Friday, September 26, 2008

Yech. Teaching evaluations.

Teaching evaluations have finally arrived for the summer course I taught at Western -- 6 weeks, 5 days a week, 2.5 hours a day. Numerically, across the board, I'm okay. I never claimed to be a fantastic teacher, only a decent one, and that seems to be reflected therein. Although, I should point out that there were 10 replies out of a class of 15, so the sample is hopelessly non-representative.

It's the comments that annoyed me, though. There were very few, first off. And the ones there were said (a) there was too much reading, (b) things were "too dull", and (c) they wouldn't recommend the course to others. In reverse order.

Third, it's not a Amazon review. It's a teaching evaluation. No one cares (or no one should care, says the pessimist in me) if you'd "recommend" the course. They care if you understood the material. If you found the lectures helpful. If the readings were appropriate to your conceptual level. Anything else makes the student seem like they don't understand the basic truth that students are not consumers. (Hell, if they are, I reserve the right to charge an "idiot tax" for the ones that annoy me. And not teach those who don't want to learn. And, for that matter, make them all pay the full cost of their education, instead of the small fraction they currently pay.)

Second, if the presentation really was too dull, the numbers for quality of presentation would be low. They are not. They're well within the numbers everywhere else. Which means the presentation was not exceptionally dull. (This is pretty basic reasoning.) It strikes me that the students who wrote those comments found philosophy boring. Which is fine. I find mathematics boring. I don't blame the mathematicians, though; I just drop their classes and move on.

First, and finally, they were warned from the beginning that the compressed nature of the course meant that things would be tough. However, their transcripts don't indicate that this was a compressed course. If they're getting the same credit as a student who takes the course during the year, then they will receive the same teaching -- and thus the same reading -- as a student who takes the course during the year. Those that can't hack it were invited, repeatedly, to drop.

On the whole, I'm fairly neutral about these evaluations. As said, they're basically consistent with what I've gotten from other groups. But the ignorance and sloppy thinking in the written comments is a source of constant irritation to me.

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