I’m sharing my recent ‘Student Evaluation of Instruction” with the world. My intent is to highlight a couple of examples of the problems associated with using ‘student evaluations’ in course evaluation. I have copied these comments verbatim from the form I received in the mail last week. The evaluation document also includes a color-coded chart indicating responses from 17 questions posed by the assessment.
The community college I am employed by has a policy which requires an instructor to receive course evaluation responses from at least 50% of the enrolled students on consecutive semesters or face termination. So the policy goes, anyway.
About every other semester I am on probation. I am hard-headed. I refuse to give “extra credit” to encourage students to submit an evaluation, a carrot promoted by the administration. I simply post an Announcement of the policy and tell students to act accordingly.
Below, are the comments from students who opted to leave a comment. As you can see from one response, I actually pose questions in an Announcement to help guide or coach students in submitting an appropriate commentary. I don’t want to tell them what to say, I only want them to put some thought into what they say before the online survey is engaged.
My “n=9,” thus I had nine students respond out of a possible 17 students enrolled.
“Please use the available space to add any comments you have about the course.”
R1. At the beginning of class had a problem setting up the [publisher LMS]. Set it up through [X], because that is the way I understood it supposed to be done, did it on the first day of class but was unable to enter the class code as [X] said it was invalid. Called, left messages and email professor did not get reply. After a week announcement was posted do not set up through [X], set it up a different way. Called and emailed again, still no answer. Had to buy a new code.
R2. If Mr Busby were as interested in helping his students succeed as he is in sending hateful and sarcastic comments and emails, he would be an amazing teacher! Unfortunately, he is not. He seems to take pleasure in berating and degrading students. I will not be taking any classes associated with him in anyway and I will recommend this to my friends, as well. Professors are (in my opinion) supposed to be helpful and in the very least cordial, Mr Busby is neither. He asked us to think about the following questions before we answer this survey:
What did you not like?
What did you like?
What worked for you?
What did not work for you so much?
Mr Busby needs to ask himself the following questions:
Why did you become a professor?
Do you still like being a professor?
If you were a student, would you like to have a professor like yourself?
Do you honestly think you are getting the best out of your students by the way you treat them?
R3. I like your class. I liked how test could be saved and resumed. The online class worked for me. The google earth [sic] was difficult to figure out.
R4. The actual class was fine but the [publisher] requirement was difficult. I had to pay twice for a code. I think something needs to be done differently in that aspect. The [publisher] Tech help was lacking heavily in any type of knowledge. Other than that issue I think the class was fine. I do think the heavy amount of work is more directed towards individuals that are majoring in the field and not a general requirement.
R5. Great Course !!!
To briefly summarize the above, in this particular Spring 2013 World Geography online course ( I had 6 sections, total ), 17 students made it through to the end, 9 students submitted a course evaluation, and 5 of those submitted comments. A few topics I want to address based on the student comments.
I use a special Gmail account for my courses. The email address is given on the front page of the course syllabus. I also accept emails to my normal university account. I don’t do phone calls except in extreme circumstances. Why? Because with email I have a time/date/record of conversation. I don’t have the ability to record my phone calls. With email, I have an “e-paper trail” I can use to reference communication. For online-only classes, keeping track of whom said what is important. I also tell students that I will not respond to emails which deal with course mechanics. I accumulate questions, create an FAQ, and post the FAQ. That way, I can focus on topical questions of the course, and don’t become bogged-down answering 50 emails all pertaining to “why can’t I see the first lesson?” Because you haven’t taken the syllabus quiz which releases the first unit. “Ohhhh.” Which means you haven’t read the syllabus or the course FAQ page.
Honestly, using publisher materials can be an issue. Last spring, the publisher had its head in its ass, frankly. The publisher released a new option which allowed me to directly embed their content in Blackboard. They provided this function just as the semester was beginning and they did not seem to understand the complexity of their own product.
Furthermore, the publisher did not provide separate “Blackboard-only” branding. As explained to me, the new Blackboard connection was so fresh Blackboard was still in negotiations over the use logos. The publisher created a “new design” nomenclature which no student had a clue meant “Blackboard.” Some students got the publishers LMS code, some students got the “new design” code. The training materials the publisher rep gave me before the semester began were right if the student had the Blackboard code, but wrong if they had the publisher code. About a week into the course, I had to modify the directions from those provided to me over Christmas break. I posted an Announcement to students to have them wait before activating codes (if they had not used their code). Some industrious students had already burnt their code, though, a code which would only work on the publisher’s LMS. I negotiated with my publisher rep and received about a dozen free codes to had out as needed to students who had burnt their first code. No student who acted in a timely manner should have had to buy a new code. When students emailed me with a problem related to registering their code, I asked them for their old code (to make sure they actually had one) and gave them a new code for Blackboard use. Some students still could not follow the directions.
“Login to Blackboard. Find the first [Publisher] assignment. Click it. On the next screen, click OK. Do you have a code? If so, click the left button and follow those instructions. If you need a code, click the right button and follow those instructions.”
For about 6 students who had problems, I simply had them email me their Blackboard username and password, and [publisher] login details and I registered them. My publisher rep did this for about 6 students, as well. Other students who reported issues were able to resolve them with 48-72hrs. I had them call [publisher] Tech Support, provide their old code, and request a new code. I then later followed-up with these students about their experiences and found that with only 2 exceptions all students were able to find resolution and were pleased with the turn-around time to resolution. Between the publisher’s rep, Tech Support, and myself, we were able to get almost every student access within 10 days of the beginning of classes. Why two students had to pay, well, maybe the comments below might apply.
The first 10 days of the semester were a Charlie-Foxtrot, though.
Now, the two exceptions. I had two students who waited until the end of March to inform me about problems in activating their code. Yes, March. To be fair, in one case, the student waited until the end of February to activate the course code, and it was a faulty code, to boot. I know this as I requested the student submit their email conversation with the publisher to me. I noted the 6 weeks of elapsed time between the beginning of the semester and the time of “first report.” I was not notified until March, though. Something happened to the quality of the Tech Support, too. The first couple weeks, the Tech Support was on-the-ball. After a month or two, the people answering Tech Support calls were capable of answering the phone and not much beyond that. I’m pretty sure they knew they worked for the publisher but don’t quote me.
When I run across these behaviors I have a bad habit of piling on the student. I’ve been teaching for 20 years. I’ve been in contact with literally thousands of students. Patterns begin to emerge, patterns of behavior which can raise flags. Most faculty who have taught for 5 years or longer have experienced 95-97% of the spectrum of student behavior. We can predict pretty accurately what students are going to be a problem or have self-destructive academic behaviors. Those behaviors mirror human behaviors, like procrastination, blame-aholics, chronic calamity syndrome. Naturally, when someone makes comments to someone who might have 12-18 DSM-5 disorders, those comments are not going to be internalized very well.
“Do not do this. Do not wait. Make sure the course works and you understand the course requirements. Had you done as I requested I could literally have activated the course for you. Now, [publisher] Tech Support is going to wonder why this crazy person student wants to activate a code after 1/3rd the semester has elapsed.”
When I point out behaviors to a student, behaviors which hurt them, often the person will turn on me and blame me for their problems. Keep in mind, with a student body population of about 11,000, several of those people are going to have valid mental health problems.
My favorite response is R2. This student suffers from a host of problems. I can only speculate the motivation behind this student. They made no attempt to address my comments, instead focusing on me and the injustice they perceive I have committed against them. The student does not understand how to read email. More specifically, the student probably reads email using the Inner Voice of an authoritative person, like Mom, or Dad, or some teacher from their early academic life. It takes practice, but emails should never be read with ‘tone’ unless the tone is glaringly obvious.
Otherwise, if you read ‘tone’ into an email you are simply asking for trouble, and for hurt feelings, and other emotional junk and doing that is just not worth it. I don’t know these students, we never meet face to face, and if they bother to watch the 120+ videos I have on YouTube, they would probably get a sense I don’t insinuate ‘tone’ in my emails. Or, at minimum, have a sense of my ‘tone.’
Now that you’ve read the comments, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ad hominem attack. An “ad hominem” attack is one where a person, rather than address the root issue, decides to attack the person voicing the concern. Ad hominem attacks are Logical Fallacies. The student answered objective parts of the assessment; I can tell because I had 9 students take the assessment, and each of the measured categories has 9 responses. Note the student provides my own advice for thinking about the course – which they never address. Instead, rather than providing any legitimate criticisms, any helpful comments, the questions are modified and reflected back to me. No evidence of “hateful” or “berating” communication was offered.
The opinion about what professors “are supposed to be” is somewhat naive, in my opinion. Instructors are not Obi-Wan Kenobi. Especially in my geography courses, especially in my traditional, classroom courses, we discuss many sensitive issues: rape as a war crime, human trafficking, immigration, cyber-crime, past and present slavery. I name names; I name people, countries, ideas, and religions, and people do not like feeling uncomfortable.
You make me feel uncomfortable!
I can’t make you feel anything. You are choosing how to react. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable. You can feel any way you like. You are basically giving me to the power to control your emotions. Is that what you want? Me controlling how you feel? Hmmm, is that the way you go through life, giving other people control over your emotions? That’s a lot of power you’ve granted me, and them, and frankly, now, I’m feeling a little uncomfortable… and… I’m not going to give you that power …and …now, I feel better. See how that’s done?
In rural Kentucky, some students have barely been outside their home counties let alone their home state. Most people have been outside the Kentucky, but frequently don’t think about it until I challenge them, “Have you been to ____? OK, then you’ve been to Missouri. So, you have been outside the state.” Some of our local counties have less than 7,000 people, total. Some of these kids have not been to many places, or have not experienced many cities or urban areas. Having grown-up in Kansas City, Missouri, whose mother taught Special Education, kindergarten, and high school, and whose father dealt with union truckers, union butchers, Russian and Chinese food brokers, I can honestly say the world is not always going to be a pleasant place, and difficult personalities, while annoying, are part and parcel of life. Get used to it.
The comments I’ve provided highlight at least two concerns with teaching, and online teaching. First, some students don’t pay attention to the syllabus and thus miss critical information to use for all course correspondence. Thankfully, less than 10% of students fall into this category. At 180 students a semester, though, if 10% don’t pay attention, then 18 students are going to be complaining “Mr Busby ignores me.” And you are right; I ignore students who don’t read the instructions. Second, some students don’t take ownership of their education. We have coddled them throughout high school, and, perhaps that is justified to some extent, but we have not prepared them for the huge performance expectation gap between being a high school senior and a college freshman. I was prepared, but only because my mother hammered the expectations into my brain on a regular basis.
When I say students “don’t take ownership” I mean they get caught up in the ‘tone’ or the expectation of some type of relationship with an instructor rather than get in and do the business of the course. In the 2nd response, the student obviously felt slighted but lacked the emotional maturity to set aside whatever poke their ego took and move on and examine the course, examine their contribution to the course, and provide salient and pertinent feedback.
More and more students are bringing issues like this to college, not with just to me, but in general, as I talk with my peers. Older students tend not to have these issues, generally, though I have had my problems with adults who maintain a 9-year old’s emotional skill set. Student right out of high school seem to think college professors will be just like their high school math teacher who was “so cool, I could tell her anything.” And, the blame could reside with the bucolic nature and sparse population of my region giving rise to such issues. Perhaps students residing in more urban locales are immune to these behaviors.
I wish I had more comments to share but I only received 5 comments for the semester. I post frequent Announcement reminders to encourage students to take the survey. I take the “official” Announcement, add some humor (“I will send Lady Gaga to your house to make her force you to submit your evaluation”), and remind students 4 or 5 times to submit their evaluation. I squeak by with 50.5% percent.
I post my results to open conversation about academic assessments, to educate my readers not in academics what students report, the nature of reporting. I’ve read numerous articles about assessments but few articles actual provide many, if any, student comments. I thought I would use my “dirty laundry” and help educate folks, ask for feedback, and see where the conversation goes.
• Redoing Student-Teacher Evaluations with
Teacher-Student Evaluations, A Modest Proposal
• Blackboard Lessons from the Semester (aphilosopher.wordpress.com)
• Improving Student Feedback (jmajor.org)