Ok, so I just went to check what was up over at my listing on Rate My Professor. I realize that this is probably something that I shouldn't do mental-health-wise, but I also think that it's dangerous not to be aware what is being said over there about one, particularly for a junior faculty member. At any rate, somebody posted a comment about the upper-division class that I taught last semester. The student didn't like the class, and that's fine. There are some things that I will change about the class the next time that I teach it, actually - since this was the first time that I taught the course, there definitely were some kinks that I'll need to work out when I teach it again. Fair enough. Nevertheless, I am perplexed by the comment that the student left for a couple of reasons.
1. The student claims that the class was all lecture. I know that I devolved into talking more than I'd like at the end of the semester - a problem, I admit. BUT. For the first eight weeks of the semester we had student presentations every single day. They directed the course of the discussion. And I DON'T do formal lecturing in upper-division classes except for on the first day of class. PERIOD. I run them like seminars. Student participation is KEY, though I'll admit I could probably do some more organized activities or something (though this is difficult in a class of only 13 students and in a class where they're reading very difficult material, and also I suppose I resist doing that sort of thing in upper-division classes because it feels really juvenile to me, though maybe I'm wrong about that). But I digress. The point here is that somehow this student translated everything as me lecturing. I'm not sure how to address this the next time that I teach the course, as it's not true in the first place.
2. The student complained that 50% of the course grade was decided at the very end of the semester. Ok, I understand why that might be something a student wouldn't like. But I also don't know what I'm supposed to do about it. One problem is that I'm committed to having students do a major research project in upper-division courses. If one wants to give them the opportunity to do this project on texts that we study after the midterm point in the semester, I've got to have it due at the end of the semester. A project of that magnitude (10-pg research paper of their own design) should be weighted according to its magnitude, right? So saying that it's worth 20% of the grade is appropriate, right? But then there's another problem. My university requires that we give a final in all classes. Now, if it were up to me I would not give a final. I would probably distribute the percentage of the grade that I alot for the final around to other parts of the course and be done with it. But the reality is that my employer requires that we give a final. And if I'm going to give a final, I really do feel as if it should be, well, a final. That it should allow them to demonstrate mastery of the material of the course. And if it allows them to do that, then it should be weighted accordingly. And so, there we have it: 50% of the grade at the end of the semester. I feel like to do something different (i.e., less rigorous) would damage the integrity of the course as an advanced literature course, but at the same time I feel like the student's concerns do make sense. The problem is that I'm hemmed in by an institutional structure that demands certain things from me and from them, and I'm not sure how to negotiate it.
The icing on the cake is that the Scheduling Gods have me down to teach this exact same class next fall (I learned this week). I've requested that the Gods rethink this decision, as I fear that to have it in such close succession to its first outing will guarantee a) that it doesn't make its enrollment quota and b) that I am forced into teaching yet another service course in its place, after being denied my upper-division course this semester because it was in danger of not making.
But at any rate, answer me this, my faithful readers: how would you address this stuff if you were me? Would you make the final and research project worth less to the overall grade? Would you do more organized activities to make sure that students realize that you're not lecturing? Would you ignore the comment and just go along as usual?
[Edited to Add: 1) Thank you for all of the sane and helpful comments in response to this post. Posts like this are one of the reasons I changed blogs - so that I could actually get feedback on real things related to my work. It's really a luxury, and I'm thankful to have such a wonderful community of readers (mushy though that sounds). 2) I just looked at my evaluations from the course and I now understand the RMP rating: one student hated my guts. Like REALLY hated me. I didn't realize this during the course of the semester because there were a few who never said a word. Other than that the evaluations were pretty much what I'd expected them to be, and so now I'm feeling much better about the whole thing. The only comment that shocked me was that somebody said I seemed to favor some students over others. Huh. I need to think about that. I don't think I show favoritism in a negative sense, but I do reward people who are engaged and who are clearly keeping up with the reading, etc. Does that count as favoritism? Ok, enough of this ridiculous evaluation-anxiety.]
5 years ago