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My Reflections on the Evaluation

I designed this teaching evaluation for my lab/recitation section of the second quarter of introductory physics for engineers. I gave it out in the middle of the quarter, which was late enough for the students to have opinions about what I was doing, but early enough for me to make meaningful changes. I set aside the first 15 minutes of the two hour lab section for this questionnaire so students would have time set aside to answer the questions in as much detail as they liked. I also arranged to have another teaching assistant administer the questionnaire so they wouldn't be intimidated by me looking over their shoulders as they wrote.

The survey yielded some good, concrete suggestions, encouraged me to pursue some ideas that I had, and made me adjust my teaching style somewhat. I was surprised by the responses to the first question, because most of them thought that the grading of homework was fine, and I thought that I had been a bit too harsh on a couple of assignments. The responses to this question were like those to the second in that they confirmed that I didn't have to make any big changes.

The third and fourth questions, however, yielded responses that were in very good agreement across the class, and that asked me to make a change. All students wanted a clearer picture of what was going on. In the beginning of class, when they were asked to make predictions for the lab, and at the end of class when they were asked to share their results, all students wanted a better idea of what they had done right. This made me set aside more time in class for making sure that everyone knew what they were supposed to do and for making sure that everyone knew the correct solutions to the problems posed. Outside of class, they all wanted a better idea of what was expected from them, so I responded by writing up a sheet of expectations for lab reports. These two questions were, to me, the most useful of the entire bunch because they forced me to change the way I was doing things. If I had not asked them in the middle of the quarter, I would have had no way of knowing that they weren't getting the information they needed, and I wouldn't have been able to adjust to their needs. The last question generated some interesting responses, because, while the amount of time spent on the class varied a lot, almost every student agreed that one thing seemed like an undue added burden. Every week, the students were given (by the lecturer) a list of practice problems to do, followed, a couple days later, by three extra homework problems that would be graded. Many students thought that the extra three were an added burden that they did not need. I suspect that the response would have been different if they simply had three more homework problems to do, as I think the students felt like they were having one more thing added to their busy schedules. Unfortunately, as this portion of the course was out of my control, I could do little more than tell the professors in charge of the course about it. However, I think they discontinued that practice the following quarter.

The free response section at the end of the form was interesting because student comments showed the diversity of their learning styles. One student asked for more group work, while another said she was glad not to have as much. Unfortunately, this left the rest of the class without a voice, so I had no mandate for change. However, it did make me feel much more strongly that teachers should use a variety of teaching techniques so that students can benefit from the technique that suits their learning style best.

As a whole, I was surprised and very happy with the results of the questionnaire. I hadn't thought that engineering students would take the time to write out full answers to questions, but they did! I deliberately avoided multiple choice questions, selecting all essay questions instead, because they gave me feedback that I could use to improve my teaching. However, this approach gave nothing that an administrator, for example, could use to evaluate my teaching relative to that of several others. I found that the time I spent on the questionnaire and the class time spent administering it were both well worth it, because I got feedback that I would not have been able to get otherwise, and was able to make changes which I might not have otherwise made.

Look at the evaluation itself.

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