable. Dr. Rawn was approachable and tried hard to interest and even engage us in the material and provided encouragement to students. I liked how the iclickers were used so that u could test yourself to see if you understood the material without having to worry about losing marks. As already discussed in class, the midterms although sometimes too long or short, I thought the questions were fair (they tested for understanding rather than memorization). I thought the spss assignments were a good way of understanding theory and application of the tests we learned although I found some questions unclear.

For a few people, it seems I was able to calm some of their hesitation toward math/numbers. This is fabulous to hear, because it’s something I really tried to do throughout the course. Here’s an example of one of these comments:

I thought Dr. Rawn did an amazing job teaching this course. I have struggled with math and was not enthusiastic to take this course however, she inspired motivation and made this course interesting and easy to learn. I ended up with a higher grade in this course than I anticipated and I owe it all to Dr. Rawn.

While I’m not convinced this student “owes it all” to me, it seems that I was able to offer some support beyond the technicalities of course content, reflecting one of my personal goals for this course this year. Again, I’d like to thank everyone who completed the student evaluations for doing so in such a thoughtful and respectful way. Your feedback will influence the way I teach this course in the future.


What a helpful exercise that was! Writing about my student evaluations of teaching helped me to really think about what you (my students) were saying about my teaching and my courses. If I had to pick one overall goal for me to keep in mind next year, it would be having clear expectations and communicating those effectively. I think I’m doing this well in some courses, making progress in others, and have more room for improvement in others.

Reading student evaluations can be a very emotional experience for those of us who dedicate our lives to helping others learn. Overall, I’m thankful for the respectful tone that most of my students used when identifying strengths and areas for growth. When feedback isn’t conveyed respectfully it makes it difficult to hear what is being said. Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback, and for the way you did it.

For educators who might be reading this, I also gained insight into a process that helped me be optimally receptive to feedback: (1) I started with the numbers — comparing within year and within course (using graphs) really helped me set up an analytic frame of mind; (2) once I was in that analytic (rather than emotional) frame of mind, I read the comments and used them to help me understand what I was seeing in the numbers; (3) I wrote about it–you might share it or not, but this was really helpful for me to make sure I processed the messages and decided on action plans.

Onward and upward!

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…

Recovering, Reconnecting, Resting

The first few weeks of summer term have been glorious. The weather has cooperated for the most part, and I have been able to take some time to breathe. March and April were more hectic than I anticipated they would be, including a surprise “proofread the entire textbook in the next four weeks” while teaching 8 different classes a week, including a new prep (stats), on top of the two full-textbook reads I expected to complete. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve been working for about a hear and a half on adapting the Cozby research methods textbook into a Cozby and Rawn Canadian Edition.] I’ll write more about my reflections on the year later, but for now I wanted to simply express how thankful I am that I’m in such a peaceful place right now.

After running the Vancouver Marathon two weeks ago, I’ve taken some time off of running. Instead, I’ve been doing a bit of swimming (our condo has a pool) and I signed up for an intro pass at Open Door Yoga. I’ve practiced yoga sporadically since moving to Vancouver 9 years ago (!), but never regularly. It seems like a wonderful way to develop strength, balance, and peace – both inside and out – so I’m giving it a whirl this summer. I’ve also been reconnecting with my friends and husband. It’s challenging for me during the school year to fully, truly relax. There’s always another lesson to prepare, another email to deal with. It’s been lovely just enjoying unscheduled time and laughter and wine with these lovely people once again.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope your summer is starting off at least as enjoyably as mine has.