18 August, 2009

A misanthrope with high academic standards

It's interesting to see how different groups of students react to my teaching. Consider the following item from the summer course evaluations,

The instructor is considerate of the students during class.
One class rated me,
Strongly Agree 0
Agree 1
Neutral 4
Disagree 0
Strongly Disagree 2
I do wonder why exactly students in this class thought I wasn't considerate of them, considering how often I bent over backwards to accommodate them, but that's beside the point. Another class rated me,
Strongly Agree 6
Agree 3
Neutral 2
Disagree 0
Strongly Disagree 0
What did I do wrong? They didn't recognize me for a misanthrope? The irony is that I thought I wasn't nearly as flexible with this class as with the other. Go figure.

Another item is,
The instructor sets high academic standards.
Now, this is a question I care a lot about. I thought I wrote about it once on the weblog, but I can't find such a post now. Anyway, here is the first class's answer:
Strongly Agree 2
Agree 1
Neutral 2
Disagree 0
Strongly Disagree 2
Hmm. This is where you start to suspect that two people just wrote, "Strongly Disagree" down the entire evaluation without bothering even to read the question. Taking a look at it… yup, more or less. We ought to revise the evaluation form to add one question that reads,
I am intellectually qualified to be a college student.
It would be fun to see how many students mark Strongly Disagree for that without reading it.

Anyway, here's what the second class wrote about academic standards:
Strong Agree 6
Agree 4
Neutral 1
Disagree 0
Strongly Disagree 0
Why the difference? I can't figure that out. (A third class mirrors the second, although half the class strongly agreed, and half the class was neutral.)

I want to highlight one more disparity. One item asks students what grade they expect. Without divulging results, the first class, whose students were clearly the least well-prepared for college, let alone Calculus, generally estimated its grades one level higher than the actual results. Some students may have guessed right, others may have guessed low, and others far too high, but on average they guessed one grade too high.

The second class I've discussed was closer to the mark, with a few students overestimating their achievement, but on average dead on.

The third class was the highest level. One expects students in this class to have a higher level of maturity, and in fact they did in a sad way: about half the class dropped within the first three weeks. One of the students most active in the class discussions (and outside of class, emailing me many questions and hunting me down in my office) wrote me,
Had to drop MAT 168 and I am not happy about it at all.  But we are very shortstaffed at work and home office is not hiring any one else until economy recovers. …Didn't have a problem keeping up with class but work rears its ugly head.
Another student active in the class discussions dropped within the first two weeks, and a third dropped after the first test even though he earned the highest score.

In the evaluations, none of the remaining students of this class expected either an A or a B. About half expected C's. In fact, an extremely hard-working student did so well on the final as to earn one of the two A's earned this summer. Since everyone in the class filled out an evaluation, I reckon that this student was apparently shocked to see an A. If you read this: be proud; you earned it. :-)

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