Dr. Nerd Mom and the End of Semester Course Evaluations

The end of the semester rush approaches. Hurry up and grade those papers. Hurry up and get that final exam to the printer. Schedule students in office hours. Extra workshops. More times available in the labs. Forget about @SUAWT (Shut Up and Write Tuesday) I just need to Shut Up And Grade!

But snuck in the middle of all this “hurrying” is one more thing that needs our professorial attention.

End of semester student course evaluations.

Image result for stressed out

The thought of course evaluations used to make me shudder. My students whom I’ve loved and cared for this past 15 weeks are now going to pass judgement on me! We give them our hearts and souls, share our passions with them, and develop our relationships. Then they leave us, go on to other subjects, and pass judgment anonymously.

Now… I know this is an over-reaction. Constructive feedback is important. Hell, getting tenure is important. I am interested in how my course worked for students. But I do somewhat struggle with the course evaluations process. No where in my teaching plan for the semester is information about how to give PROFESSIONAL feedback. Where do we teach students to give feedback? Where do we teach students to provide peer-to-peer feedback? The majority of my evaluation comments read something like this: “Dr. Nerd Mom is so cool! Dr. Nerd Mom is super fun!” or more negatively “I am so glad I wont ever see Dr. Nerd Mom again. Dr. Nerd Mom is such a jerk!” etc. Although feedback is both positive and negative, its more of complaints session or a round of high-fives with no useful information.

If we do not teach students to give constructive feedback, how do we then expect them to be able to participate in evaluations process as professional in the workforce? How will they be able to give face-to-face feedback to their peers that is useful?

I have professional colleagues that struggle with this type of useful feedback process as well. Its easy to either provide NO useful feedback “Good job! Well done! Yay!” as well as use the evaluation system as an anonymous complainy-pants-fest. These are they same colleagues who speak up in meetings to simply say “Well I DON’T like that! We shouldn’t do it!” without providing any suggestions.

I decided this semester I’d make some changes and attempt to embrace the student course evaluations process. While there are many helpful ideas for teaching professional feedback techniques for students, I decided to use one simple in-class exercise: the “teacher sandwich” method. We took five minutes and practiced it in class. Here’s how ti works:

  1. Ask students to get a scrap piece of paper.
  2. Turn to their neighbor (or write about me) one thing they like about the course/professor.
  3. Next, write using the framework “One that about this course that I would change is…”.
  4. Then write a sentence or two describing how the change could occur.

Throughout the semester, I also try to take several opportunities to show students how previous “changes” have led to their current course. “When I last taught this course, students identified the need for X. Here is that resource.”

Happy Academic Grading Week

Dr. Nerd Mom

May the force be with you… always… even during final exams.