May 7, 2008

A Note on Course Evaluations as a Guide to Future Conduct

They don't help (much). Here's why...

Should I change the reading list next year?
"There were a LOT of texts. Too many, really. It was impossible to keep up with the readings."

"It would have been interesting to add a few more books...I found the course load light enough that a few more (enjoyable) readings wouldn't have been oppressive."

"I loved the Moonstone--everything comes back to that."

"I really enjoyed the Moonstone; I thought it was the most interesting and hard to figure out."

"Great reading list except for the Moonstone. It was too long and boring."

"I think one of my favourite books from this course is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd."

"I thought Roger Ackroyd was unfair and not a clear example of Christie's usual style."

"Knots and Crosses a bit freaky."

"Do not drop Knots and Crosses, best book I have ever read."

"I found it more stimulating to examine actual books and stories rather than musty old course books." [?]
I know I talk quickly, but how much of a problem is that, really?
"Her lectures were indecipherable because of how rapidly she spoke."

"Maitzen speaks too fast. Slowing down would be helpful to take clear notes."

"I found the lectures interesting and stimulating (I didn't fall asleep in class once)."

"I do not think you talk too fast. I thoroughly enjoyed this class and look forward to taking classes taught by you in the future."

"I actually liked Maitzen's upbeat, fast-talking teaching style. It kept me from being bored and it kept me really listening."

"She spoke too quickly at times; it was difficult to take notes in this manner."

"I do not find she speaks too quickly. People need to take more condensed notes."
What about the assignment structure and methods of evaluation?
"Assignments are a great way of getting us to think about the material. 75-word limit was also a good challenge."

"I liked the way we had two assignments, and the in-class quizzes definitely were motivation to stay on track in class."

"I think the homework assignment format should be re-evaluated."

"The assignments were short and concise while still being challenging, which was a nice change from lengthy papers."

"Your response to the first assignment was completely inappropriate and extreme, you wasted 2 classes and called the class 'illiterate.'"

"I particularly appreciated the amount of time you dedicated to correcting in class the mistakes made on assignments. It genuinely helped and clarified my understanding of good writing!"

"She gives great constructive feedback on assignments and even gives us exercises that would help with our assignments."

"Actually enjoyed quizzes, felt questions were fair."

"For the quizzes I felt that there were too many questions on what were sometimes subtle statements made in class."

"Increase the value of attendance."

"Unsympathetic with the occasional absence."

"Group work was a nice change of pace."

"I hate group work and found those classes monotonous and unhelpful."
And the intellectual substance?
"Maitzen posed questions that forced you to think!"

"Extremely interesting books were featured and taught in an intellectually stimulating manner."

"Often lecture topics were repetitive or had little to do with the day's reading."

"Lectures were quick-paced and extremely informative. I never wanted to miss a class because so much material was covered in each lecture."

"Feminism within the texts wasn't over-emphasized."

"TOO MUCH FEMINISM. This isn't gender studies."
So, overall how did I do?
"The teaching was mediocre."

"One of the best profs I have had at Dal."

"No complaints."

"Pretty successful."

"Sort of funny."

"A great prof, very funny."

"Dr. Maitzen is a superstar!"
Anything else to add?
"Thanks for keeping a blog--helps with some insight from time to time."
I think the problem should be obvious. It's not that the feedback isn't welcomed or taken seriously, but if it's not at all consistent, it's hard to do anything in particular in response!

I should say (just for the record) that these are not the actual questions on our departmental course evaluation forms; these are the things I worry about as I look ahead to next year's classes. I specifically asked them about the fast talking, as it has come up a few times in my evaluations before. All of the responses, though, are taken verbatim from the forms.


Amateur Reader said...

I wonder how "Roger Ackroyd" was "unfair"?

Excellent comments. Joseph Epstein has written that the only genuinely useful comment he ever got was "Jingles his change" - after that, he always left his change in his office.

NigelBeale said...


1. "Increase the value of attendance."

and 2. the juxtapositioning of

"Your response to the first assignment was completely inappropriate and extreme, you wasted 2 classes and called the class 'illiterate.'" and

"I particularly appreciated the amount of time you dedicated to correcting in class the mistakes made on assignments."

Rohan Maitzen said...

Yes: it's really as good a demonstration as I can imagine of the fact that two people can be in the same place at the same time, engaged in the same activity, even, and yet be interpreting it in a totally different way.

I love the Epstein anecdote.

DreamQueen said...

This post made me laugh, in part because I'm so happy I'm done with teaching and won't have to try to extract something useful from class evaluations ever again!

Rohan Maitzen said...

Dreamqueen: Also, then, nobody else will claim to be able to evaluate your job performance on the basis of this kind of dubiously informative or reliable "data"!