End-of-Course Evauations

If you’re TCU faculty, let this serve as your umpteenth notice to remind your students to complete their eSPOTs.

Once the students complete the eSPOTs (or whatever version of course / teaching evaluation your campus uses), then what? Well, there’s the inevitable waiting until you get the results, of course. When the results do finally come your way, this piece about making sense of student comments may be helpful. In particular, it’s useful to think about how students define particular criteria. After all, for student feedback to be part of a meaningful process of pedagogical improvement, some sense of how students might have understood the survey questions is worth considering.

If you’d like to gather more robust information from your students, you might consider an additional evaluative exercise. ProfHacker suggests that you have your current students write a letter to your future students. The comments on that blog post are also valuable, including the discussion about sharing the findings with your future students. Alternately, you could craft an exercise that provided feedback about your teaching and helped your students gain awareness of their learning habits. Not sure how to do this? The link provides some sample questions to get you started.

Anonymity can be tricky to maintain with these additional exercises. To encourage participation, you might offer a small amount of extra credit (or credit toward a specific assignment) if a predetermined portion of the class completes the exercise. In an online class, you could use an anonymous online form. We’ve discussed some of the options for online anonymous teaching surveys in an earlier post. In a face-to-face class, you could also use the online option or you could have your students type responses that they turn in to you – but stress that they are to leave all identifying information off the papers.

Getting the feedback is great, and making reasonable changes is part of the ongoing craft. But what makes professors seem wonderfully responsive? When professors close the loop and report back to students how they are using student feedback. Ideally, you’ve already done this with mid-semester evaluations in your course. If not, all is not lost. Of course, the students making the end-of-course suggestions won’t usually benefit from changes you may make in your future courses. However, for your future students, the simple act of indicating that you’ve changed a reading, activity, assignment, or policy in response to student feedback communicates that you are approachable and invested in student learning.

Do you have other course evaluation tips or practices? Please share in the comments!

Rubrics Redux

As the Fall semester draws to a close, now is a good time to revisit our earlier post on rubrics.

Handing out the rubric as you hand out the assignment is often the most expedient way to get students thinking about all the components of a successful assignment. However, if your students have on-going projects, but are now moving into a new phase (say, the write-up of a field experience, or the presentation of a semester’s worth of research), a rubric targeted to this new portion of the overall assignment can still be helpful.

It’s possible that rubrics are something you’d like to use in the future, but the timing isn’t quite right for you or students this semester. In this case, you might consider taking notes on the Fall 2012 work you’re about to grade and using those observations to drive a rubric that you share with your Spring 2013 classes.

For both students and instructors, the most useful rubric is one that contains a range of performance levels. The goal is to make the rubric less like a checklist and more like a detailed teaching tool. For example, reading that a thesis statement should be specific, clear, contestable, and on-topic is one thing; being able to see robust descriptions related to full credit, degrees of partial credit, and no credit can really help one to focus on the elements that set excellent work apart from work that is merely good or adequate.

Are you a rubric user? Share your tips (or links to your rubrics!) in the comments.

Mid-Semester Course Evauations

As we approach the middle of the semester, fall is in the air (well, at least it was last weekend). Perfect timing, of course, for a mid-semester evaluation in your courses.

ProfHacker offers some sample mid-semester evaluation questions. Whether you use their general questions or tailor things more toward your course content, format, technology use, etc., the basic benefit remains: mid-semester course evaluations give you the opportunity to address / explain / fix things for your current students while you still can. SPOTs are helpful, certainly, for thinking about how you’ll work with the next group of students – but since they come at the end of the semester, they are generally less beneficial for the individual students themselves. The mid-semester evaluation is an opportunity for your present group of students to have some agency in the structure of their own learning experiences. Do they know they can make an appointment with you if they have class during office hours? Do you need to define new terms more frequently? Do they like your use of cartoons? Good to know!

If you’re sold on the idea, but would like to read a little more about mid-semester evaluations before you give it a try, you may find our earlier post on mid-semester course evaluations helpful. Also, the Koehler Center’s Take Your Course Shell to the Next Level series has addressed Making the Most of Mid-Semester Evaluations. In addition to providing a sample Google Forms Mid-Semester survey template, that article also suggests the option of using an online survey site, such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey. You can still use those survey generators, but note that TCU has recently partnered with the survey research firm Qualtrics to provide an integrated survey tool accessible to faculty and staff through my.tcu (select Main Menu > Qualtrics).

Mid-Semester Course Evaluations, Round Two

Next week is the week before spring break on our campus. Although the coming days may be busy and stressful, I also think it is a beneficial week to take a few minutes of class time for a mid-semester evaluation.

Spring break provides enough time for you to read the responses, get away from it all for a few days, and then come back and re-read the feedback, and, finally, make some considered and specific tweaks.

We’ve written about mid-semester evaluations before, notably in our October 2011 newsletter. In that article, we discuss some sample questions and how to use Google Forms to gather the data anonymously and electronically.

Combining both the pitch-perfect question and the use of Google Forms, Chris Clark from Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center recently wrote a blog post reviewing the book Teaching What You Don’t Know by Therese Huston. Huston advocates using a questioning technique drawn from clinical psychology. First, individuals are asked to assign a numerical score to an experience. Then, they are asked what it would take to raise their numerical evaluation by one point. In essence, this question targets the low-hanging, marginal fruit: what is the absolute minimum change that would be necessary in order for you to feel incrementally more positively about the class? Huston uses pen and paper, But Clark has a lovely example up on his blog of how this mid-semester eval approach might look with a Google Form.

There is an elegant cleverness to this one-point approach. Moving the course to Tahiti and giving everyone an A would probably increase positive feelings and ratings, but certain financial and ethical concerns prevent that. Thus, given the world we live in and the variety of real constraints faced by professors, receiving feedback focused on small changes definitely increases the usefulness and likely implementation of said feedback.

On the other hand, I wonder if the focus on points (and the specific goal of increasing those points) is some distant cousin of grade-grubbing. At our campus, mid-semester evaluations remain largely informal, but the shadow of the formal, university-collected end-of-semester evaluation looms large. “One point” may be a useful heuristic that yields specific feedback at mid-term time, but it may also seem to students that the professor is overly interested in achieving a certain numerical score in the end. I have yet to read Huston’s book, although it is on my list; I’m eager to see what she says about this issue or to hear from others who have tried this strategy. Share away in the comments section!

New Year, New Semester

As the holiday season winds to a close, it’s time to gear up for next semester. Whether your courses begin next week or in a few more weeks, here’s a round-up of posts on reflecting, re-focusing, and recharging in the coming year.

To get us started, here are two great posts from The Teaching Professor Blog. The first touches on the benefits of the academic calendar in terms of tacking stock: “I think there are decided advantages to professions like teaching with clear beginnings, endings, and spaces in between.” The calendar provides us with a valuable gift in this season; no sense in squandering that. The second blog post focuses on the purpose and benefits of reflection. According to the author, reflection offers:

[A] way to take the fragments of a day, a week, a course, several courses, or a whole semester and pull those separate experiences together. What happens in one course on one day may well be connected to what happened another day in another course. What happens with one group of students may be explained by what has happened with other students, but separated by time, space and intervening activity, the links are easily missed.

Here are some reflection questions to help you connect that dots (the questions are drawn loosely from this post):
1. What reading or assignment was most successful this semester? Why?
2. Which unit, lecture, or topic did you really enjoy teaching this term? Which one did you least enjoy? How might you use those insights to rearrange or revise the course contents next time? Did this relationship hold true for your students? Why or why not?
3. What role did technology play in your connection with your students and their connection with the content? Is there room for improvement? Were there hiccups? How could those be avoided?
4. What has surprised you most this term?
5. What do you hope your students are taking away from the course this term?
6. What one piece of advice do you want to offer yourself for the next time you teach this course?

You probably also have some student evaluations rolling your way. ProfHacker has collected all their wisdom on student evaluations: when to read them, how to work with the data, what to do with them, etc.

Reflection helps us go forward confidently. However, reflection (and its relative, the act of recharging) needn’t be solitary endeavors. Here’s one blogger singing the praises of meaningful conversations with one’s colleagues as a way to recharge.

In an age when we are almost constantly connected to one another through social media, texting, and e-mail, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are surrounded by people who are giving us the energy to recharge. Not so. Deep conversations are the true energy source – we are powered up by  face-to-face, real-time, extended discussions and debates with people who share our
passions . . . . I don’t need more electronic connections in my life as much as I need a recommitment to real conversation. I too often eat lunch at my desk and hesitate to ask for time to bounce ideas around with others. I don’t reach out often enough to those people who I know are working on similar projects.

So, where to go with all this newfound knowledge? This is a really thoughtful post on five easy things you can do to your course. Note that the original post (and hence the “easy” label) comes from a discussion of changes you can make to your course over the summer. So, while making all of these changes over winter break is probably overly ambitious, making a few of them in response to insights from your own reflections, student feedback, and conversations with colleagues might be just right.