Monday, December 24, 2012

And a Happy Holiday to You, Too!

As a special holiday treat, Large Urban Community College, which does its evaluations all online, makes sure we get copies of our results 24 hours after grades are due. 

Ever since we switched to this system, our response rate is about 25%, pretty much all the responses are completely negative or overwhelmingly positive (with a ratio of about 2:1 in favor of the negative). Here are my greatest hits just in time for the holidays:

  • She was rude (because I told the students when there was a technology problem with the class that they needed to accept that tech problems happen and just do what I told them to do in the meantime until things were fixed).
  • She took too much material from the teacher's manual. Yes, a student got hold of the instructor's manual for the class, and, because I provided the ancillaries in addition to my own materials, I "didn't care enough" about the subject.
  • She didn't participate in our class discussions.  I always let them participate first so they don't think I'm giving the "right" answer to them when I chime in. Then after they are through, I go back in within a week, answer their questions, correct any misconceptions they have about the readings, and offer additional thoughts and questions of my own. I tell them when I've done this and remind them they need to go back to the unit to re-read. I even ask them to respond and continue the conversation. Mostly I get crickets.
  • The project was too hard. One student was very "helpful" by telling me about how her other English teacher let them put together a playlist of modern songs that best demonstrate the spirit of the work of a particular poet and then write a paragraph about why. Yes, what a truly academic assignment that required a great deal of research and actually met about 1/10 of the department's word length requirement for the course project.
  • She has a double standard because she was late one time with sending our grades but never lets us turn in anything late. Everyone in my classes gets one emergency. All they have to do is ask for it and they get an extension. I had a power outage one night. They got their grades 20 minutes after office hour was over because that's when the power came back on. Some actually had them beforehand, which was the only reason others were expecting them that night.  I still don't understand this whole "double standard" argument students make.  It's as if they think being the professor and being the student are equal statuses.
  • She gives too much work. One student wrote this in every single slot available no matter what the question was.
When I first started teaching, I actually looked forward to student evaluations in a way because I would get good feedback from many students and could use it to refine the course for the next term. Sure, I'd get "that class" every once in awhile, but for the most part I actually did find out what I did well and how I could improve. Now the student evaluation has become the place to nail the proffie to the cross.  I'm lucky if I get two or three who actually tell me I did anything well, and I've hit the jackpot if I get one piece of constructive criticism from someone who didn't like something.

The bottom line? They sign up for an accelerated class and then complain it's too much work after I've already told them it's like taking two classes. They sign up for online classes and then complain it's too hard because they have to read so much and actually interact with the proffie and other students just as they would in a campus class. They take a course labeled advanced writing and then complain when they have to write. They take a class where I'm required to give a group project (and tell them up front) and then complain that working with others is too hard.

We are looking at a complete redo of student evaluations. Our state requires that we offer them, so dumping them is not an option. I would love to see something that actually provided me with useful data and gave me hope for our profession. But in the meantime, I have already opened my present and gotten a lump of coal from the 25% of my snowflakes who bothered to fill out the form. Thanks to the few who actually recognized I was available every time I said I would be, answered all their questions, provided them with good extra materials, never let an email sit for more than 24 hours, and provided encouragement when they were having difficulty. They are the reason I'll keep trying.


  1. Before we had obligatory (stupid) evaluations I always asked four questions:
    1. What was good about the class?
    2. What was not so good about the class?
    3. What could I do better?
    4. Do you feel that you learned something?

    I used to get the greatest feedback. Now I just get the numbers and a stupid "baseline" and one-liners (no more space on the form) with the same: She's mean, she's unfair, it's so hard, she expects us to write so much,....

    Happy holidays!

    1. That sounds great. I think I'll post that as a NON-anonymous survey on the website, and tell the students that I actually read it. (I don't read the comments for anonymous evaluations. I don't even look at the numbers actually; i just stuff it in the file and pull it out to staple to my annual report come the time.)

  2. Why do I even read the comments? Since our evaluations have been online, they resemble comments you might find on that other site I won’t name. Has anyone else found that to be the case?

    1. He’s weird because he starts class 10 minutes before the start time and gets mad when students come in late. (Huh????? Where do they get this shit?)
    2. He makes up statistics to support his “societal” view. I know because I fact-checked everything he said. (Yes, she fact-checked everything! This crazy ass student didn’t fact check enough because she wound up with a C on the final,which brought her grade down!! And yes, I know who the student is who posted this comment. They think they’re anonymous.)
    3. He has the patience of a saint! (If they only knew!!!!!)
    4. He’s rude because he asks us questions in class about the topics before he teaches them. (G-d forbid they read before class.)
    5. He’s passionate about the subject and funny. I learned to love the class. (At least, this one's nice.)

  3. My two favorites from this quarter:

    "The professor was out to get me, hated me, and hated everything I turned in. I could never get an A. I tried hard, but I always got an A- on quizzes."

    "Fuck this stupid question. How the fuck should I know how the course could have been improved?"

  4. Replies
    1. Cal's out of the country. I stole a meme graphic and tweaked it a bit. No credit.

      Leslie K

    2. I thought I had tweaked it enough when I put it up by unfocusing it. My apologies for giving you extra work.

  5. Tenure and seniority have afforded me the luxury of not even reading my evaluations. I just throw them in back of a desk, into a spot it's difficult to get them out from, with a great, satisfying PLUNK! every term.

    1. I have tenure and seniority. Doesn't matter. Because we're all about "student success," the student evals are important in our ratings system. If our evaluation numbers are low enough, we can even be put on an improvement plan and held accountable through a due process system.

    2. Ah, but the only way a dean can really do me harm, and not just be a nuisance, anymore is to defund or otherwise harm my research program, and how I involve students in it. I'm willing to gamble that won't happen, particularly since I'm in the minority of research-active faculty at my ostensibly teaching university with a strategic plan to become an R2. Or at least let's hope so...

    3. Oh, and should push ever come to shove, I can always go back to giving out Bs like a total whore, the way I confess I did before tenure. Grades of A will still be reserved for students who earn them.

    4. You are fortunate, Frod. One place I do NOT want to be is on the improvement plan list. Tenure offers no protection from it. If you're on it, all of a sudden you become ineligible for the few extra opportunities we have to get a little extra something, such as travel funds, applying for grants (both internal and external, if the external involves commitment of any institutional resources--which they always say it does since it's your work time), reimbursement for grad or CE classes, overload teaching, and summer teaching. I don't think one low semester is going to be enough to put me on the naughty list. Oh, and you can get on it for poor evaluations, poor passing ratios, or large numbers of student complaints.

    5. If I were at your university, I'd get onto the naughty list in its first semester and stay on it forever, due to the student complaints alone. I wear their scorn like a badge of honor, giggling like a proper mad scientist. It's great, since I remember well my days as an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, when I was yelled at for every bad evaluation, while every good ones was ignored.

      On the other hand, I always teach large, general-ed classes. It's one of the main reasons for my value to my department. I get no extra credit for teaching them, nor for grad classes, but there aren't many of those since we only have a masters program. Overload teaching is kept in check by our faculty union, although the "standard" 12-hour load is too much for research anyway, which my university administration still says it values. They'd have to pay me extra for summer teaching, and again, it would eat into research.

      I don't like to travel anymore, with the way they molest you in the airport these days. We haven't had much other internal funding since the financial crisis nearly five years ago, so it's not easy to take that away from me. Again, since they still say they value research, it would be like taking away recess from an active K-6 boy anyway: not a good idea in the long run.

      But then, I'm about to get a new dean, and who knows what abominations this person will dream up...

  6. I know some of you will hate me for saying this, but the site that shall not be named is generally an ego boost for me and are pretty close to the evaluation scores that I get at school. That being said, I agree that student evaluations are generally bullshit. If a student gets a good grade and/or can relate to you, then they'll tend to give you a high score. Actual teaching ability has almost nothing to do with these scores, and most of the questions that my school asks on the evaluation are useless.

    On an unrelated note:

  7. You tell these sniveling shits from me, "Of all the motherfuckers in the world, you are the motherfuckest." They sass you, mark them lower on the spot. The dean complains, cut his brake lines. The board of regents whines, blow up their building.

    Only through sheer ruthlessness will we final get the fuckhead students and the fuckhead administration working - FOR US. Neither of them are worth a bucket of cold farts on a freezing February morning - unless we drive them toward usefulness.

    I don't care if they call me "White Pol Pot", just so long as the system works and produces an educated studentry.

  8. I try and I try and I try, year after year, and there's always a few teapartying loses, ahem I mean students that write MEAN stuff on my evaluations. And then whether by miracle, by fluke or by right, I got a University teaching award. Hah! Now I tell them sorry if you're not happy with x or y or z, but I can assure you that I am an award winning teacher and I know what I am doing. Evals didnt get any better but they didnt get any worse either. Stuff em, stuff em all. Break out the tequila and lets kill some dreams!

  9. The idea of instructor evaluations misses the point.

    The real issue is learning outcomes.

    How many of the students could make use of the Booga-Wooga Theorem? Only 25%? What will you try to do to fix that? And sometimes the answer is: nothing, same result every year no matter what I do.

    Teaching might have some small effect on learning outcomes. My statistics across a number of sections of the same course seems to indicate that individual instructors have little real contribution to the end result.

    It's all about the student spending time on task.

    1. The first two sentences of your comment contain probably the smartest thing I have ever heard anyone say about course evaluations.

    2. It's really all about students believing they should be amply rewarded for doing as little as possible. I constantly faced the attitude that they knew not only what needed to be taught, but how it should be taught, all with the benefit of never actually having been out in the real world.

      I, with my education and experience in industry, obviously didn't know anything.

    3. It's all about the student spending time on task.

      Is there any other 'industry' where a person's work is evaluated by somebody else's performance?

    4. This is starting to happen in healthcare. Insurance companies and states are evaluating hospitals on the events that should "never" happen and reducing payment as a result. Doctors get evaluated on how efficient they are in being consistent with whatever insurers deem to be best practices. My insurance company consistently encourages me to use doctors who have earned the coveted dual ranking of being both practitioners of their best practices and cost efficient. While these events are controllable to some extent by those in charge, patient outcomes are really the driving force. No one wants to pay extra for complications or side effects or that really good medicine that would actually alleviate the patient's problem. If the patient gets sicker or has some unusual quirk that requires a procedure or med outside the best practices box, the hospital or doctor gets dinged.

  10. You can lead a snowflake to knowledge, but you can't make him think.

  11. My statistics across a number of sections of the same course seems to indicate that individual instructors have little real contribution to the end result.

    I used to think that, but being part of grading a common departmental exam this semester which usually has a 50-60% pass rate has changed my mind somewhat. Most of us, myself included, were in or near that 50-60% band. But one new instructor was horrendously bad with a 20% pass rate (this is not surprising - it's easy enough to imagine how this damage could be done by an incompetent or someone unfamiliar with the system making a horrendous error). More of a shock was the experienced instructor with an 80% pass rate. (Oh, and bringing it back on topic to evaluations, the kids don't appreciate him in the evaluations.) I've taken classes with the guy so I know he's a brilliant teacher. I'm not inclined to believe it's a huge coincidence.

    I confess that after years of tinkering and seeing it have only minor effects on student performance, I had mostly concluded that the extra effort could never be met with sufficient reward to make it worthwhile for me personally. These results made me re-evaluate.

    1. I was once a TA for a language class with 3 sections, 2 taught by grad students (I was one) and 1 taught by a senior member of the department who was slotted in at the last minute when the 3rd TA dropped out of the program a week before term. We graded all quizzes and the exams in common; each quiz 7 exam had 3 parts, and each of us would grade all of one part, across all 3 sections, so the grading was exactly the same for all the sections; and 100% of the grade was based on these quizzes & exams.

      We two grad students had a B- average, which was normal for that course. A couple of As, a bunch of B's, a few C's & Ds, and a few Fs from students in denial who just hadn't grasped in time that they should drop the course.

      The senior department member had an A average. AVERAGE. Several A+ grades, a flock of As, and a few B's. No C's, no D's, no one failed. Fewer people dropped out of his section than the other two; that average wasn't because the ones who were going to fail left. He was just a phenomenal teacher. Much, much better, thanks to training, natural brilliance and decades of practice, than we were.

      Students didn't like him at all, incidentally. Found him cold and too picky about details. They never noticed how much they were learning.

      I have never doubted since that a good teacher makes ALL the difference.

  12. I had an informal evaluation submitted on me to the site whose name dare not be mentioned after a series of emails where the student begged for a chance to increase his grade from D+ to C.

    The class was an introductory statistics course, and this student thought all he needed to do was master his calculator since many computations using various distributions can be done on the calculator. The entire semester he would ask "how do I do this on the TI-83?" My answer was this was not a course on using a calculator-it was important to understand the theory and the textbook provided instructions on using the calculator. Besides, many students in the class had a different calculator and I could not get bogged down on teaching how to use 4 different calculators.

    The night of the final exam he handed his paper in 15 minutes into the exam, telling me that I did not have to bother grading it. I did anyway, and, after torturing the data for the entire class, I got the answers I wanted to hear.

    So, for someone who tanked the final, now he wants at least a C and what can I do to help him get that C? My answer-nothing. He should have concentrated on his notes (the final was open notes) rather than fooling around with technology.

    End of story-his review of me was stay away, "he doesn't give a s*it about his students".

  13. I don't find the evaluation forms used by my school to be that helpful. So I created my own survey on an external website and gave my students extra credit for completing the survey.

  14. I'm just reading through the anonymous non-official survey I had my comp students do.

    Here's my favorite so far:
    "When I went to get help from ***, most of the things **** helped on were not that helpful and I don't feel **** was overly helpful on the papers."

    Oy vey.

    At least it was followed by
    "[Your] a great teacher! [Your] very helpful, down to earth and I love the way you set this class up. The stuff you taught us was actually very beneficial. Thank you so much!"

    So, Merry Christmas to me.

  15. I taught two classes this semester, 40 students each. Out of 80 students, a total number of 18 students responded--8 in one class and 10 in the other.

    The one section loved me. They (or at least those who bothered to fill out the survey) gave me some of the highest numbers I've ever had. The other section did not like me as much. They rated me as only slightly above average.

    The two classes I taught were identical--identical material, workload, lectures. They were back to back, roughly at the same time of day. I was the same in both. I approached the class with the same attitude and had basically the same demeanor. The grades I gave to each class were about the same.

    Even though my numbers were so wildly different, I took comfort in the results. Sometimes it's really not you.

  16. I was a T.A. for two discussion sections this semester at an R1; I had WILDLY different online evaluations. Class 1 was the most trying class I have ever taught. There was a group of 5 girls that banded together and created a really weird, toxic environment. Snowflake 1 was caught plagiarizing, then decided not to come to class the remainder of the semester. Snowflake 2, who was 1's bestie, would write on the attendance sheet how Snowflake 1 had to withdraw next to her name (Snowflake 1 actually could not actually withdraw after plagiarism files were turned in, but all was kept mum). Snowflake 2 was also put out that I would not let her leave 3 minutes early so that she could go to her other class. Snowflake 2 and Snowflake 3 could not understand why the class didn't allow laptops (150 student lecture plus discussion groups . . . too hard to regulate. Also, the reasons are on the syllabus). Snowflake 3 sent me an email the afternoon before papers were due asking me to clarify the prompts that were available to them for two weeks. As I was writing a reply, 4 hours after the email was received mind vous, I got a message from my boss man saying the student complained that I never reply to student emails. I forwarded him our correspondence, so crises averted. Snowflake 3 did not come to class when papers were handed back, nor did she come to my office hours to collect her paper #2, nor did she pick up her paper after class (bolted for the door), yet she complained the week after I returned papers, to the boss man again, that I never returned papers to ANY of the students. Sidenote: I told the class the week before papers were handed back that if they were absent they could pick them up on the following Monday during office hours or lecture, Tuesday during office hours, Wednesday after class, or Friday after class. Snowflake 4 did not follow directions on the midterm at all and got basic plot points and character names wrong regarding the reading she was analyzing; the student earned a D. This resulted in confusion. I did not allow her to retake the midterm, which resulted in a complaint, to the boss man, that I was "mean." Snowflake 4 asked me how to improve her grade, I did offer help, but I also told her since she was averaging a 25% on the reading quizzes and missed two weeks of class, she might want to talk to her adviser about dropping the course, since, as per the syllabus, 6 unexcused absences results in a drop of two full letter grades. (Sidenote: Snowflake 4 also got caught for plagiarizing). Snowflake 5 thought it was mean that I was upset her friend interrupted class in the middle of discussion to drop off her paper in her absence (which I excused).

    Because we have online evals, it is always the case that the students who lurved the class or hated it respond. Only 60% of this class responded. Note a sampling of their helpful criticism to the prompt, what could be improved?:

    "The teacher doesn't care above the students, she should not be a TA. She was honestly mean and even encouraged a student to drop the course instead of helping them."

    "The instructor was not helpful. She was nasty and acted childish if students needed to leave leave class early. Honestly, her attitude needs to change."

    "Less poetry. I hate poetry."

    Weirdly I did get a student solicit me for drinks (weird/never) and also one commenting on my dress (favorably).

    There were some really nice comments, but man. These ruined my day. And as a lowly grad student, evals are important to me. And I worked hard and was EXCITED about teaching LITERATURE!!

    My second class's commentary ranged from largely positive to super awesome (though one disgruntled student did give me 1's across the board. But hey, no unconstructive criticism! So that's a win).

    Man, I needed to vent.

    On a serious note, how do y'all deal with these kinds of issues with students. I honestly thought I was nice, or at least, fair--I'm not nasty! Blerg!!!

    1. I created a Thirsty for us for your question... because I wonder, too, how people deal with these!

  17. I don't read my student evals. I get hard copies and put them in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. I made the mistake of reading them my first year at LD3C, a place where students possess even fewer skills for evaluating faculty than students do in general.

    Students are not subject matter experts in being students, let alone in teaching.


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