Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ok, One Last Thing About Evaluations

I just remembered one reason why the percentage of the grade in most of my classes tends to be higher at the end than at the beginning. It was a direct response to students who complained about assignments being weighted heavily earlier in the semester because they thought there should be more of an opportunity to get used to my expectations on things like papers and exams. Where did they complain about this? ON THEIR EVALUATIONS.

I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't. I think it's about time I accepted that fact.


Kate said...

What a perfect example of how mostly useless evaluations are. When you have frustrated students who are more interested in grades (or in worse cases, coasting) than learning, this is what happens to evaluations.

I'm sorry things are tricky with your course Dr. C.

prefer not to say said...

So, the next time you teach this course, don't CHANGE anything -- just go out of your way to narrativize your rationale for the grading: ie, "First I had the grades weighted with lots of credit up front, and students commented that they needed more time to get used to my expectations. So I thought, fair enough, and I changed the grading so that more of it would come in the end. But then students complained that too much of the grades came at the end. So here's the solution I've come up with, even though I realize students will still be uncomfortable with it, it seems best to me because X, Y, Z"

My experience is that evaluations are less useful for offering suggestions on how you should change the class, and more useful for allowing you to explain your teaching choices up front in a way that heads off the biggest complaints. My teaching evaluations started to rise once I had the data to say things like, "Most students say that this is their least favorite book in the course. However, here's the reason I'm sticking with this book [usually followed by a goofy promise that hey, once you're done with this book, everything else will seem really easy]" or "Most students say this was their least favorite assignment. However, I noticed that after they completed the assignment, their overall engagement in discussion tended to be better" etc. etc. etc.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Don't change the distribution of the points -- it sounds like you have a good justificaiton, and it is often how graduate seminars actually DO work... they are just over-achievers looking for a reason to complain, or irritated that they don't know for sure they've got their A before the final. Neither of those are impulses you should give in to.

Bad evaluations from small classes feel like the ultimiate betrayal, when someone completes a small class and slashes you on the evaluation it is a passive-agressive act and they really didn't even want to know your side of the story.

Also, though you are wise to know what is said on Rate My Professor, understand that students are often motivated to go there to complain -- and if that is the case they often don't understand the course design well enough to do so -- account for the source and move on.

Cats & Dogma said...

Oh, but you're definitely more damned if you do, because if you don't, then at least you're not damned by the doing itself.


What your second commenter said: stop tinkering for a semester. See what happens.

Jane said...

I do midterm evaluations in my classes, and one of my favorite things to do is to spend a few minutes in the next class period talking about the evaluations--as in, pulling things out of the evaluations and showing them to students ("Dr. Jane's lectures are the best!" "Dr. Jane's lectures suck!"). It is interesting to see the students' reactions when you show them that not everyone feels the same way they do about the class! And from there, we can have a conversation about why certain things are included in the course and the value of them, etc. It's amusing, but it can also be a learning tool as well for the students.

I think this was just my long way of agreeing with the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" sentiment.