16 August, 2009

Evaluations, summer 2009

Course evaluations can be very useful, although not in the way students intend when they write their comments.

For example, one student wrote on an evaluation,

Mr. Perry had only about 3 office hours available during the week.
Actually, I had 5 office hours available during the week, as posted on my syllabus:
MWF 1.30-2.30p; TTh 9.30-10a, 3-3.30p
They were also posted on a schedule pinned to the office door, along with class times and an hour set aside to meet with a graduate student.

I also tell students in class that if they need assistance, they can make an appointment outside office hours. I can't be imagining this; some students actually make appointments outside office hours. What's more, I've been known to accommodate students who show up outside office hours even without an appointment, although the department asked me about a year and a half ago to stop making a habit of that.*

There are times when I've turned away a student outside office hours, either because I was deeply involved with something and didn't want to be distracted, or because it was only a few minutes before class and I was getting my things together. I half-suspect that the comment came from a student to whom that happened a couple of times this past summer, but I can remember a couple of occasions where I did answer the question, because it was quick.

Could it be the staggered times that confused the student? Traditionally, I've tried to stagger my office hours to accommodate students with different schedules. This is why I haven't simply held my office hour at the same time every day, five days a week. That would be very convenient for me, but I doubt it would be convenient for most students.

This semester, I'll try to schedule my office hours at the same time every day: Monday through Friday from 4-5pm. Watch: at the end of the semester, someone will complain about it!

Another student commented,
The instructor didn't even know he was teaching this subject until about a week before class.
This is true, but it's a curious twist of the facts.
  1. How did the student know this, anyway? Because I told the class.
  2. If memory serves, I was originally scheduled to teach a different course altogether, and was swiched a short time before the summer began. Whether it was a few days or a few weeks, however, I don't recall.
  3. In any case, as I explained the first day of class, the provost originally declared that, due to the university's dire economic circumstances, classes that didn't have at least 16 students registered would be cancelled. However, he relented on some classes. This class was one of them; only 10 students (or so) were registered at the beginning of the session, so I had been expecting it to be cancelled. The class ran anyway.
  4. What the student doesn't tell you is that, by the first day of class, I had a weeks' worth of detailed notes ready: so it's not as if I walked into class completely unprepared.
The student added,
He didn' t even have a syllabus for us to go by.
As a matter of fact, I did! The syllabus was posted online, and one of the first things I did on the first day of class was to write the class' webpage on the blackboard and to tell them that they should download the syllabus there.

Once upon a time I used to make it the first assignment of the semester that students download the syllabus, read it, and bring it to my office to get it signed. I dropped that this summer because I thought it was a silly exercise to impose on university students. Guess what the first assignment of the fall semester will be for each of my classes!

*By sheer coincidence, it seems to me that that's the time my course evaluations started to tank.


wjt said...

The department asked you to stop seeing students outside of your posted office hours? We live in so very different worlds!

jack perry said...


There were at the time some Modern Algebra students who took up the practice of sitting outside my office door & working on their homework, then knocking on the door when they encountered difficulty. I can see how it would be a hassle; it was starting to wear me out.

Anonymous said...

Just print it out and distribute it.