This piece from the Teaching Professor has some excellent tips for dealing with faculty fears that using new techniques or teaching methods might lower their teaching ratings. Methods that that put greater responsibility on students and that move the teacher off center stage often don’t map well to traditional institutional evaluations. One of the key points of the piece is to encourage faculty to get beyond the end-of-class “autopsy” evaluation and engage the students in an ongoing dialogue about their own learning throughout the term. The overall thrust of the piece is that by communicating honestly, openly and authentically about the evaluation process, it becomes more valuable for all concerned. (Thanks to the Kept-up Librarian for the link!)
I think that kind of communication maybe tough with undergraduates without a significant cultural change across the university. (I teach only graduate classes–and electives at that, but as the project manager for the restructuring of William and Mary’s evaluation process I’ve spent years up to my eyeballs in course evaluation issues.) On the surface, the findings from the Center for Academic Transformation that I wrote about yesterday certainly don’t argue for a particularly collegial relationship with students.
My own teaching is pretty unconventional by many standards, and I’ve had some classes where some students have hammered me on the evaluations. But, even in those classes there are many folks who resonate with a teaching style that is more student-centered. Like Timothy Burke at Swarthmore, I find that my student comments are often bipolar:
It’s also that what I hear back from my students often leaves me in a quandry. Over time, for example, I’ve heard consistently from one group of students who are consistently a bit frustrated with the degree to which I intervene in classroom discussions, direct and redirect them. They want me to loosen up a bit, let things flow more spontaneously, encourage more debate between students. Then I hear from another group of students who are intensely appreciative of the fact that I keep discussion under a fairly tight rein, make sure that certain themes and issues are touched upon, work to build up from comments made by students.
It would be interesting to see how students would respond to the kind of conversation suggested the Teaching Professor article.