I completely missed my traditional time for doing informal evaluations (week 5 of the semester). So, this semester I’m going to experiment with having students do them online. I know the “studies show” that giving dedicated time during class highlights the value I give these evaluations. But, I’m fiddling around with ways to still get students to (1) complete them, (2) take them seriously, and (3) not take class time. First, a few comments on why these evaluations have been crucial to my development as a teacher…
Our formal student evaluations at the end of the semester serve a purpose. I’m not always convinced the purpose is pedagogical improvement. For the majority of us, who range from harmless to effective in the classroom, the end-of-semester evaluations are pedagogically useless and don’t tell our administrators much about us either. The few times there was an important nugget of insight in these end-of-semester evals, I didn’t get to read it until after I had submitted my grades (that’s a good policy, but it doesn’t help me teach the class better).
Informal evaluations are the bomb. I usually do them in week 4 or 5. I tell students that these are anonymous and that no one reads them except me. In other words, raises, promotions, and tenure do not hinge on what the student says. I don’t think student evaluations have much impact on those decisions anyways, but the students see it differently and most tend to be extra nice on evaluations because they understand how important those issues of job security are.
I model my informal evaluations after a colleague’s with my own tweaks, of course. Here is a standard one. I learned to list the kinds of activities we had been doing because students otherwise forgot about them. After collecting the forms, I immediately read them and do a tally of comments. I make a classroom set of the tally sheet and pass it out in class (and collect it at the end of class). I then discuss the comments that occurred frequently. Every once in a while there is a comment that occurs just once that is worthy of response.
It’s great for students to see everyone’s response. I’m always amused by the “do more dictation” and “do less dictation” divide. And by the “we’re moving to slowly” and “we’re moving to quickly” divide. It’s good for students to see the variety of experiences in the class.
Whenever I can see the smallest glimmer of hope to make my teaching more effective based on these comments, I make an immediate change to the class. Usually these changes are tiny from my perspective but make a big difference to the students. For example, three years ago, my students reported spending much of class terrified because they didn’t know if they were going to be called upon to sing for a grade (usually done at the end of class). In response to the discussion about that, we decided that I would put initials on the board of who was going to be performing what. I always made those decisions before class, so it was no big deal for me. And it made a huge difference to the students.
This semester, I’m going to use the same questions but in a googledoc form. This form populates a spreadsheet. If I don’t ask for a name, I won’t see who the form is from. I do get a timestamp for when the form is submitted, but that’s it. So, I’m also going to ask students to add their name to a list (another google doc) after they’re done. I’m going to make completing an evaluation part of their assignment for Wednesday but email them immediately today in case they just want to get it done. I’ll read, reflect, and comment back to the students after Wednesday.
I’ll go ahead and compare the quality of responses I get in this process with my 17 previous semesters of doing these…. I’m curious about what I’ll find!