Student Evals: Reading between the check boxes

     Student evals are in. This was my first quarter teaching at UCR, and even though I’ve been through this process before I was anxious to see how my prior skills translated to student engagement in a new environment. My evals were overwhelmingly positive, despite evals no longer being required for students to view grades. Most of my scores were a tick above the department average, especially “Overall, is an effective teacher” and “Motivates me to do my best” which I consider the most important. Good enough, right? Well, yes, if all student evals were for was a metric to decide who is allowed to continue teaching. Student evals are often skewed, and there are always outliers. Because of this, the numbers don’t always means much; and comments tend to be extremely good or bad, as students in the middle tend not to take the time to type a response even if they fill out the checkboxes. I did see a slight drop for “Gives useful feedback on assignments and exams.” The majority of students who responded gave me a “perfect” score, but a couple knocked of a point or two, and two gave that section the lowest score overall. Although I gave detailed comments on the first assignment and midterm, these anomalies suggest that for a handful of students there was a lack of clarity. I doubt I will be able to give more detailed comments in a class of the same size, but I’m actually not sure that would help. Reading between the lines (or rather, checkboxes), I suspect that what will allow me to help a few extra students is some form of general translation guide: here is what this type of comment means, and here are some strategies to address it. For many of my students, this is the first class that asks for analytical writing. Many have not finished their writing series, and some have not even begun. History absolutely requires this skill, but it cannot be learned in a vacuum.

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Collective Truth

     So this quarter I’m taking a class on teaching college history. I have taught, but it is a required course…and let’s be real, I’m a pedagogy nerd and I’d take it anyway. Today we started with the Colbert Report on Wikiality. Which was just as pointed as all the articles we read, but far more entertaining.

     To be fair, Wikipedia has improved since 2006. It is a useful tool, and I think it is important to teach students how to use it correctly rather than institute a blanket ban.

     Also to be fair, the issue of collective truth in writing is not a new thing. I am currently researching Hanoverian Cream and White horses, and am running into the same problem. Not just in the (very sparse) modern mentions of them, but also in sources that are three centuries old.

   Nihil sub sole novum.

Student Emails

    Student emails. Who doesn’t have stories about them? The bad grammar, the terrible manners, the utter lack of punctuation, and, oh yes, the “entitlement.” There are plenty of articles on thisMany of them talk about this as a millennial issue. Millennials have no respect, think everything is about them, disrespect language, etc. But this is not a generational issue.

Let me repeat: this is not a generational issue. 

    I started collage at the end on the 90’s. The internet was alive and…slow. Very slow. Home access was not yet common. Colleges had just started providing students with intexplemails (often their first ever), but no one really used them. And you know what? Professors still got addressed “Hey!” (in person!),  still got complaints about grades, and still got positively terrible papers (oh, yeah, some of those papers were even handwritten. Crazy.)

    So why do we see so much of this today? Email is fast, you don’t have to drive to campus or look up office hours. And, now professors (and lowly TAs and grad instructors) can keep a record of the rude, obnoxious, and downright uneducated things students send them. I (a millennial, at least technically) have been appalled by students email manners and lack of care regarding their own education. So have my younger (firmly millennial) colleagues. I have also, on unfortunately more than a singular occasion, been appalled by professors’ emails. I and most of my (firmly millennial) graduate peers actually tend towards over-formality, for fear of committing these blunders.

    So what do we do? We educate. We set guidelines. We instruct. We set good examples. We teach.