Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's evaluation time again!

I just finished my eight-week class grades and downloaded my student evaluations. I probably should have either not done this at all or done it with a nice double martini, but I thought I was strong enough to do it without anesthesia. I was wrong.

Super-Keener Sally was angry because I was late with grades twice during the semester, and by late, I mean 2-3 days late for some students at the end of the grading queue. In both cases, I let them know exactly was going on (issues with the server or the administration) that caused the delay. That was enough for her to judge me a "marginal" proffie on our ratings scale. I will admit I'm a stickler for being on time, but when something truly is beyond the student's control and is not the result of their waiting till the last minute, I will work with that person. This person's rating of me is the equivalent of my giving a student a D in a class.

Antisocial Anthony was angry because I believed his peers when everyone in his group reported he was not responding to team messages and doing his share on the project. (Both were true, and they had everything documented. After that, he then emailed them and accused them of being crybabies for ratting him out.) He was also pissed that he had to come to campus a whole two times during the semester to take a test during a one-week window for each test, a fact announced on the web page and in my welcome message (with an admonishment to take the other instructor's class if that would be a problem) because people "have lives" and can't find a couple of hours to drive 15 minutes to the college and then take a test that was available on Saturdays and two evenings as well as day hours. That also earned me a "marginal" rating.

Whiny Wendy thought I gave out "too much information" at the beginning of the class and should have told her "what was really important." It is ALL important or I wouldn't waste my time giving it to you! Apparently I was supposed to prioritize all the information in a step-by-step list. Wait, I did that already. At least she thought I was "satisfactory."

With that said, I shouldn't leave out the positives. Several students praised my structure, communication skills, and high standards. I need to focus more on those comments and less on the negative ones. I know I can't please everyone, nor do I want to deep down inside because I realize that "customer satisfaction" is equal to ease. I really care about my students and want them to learn. I make changes to my courses when I get solid, constructive comments about what I could do better. But when I get crap, I wonder why I even bother reading them sometimes.


  1. I would to have these people's real names. We have work for them to do - in Siberia.

    "Russian prison camps: a workable solution for 'disappearing' annoying college students."

  2. Usually, I would recommend that you tell the whiners to fuck off. However, as I have found out the hard way, lazy ass department chairs, lazy ass tenured faculty members, and lazy ass administrators love (LOVE!) those student evaluations. Those numbers are real and mean something. Those student comments are even realer and mean more.

    If those comments appear on your end of term evaluations, then you are fucked with no lubrication. I hope you are some place that has other measures of instructor effectiveness because you are otherwise cooked. At least you know now instead of eight weeks later.

  3. I'm tenured and at top rank, so these ultimately mean nothing other than the no-lube job at my year-end evaluation. I have one of those chairs who reads the comments, focuses on one of the negatives, sits back in his chair, looks over his glasses, and says, "So, what could you have done differently in this situation?"

  4. EnglishDoc: does being tenured and full mean you can say, "I could have given out candy and let them watch porn during every classroom session, then handed out all As?" Cuz these days that's what it takes.

  5. @Marcia -- Be careful which porn you pick, though, because you don't want to alienate Women, Men, Straight Men, Gay Men, Minority Men Who Have Sex With the Eiffel Tower...

    I had a student complain once that I was "insulting his sexual identity" (okay, no, he said 'acting like [the student] was a faggot') when I showed "Paris is Burning" in class.

    It's not porn. It's about drag queens. But still...the mind reels.

  6. I'm in the South, so porn would enough to revoke "tenured and full rank." Until about 25 years ago, women couldn't even wear pants to school and certainly not jeans! My chair has to deal with complaints when we assign books with even remotely sexual content. The students would, however, be all over the candy part as we're in one of the least fit areas of the country. The admins would insist that I give only about 70% of them As. We do have some standards, you know.

  7. @ BlackDog

    There's nothing to reel about; the guy is in denial of his sexuality and he somehow thinks people know that he is gay. The truth is that the people who are obessesed with homosexuality who act "straight" are in fact deeply closeted; the GOP, the crazy TV/shortwave preachers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, loads of cops - all of them hidden nancy boys.

  8. @Strelnikov...I had a sudden vision of Ken Starr, Scooter Libby, and Glenn Beck cavorting like limp-wristed Oompa-Loompas.

    @English...I teach in the South, too! But we have the many fraternities and the rapey-rape, so we're all about showing porn that reproduces the patriarchy. It has been noted on my course evals, though, that I use the word "fuck" in class. Sometimes they even track how many times I use it in a semester. Now, if only they paid that much attention to the assignments...

    ps: I am posting to College Misery at 809 on a Saturday night because Atom Smasher is out at a rugby drink-up from which I will have to extract him later. Sometimes I feel a bit shafted by this deal, but I mostly feel relief at not having to watch...uh...the stuff that goes on at rugby drink-ups.

  9. Antisocial Anthony reminds me of my online students who complain that they can't do the work (or do it on time or whatever else) because they have to take care of their kids, their parents, their parents, work full time, etc....

    Guess what, everyone does. Working full time (or having kids, parents, or pets) does not make you special. It makes you normal. Working full time and going to school full time can be a bummer, but many people pull it off.

    But as I've mentioned, I've stopped reading evals. I did read my peer review feedback, which was nearly as crazy, but at least the comments were not from people who were mad at me for upholding standards.

  10. Out of curiosity, how often do you get get solid, constructive criticism of your teaching in student evaluations? Would you say on ten percent of the evaluations? One percent? By comparison, if a colleague observed your class, you would expect useful suggestions more or less every time. What does this say about the value of student evaluations in improving university teaching?

  11. Strenilkov and BlackDog, you say nancy boys and limp-wristed Oompa-Loompas like that's a bad thing. Some of my best friends are .... etc.

    CDP: good question. I am wracking my brain. After 18 years of student evaluations, I have to say never. Little helpful things come up from time to time, like that I should slow down or that a particular book just didn't teach well. But I never thought student evals were intended to improve teaching; that would be like an auto dealer's customer satifaction survey being expected to improve it's mechanics' skills. They're for evaluating our popularity. Having escaped the popularity contests in high school by being smarter than all that (hopefully, or maybe just never having a chance in the first place), we're now subject to them as professionals. It's the revenge of the beautiful over the powerful.

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  13. Ooops, Strelnikov. Apologies. And now that apostrophe got into "its" before "mechanics'" I do not know. Coffee now.

  14. I'd be careful with giving out candy; you don't want to be sued when a student needs to visit the dentist.

  15. Marcia Brady, thanks for your observations. It's at least the pretense of some administrators that the purpose of evaluations is to improve the quality of education. Any sort of outside intervention in an instructor's classroom should require some legitimate justification, according to any reasonable understanding of academic freedom.

    I've sporadically received constructive student criticisms that made me alter some practice. For instance, when I was in graduate school a student commented that I was often several minutes late to scheduled office hours. True--since rectified. I'd guess my rate of constructive criticisms is in the 3-4% range.

    Lee Lady, a very good mathematician at the University of Hawaii, has posted excerpts from his evaluations here:

    Most of the comments are useless and mutually contradictory, but a few seem potentially legitimate, for example, the comment (from a particularly obnoxious respondent), "You waste too much time during lecture trying to explain how to pass your course." I don't know what happened in the class, but if I got this comment I would agree that my practices had been at odds with my philosophy that students should be focused on learning the material and not on what grade they're going to get.

    A funny comment on the Lady evaluations frequently pops up on mine. My students almost universally use the word "fair" as a euphemism for "lenient." As in, "Grading was fair but his tests were kind of hard." Translation: the professor gave an ordinary exam, which 90% of the students were too stupid to pass had it been graded for real; however, to avert all sorts of unpleasantness, the professor found ways to give partial credit hand over fist for any little bit of crap anyone wrote that had an iota of relevance. Pray you don't drive over a bridge designed by one of his former students.

  16. I typically get about 150 students/semester, and get constructive, helpful feedback from student evaluations less often than once per year. So, I'd put it in the 0.1% range. I do get them, though.


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