Tag Archives: interactive engagement

Responding to Student Evals 2011/2012 Part 2: Psyc 100 Introductory Psychology

Welcome to part two of my reflections on student evaluations of teaching from 2011/2012. Please see my earlier post for a general introduction and reflection on feedback from my Psyc 217 research methods course. I have also posted graphs that facilitate comparison across all my courses and years I have taught them.

First, 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.

The first thing I did to start reflecting on my intro student evals was to consider the numerical results (I am a quantitative scientist, after all!). After creating the graph below (click on it to enlarge), I noticed a small drop from last year’s intro psych class. This doesn’t surprise me a great deal for a couple of reasons: (1) last year’s results were the highest evaluations I ever received ever across any course, suggesting they’re a bit of an outlier, and (2) my class size increased by 42% this year relative to last year. An increase in class size from 270 to 370 students makes it that much more challenging to connect with students as individuals. All this said, I was pleased to note that students rated my teaching above 4 across all six of these questions. Compared with the first three bars, which denote my (relatively less positive) ratings during my first year of teaching these courses, I seem to be maintaining my ability to reach my students effectively. In sum: no concerns arose from the numerical data.


As I read the qualitative data, I was humbled. The most common comments noted appreciation for the enthusiasm I bring to each class. Here’s an example:

Dr. Rawn is one of the most engaging professors I’ve ever had – and she really made the class something that people became excited about, which is especially hard to do with a lecture hall consisting of 300+ students. Her passion was contagious! Great course, great instructor.

Given student feedback from this class and over all my years of teaching, I have learned that enthusiasm is one of my greatest strengths as a teacher. I try my best to bring enthusiasm for my students, for teaching, for the discipline to class every day. Without such consistent student feedback I would not necessarily know this about myself as a teacher. Therefore, over the years I have learned to cultivate that enthusiasm each day. Sometimes it takes work (I’ve been known to rev myself up to, ahem, Britney Spears or Pink from time to time…), but I find it’s always easier when I actually know at least some of my students personally. To this point, about a dozen students reported appreciating the Invitational Office Hour on Friday afternoons, which I will definitely keep given two consecutive years of positive feedback.

Exams Many students mentioned the exams and coverage of material, but unfortunately there wasn’t a consistent theme that I could use to make changes. Some people reported that there were too many/too detailed/covered too much, but others felt they were just right or too straightforward/easy. Of the three types of comments about exams, reports that exams were challenging in some way were the most frequent. Although I frequently make lots of changes to my teaching practice based on student feedback, making the exams in this course easier isn’t one I’m comfortable doing. The main reason is that I’m not getting feedback that the tests are unfair or unreasonable, either in qualitative responses or in the numerical data (in fact, this class’s rating on “fair evaluations” item is my highest of all my courses). It seems that a minority of students find them especially challenging, but the sentiment coming through is not one of unfairness (which was the case in my research methods course a couple of years ago, and I’ve been working to address it. Read more.). Here’s an example:

She is a good lecturer but her exams are very difficult even if you read the textbook and show up to each class you will find it very difficult to do well.

I have high expectations for my students — and my department does too. Our class average must be in the mid-60s, and over the past few years I’ve created exams that hit that mark. What I will think more about is how I can better reach this minority group of students who report struggling and feeling discouraged because of the exams. Given the above and similar comments, I’m wondering if part of what’s happening is that study strategies for high school are not working in university. I cover strategies in my syllabus and a bit at the start of the year, including in the memory unit, but I wonder if I/our TAs could develop some sort of  extra special study strategies workshop to help reach out to these students who may need a bit more assistance. Maybe I can partner with the Learning Commons on this.

Finally, I’d like to share a few of the quotes that touched me deeply because they signal that my role in these students’ lives was bigger than simply being their intro psych prof. Notes like these are humbling, and fuel my passion for this challenging career.

Overall amazing instructor that taught us through example how to respect others, care about the science of psychology, and take initiative with our learning.

Although I initially thought I would not enjoy being taught by Dr. Rawn, mostly due to her excitedness, I actually felt that her passion for psychology made it more interesting to learn, and the obvious effort she put into teaching was superb. If she sees this I just want to say Thanks!

Really impressive to watch Dr. Rawn work. She knows an incredible number of students’ names, puts in a lot of effort to get to know them individually, and can really hold her own in a 400-seat hall. Her enthusiasm for the subject is matched by an effective and accessible teaching style, and she manages to incorporate an impressive amount of discussion and classroom activities for such a large class. I think it wouldn’t hurt to lay down the smack a bit harder with the kids at the back of the hall, even to the point of kicking them out. Why put up with that? Nonetheless, a really inspirational role model as a scholar, teacher, and an intelligent and talented woman.

Many thanks to each and every one of you for helping me to improve my teaching by signalling both strengths and areas in which I can grow. I wish you the best.

Stay tuned for more course reflections…!

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…

Review Session Success!

Today’s Psyc 208 class was, by far, the most successful review session I’ve ever held. For the past two years I’ve tried to hold review sessions in this course. Each year, most people get up and leave. I have to admit that one way I’ve interpreted this behavioural feedback is students’ lack of willingness to participate and engage. This year, inspired by an Observer article by Gurung & Bond (2011), I decided to give the review session one more shot. And it was fantastic!

Here’s what I did differently: I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was asking the students to do, in terms of real usefulness, specificity of directions, and pacing to maintain engagement. Instead of something like “choose to make a concept map or elaborate on a learning objective” for an indeterminate amount of time, I planned a series of four specific “learning opportunities” which I timed and moved students through quickly. I made sure they were able to be completed by people who hadn’t studied yet as well as those who had, and I emailed everyone yesterday to ask them to bring their texts and notes if possible.

Now for a brief overview of the “learning opportunities.” Students  (N=105; 77 present today) are already divided into teams in this course, which at this point in the term made natural  groupings. #1 “Mapping the Territory” involved picking one broad topic/unit from a list I’d prepared and working with 2-4 others to develop a map of definitions, related concepts and studies, ways to apply the concepts, and so on. #2 “Pass your questions” invited everyone to write a question – or even just a key term – at the top of a blank page, and then pass it to the left. The next 2-3 minutes involved writing down whatever they could recall/find to address their neighbour’s question. We did this “passing” three times before returning the sheet back to its original owner. #3 “Application Challenge!” divided the teams into 2 subteams. Pick a topic/concept/theory to challenge the other subteam. Switch papers, and write a thorough scenario that accurately applies the topic/concept/theory. Then switch back and evaluate how well the other team did at generating an application. #4 “Study Plan” involved setting out the specifics of their studying between now and the test on Thursday, including what/when/where/how/with whom.

During this 80 minute period, students got about 15 minutes for each of the four learning opportunities, although the earlier ones spilled over that and the last one was reduced to about 6 minutes (which was all it really needed). I milled about, answering specific questions about the content as they arose, handing out paper, timekeeping and generally being impressed by the strong efforts my students were putting forth.

What I think worked really well about this process was that it moved everyone along, keeping the energy up. Students knew there were four learning opportunities coming, and I stated up front that they were going to be different, so if one wasn’t working for them I asked them to play along and hope the next one spoke to them. All but two people stayed the whole period (a new record!), and the vast majority of spirited conversations I overheard were spot on task.

I asked for feedback at the end. Although I haven’t formally entered it yet, I have quickly read it all. On a 1-5 scale (1 being “not useful for helping me learn” and 5 being “very useful for helping me learn”), the vast majority of responses were 4s and 5s, with only a few 3s and nothing below that. People reported enjoying the activities, feeling more motivated to study now, being able to better tell what they know and what they don’t (yay for metacognition!), and feeling like they covered a lot of ground (although not much in depth). Some spontaneously reported that they’d use some of these techniques when studying, and all activities were nominated by some students as their favourite. The one consistent recommendation for next year that came through was adding more of a warning. Some students reported wishing they’d prepared more ahead of time so they could get more out of this session.

Thanks to all my students who participated today! You have inspired me to keep on taking risks to build increasingly meaningful learning opportunities!

Are you ready for more Intro Psych?

I’m teaching Intro Psych again in the fall, but my class size is increasing by 40%… from 260 to 425 students! And I have a big goal… I want to reach out to them even MORE than I was able to connect with our class this year. Having a TA is great — Liz has been an awesome TA for us – but there’s still only one of her and her time needs to focus on grading and meetings about grading-related issues.

So here’s what I’m thinking… I want you to help me reach out to the incoming students!

I’m looking for a few enthusiastic students to volunteer to be Peer Tutors. We can figure out the details together, but here’s what I have in mind so far…

  • Answer questions from new students (e.g., about our course, about transitioning to university… wouldn’t you have loved to have someone around to ask questions??)
  • Come to class at least once per week to be available, to model your interest in learning, and to provide me with feedback on how class can be improved
  • Come to invitational office hour once or twice a month to meet your students, face-to-face. Hopefully we can assign each Peer Tutor to connect with a specific sub-group of students, to break the class down into smaller groups.

Here’s what I think are some of the unique experiences and opportunities you can gain from this position:

  • Mentor and perhaps to make friends with members of the incoming class
  • Develop your leadership and teamwork skills
  • Consider a university-level course from a new, broader, perspective
  • Deepen your understanding of psychology (there’s nothing like revisiting course material to learn it more deeply!)
  • Potentially a reference from me

I’m looking for people who…

  • Have achieved at least a B+ in my Intro Psych, Section 6 2010/2011
  • Are enthusiastic about learning and about intro psych!
  • Are willing to learn, take risks to grow, and meet new people
  • Have solid verbal and written communication skills
  • Are majoring in any major (either Arts or Science)
  • Are willing and able to commit to coming to class once per week, invitational office hours a couple of times per month, answering email and Vista posts, meetings with me and fellow Peer Tutors to discuss the course.
  • Are able to meet with me in person (or, if needed, online) a couple of times during the summer months and through the school year.

If you meet most or all of these criteria and are interested in this position, please email me 4 things by May 31

  1. A statement (maximum 500 words) explaining why you are interested in this position, what skills you hope to develop, and what you think you can contribute to making next year’s intro psych class even better than this one!
  2. A copy of your transcript, downloaded/copied from SSC
  3. A brief resume
  4. Your contact information and intended major/minor (if known or suspected)

UBC LipDub!

I *finally* was able to see UBC’s contribution to LipDub and I must say it brought a few tears to my eyes! I continue to be impressed by the energy, enthusiasm, and engagement of so many of our students here at UBC, and it was so fun to see some of my students taking part! Congratulations to all involved on a fantastic celebration of UBC-V!

Check it out here. Ok… break’s over… must get back to creating exams…