Tag Archives: study tips

Responding to Student Evals 2011/2012 Part 3: Psyc 208 Special Topics

Welcome to part three 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 and Psyc 100 intro 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 208 Section 2 Special Topics: How social psychology can help you succeed

This special topics course is one that’s near and dear to my heart. I developed it with the goal to help students learn to learn. It’s an applied social/sport/positive psychology course, where I have hand-picked the topics and consistently encourage their application to each student’s personal learning journey. This course includes a group project for which the ultimate goal is to learn to identify a problem in your life, then find and evaluate research-based ideas to address it, then share your findings with others. See the syllabus for more information.

Last year in 2010/2011, I almost completely revamped the course based on students’ feedback and my own experiences the year before. You’ll see a major improvement in students’ perspectives on this course when you look at the graph comparing the quantitative data from the first offering in 2009 to last year. This year, I didn’t change much after that total revamp the year before. The evaluations from 2011/2012 are very close to those from 2010/2011, which supports my hypothesis that the revamp was a very positive change. Both “fair evaluations” and “clarity of expectations” are lower than where I’d like to see them, and they’re actually the lowest of all my courses last year. This warrants action.

Two main themes came out of the comments. First, the midterm was perceived to be too long. This surprised me, given that I shortened it from last year based on similar feedback, and do not recall that sentiment being shared with me during the semester. It seems that again I need to reduce the length of that midterm. Related to the midterm topic, a number of students reported being unsure about how the textbook material would be represented on the midterm. One student made the helpful suggestion that I note which parts of the readings are “need to know” parts. I’m not sure how I can do that and not compromise the test, but it’s definitely worth some strategizing about how I can better prepare students to integrate that material.

The second consistent theme was the groupwork. A few people seemed frustrated by it, some appreciated its place in the course and still others enjoyed it. I’ve often received such mixed feedback about groupwork. One comment about groupwork that I found particularly interesting was this:

Overall, your class and you were very engaging and I learnt a lot in the class, I enjoy the material quite a lot and find myself spreading the knowledge outside of class. I always enjoyed going to class and I liked seeing the team projects. I however do not particularly like team projects but it was useful for this course and in our future lives. I feel  team projects just take so much longer than doing it yourself and that when you get some classmates that do not care about their marks, it really puts more weight on the rest of us.

This comment stood out for me because it takes a common sentiment–that people often dislike groupwork because of relying on others–but recognizes its appropriateness in this course. Not too many people took this perspective, but it’s one that I hope to cultivate more. Its practical value is exactly why I designed this team project in the first place. Based on this and other feedback, I need to work on communicating that intention and the expectations of it more clearly. I think after using this assignment twice now (including tweaking it for 2011/2012), I have an even clearer idea of what I expect from these projects. I will do my best to communicate those expectations more clearly. One of the changes I made based on last year’s feedback was to adjust the proportion of the grade devoted to the group versus individual components. Interestingly, no one mentioned this individual/group grade proportions, suggesting this weighting is no longer an issue.

Last, quite a few people made comments suggesting that my overall intentions in creating this course are being realized (well, getting there at least!). Here a couple of examples:

Awesome course! I enjoyed the emphasis on active learning. It was a nice change from the classes I usually take.

Clearer guidelines for assignments and groupwork would be helpful. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this course- it was helpful both academically and personally.

I have enjoyed the setting of “team environment” throughout this course. Engaging students in the subject encouraged me to learn more effectively and study more efficiently.

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. I will definitely work on clarifying those expectations, and will shorten the midterm for next year. I’m glad that many of you found the active learning emphasis helpful for your learning!

Stay tuned for one more…!

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…!

Celebrating the end of term!

And what a term it’s been! It’s certainly been busy and challenging, but I feel like I have learned a lot and I have had a ton of fun! This term I taught learners in two courses: the continuation of Intro Psyc (go section 6!) and Psyc 208 (a course I designed called How Social Psych Can Help You Succeed).

This year the students in my Intro Psych class were so wonderfully curious and engaged! I felt such great energy from them every day (some days more than others, but that’s normal!), and they truly inspired me to bring my “A game” every day (which I tried my best to do!). Here are some photos from our last day together. I had asked them to write their most important take-away message from this course. Take a look… 

Last week in Psyc 208 we held the Creative Advertisement Showcase, which was a fantastic celebration of what they had discovered throughout the term! Previously, teams of students had identified a learning challenge they face, investigated primary sources for insight into understanding and addressing the challenge, and summarized those sources in annotated bibliographies and team abstracts. The purpose of the Creative Advertisment was to get the word out to fellow students about research-based techniques and strategies for addressing the learning challenges they face. They truly were creative! Projects ranged from video and live games to posters to live skits and demonstrations to videos and pamphlets… an impressive variety! Check out some of their videos and websites (ordered by team #)…

Team 7’s Learning about Distractions:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lts-wX9L8q4

Team 9’s Learning Environments: http://psyc208.wordpress.com/

Team 12’s Sleep & Learning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaqQkImzagU

Team 15’s Stress Happens, Even for a Jedi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnmYyz61Mys with website: http://ipixels.net/stress/

Team 18’s Technology Crackdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zBCkhIoS74  

Team 22’s Cultural Differences and Learning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jPW6tRA20w

And here’s a shot of Team 13’s interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” study strategies station in action!

Thanks to everyone for a fantastic year! Study smartly for your finals… and remember that no matter how you do on them, that’s not a reflection of your worth as a person.

Looking for study tips?

Some well-researched sources have been in the news lately. Check them out!

9 evidence-based study tips from the British Psychology Journal blog

Forget what you know about good study habits from the New York Times

Let me know if they’re helpful!