Tag Archives: teaching philosophy

Course Evaluation Season Arrives!

My plans for working on revisions to a manuscript were derailed this morning by the news that our Student Evaluations of Teaching from last term were released. Reading these evaluations is an emotional event for me, and this is particularly true on the first look (of many!). As always, I’m filled with anxiety and hesitation: Did my students like me? Did they appreciate the risks I took in class? In testing? Did I push them to learn — just enough or too much or not enough? Did they take the time to complete the evaluations? (fyi: 583 did — which represents 54% of all my students.)

For the first look today I examined the numbers, particularly the six UBC University Module Items (UMIs), just to get a feel for what they’re saying. Here are my impressions of these numbers for 2009/2010: Overall, I’m satisfied, with some exceptions (both high and low). Psyc 217, Research Methods, is a course I love and have now taught 4 times — and I’m pleased to report that my students rate it highly. Students in my Intro Psychology courses, both terms, rated me well but not exceptional, and I think that’s totally fair. It was my first time teaching those courses, and the numbers are in the range of those I received the first time I taught Psyc 217. Onward and upward!

Across all 6 courses I taught this year, my highest scores come from the “Concern for Students” UMI. This tells me that my deep value of caring for students and their learning is being witnessed in the eyes of my students, through my efforts to this put this value into action (e.g., see my teaching philosophy). Wonderful news!

My lowest ratings come from the “Fair Evaluations” item, and this concerns me. These numbers, particularly for this of all items, are difficult to interpret: Are my students perceiving the learning assessments to be very challenging (which I don’t mind), or are assessments perceived to be so demanding that success is unattainable (which I do mind)? I definitely need to ponder this one further as I dive more deeply into the data. I already know that my evaluation strategy for 208 will change considerably next year (e.g., the midterm was much too difficult and/or lengthy; peer evaluations of papers didn’t work as smoothly as I’d hoped). Of all my courses this year, 208 was the course rated most poorly by my students. I think a large part of that had to do with the complications with evaluations. It was a brand new, custom course that I designed, and although lots went well (I have loads of data on what great things students learned!), there is a lot of room for improvement.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty good about my student evaluations. They help me to see from students’ perspectives what I do well and where I need to focus my improvement efforts. Thanks to everyone who completed them! I will share further insights as I consider them further. Note that I’ll be working on revising my courses over the summer months. If you were a student in any of my courses this year, and are interested in giving some specific, constructive  feedback on any aspect of the course, please feel free to contact me to set up an appointment.

On Writing

Themes and motifs are important to me. They tend to give me a sense of wholeness and direction. I have long had a motif of courage. This word has become part of my identity; in undergrad I tattooed it on my back (in Chinese characters of course, which were trendy at the time). I am someone who often takes the tough path and has faith that I will get through it. In down times this word helps me remember to keep looking ahead.

I am developing a theme in my career: to teach. For me, that word sums up a broader set of concepts & actions involving creating conditions in which people might learn (a phrase adapted by Jim Sibley from Einstein, who purportedly said “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”). My challenge is to link that theme of teaching to academic writing. Daryl Bem wrote “good writing is good teaching.” I don’t feel that connection when I write. I envision a disinterested audience who’s trying to get in and get out, but isn’t really interested in the ideas — or might be, and gets frustrated by repetition and bad writing (like I do when reading). I’m coming to realize that as a student I’ve been taught to write in order to demonstrate that I can think. The audience in mind is not a helpful one, but a judgmental one. It’s more about me than the ideas, and more about me than the audience.

What if I borrow from an idea in Heath & Heath’s “Made to Stick“? They talked about businesses that have an intricate vision of a single customer in mind, who made up their target market. Who’s my target market? For the chapter I’m (avoiding) writing, I immediately envision a critical scientist who’s disagreeing with every word. Wow. While this might be true, that’s not exactly a motivating image. What if I instead envision someone who motivates me to do my best: a bright student, who’s trying to understand what’s so important and interesting about self-control. Let’s call him or her PR. She’s busy, and doesn’t have time to read a ton. But he’s curious, and will respond intellectually to good writing. Writing that grips her. Writing that’s simple. It’s not about me, it’s about him and the ideas. Because they’re decent ideas. Maybe not earth-shattering, but they have their important implications. That’s it. I’ll write for PR.