Monthly Archives: December 2008

Baruch at its best – on YouTube!

It’s December 22nd and you’re up to your ears in grading (right?) The good, the bad, the 4-and-a-half paragraph essay revealing a student’s ability to resell her textbook in “perfect” condition on Amazon… It’s that time of year again. But this year has a new twist…

Kyra Gaunt and her Anthro 1001 class created a video that reminded me why I love our students (even when they don’t remember the difference between a change agent and an opinion leader on an exam)…

The subject of the soon-to-be-viral video is “What can $199US buy?” The goal is to get other faculty and students on-board to raise money for children who need it. The 4-minute video is beautifully assembled and features a typical class of Baruch students – hailing from Cote d’Ivoire to the Philippines.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/QSWu6CLVL6Y" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

You’ll learn where $199 can buy building materials for four houses (hint: it’s not Florida, though I hear you can buy four houses…) and what you and your students can do to experience the “priceless” joy of “giving a child access to the world.”

Once you’ve watched the video, you can…

1. Engage this semester’s students in the project – send the video link around as you distribute grades (OK – maybe only with the good grades), forward it to your favorite student club leaders, etc.

2. Get involved as an individual – donate yourself, forward the video to colleagues, give to your favorite charity to celebrate whatever holiday you celebrate (or to celebrate not having to celebrate holidays at all!)

3. Plan for next semester – Kyra and her students want the spirit of giving continue. What better way to get our students thinking about the value of their own educations than to encourage them to “give back” to less privileged individuals!

4. Talk to your colleagues – Many of us have favorite educational charities (not surprisingly, mine are in Rwanda!). Follow Kyra’s lead and engage your colleagues in the same sorts of discussions about what $199 buys… What a great way to start the New Year!

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The Retrospective Essay as a Course Evaluation Tool

In addition to the official end-of-semester course evaluation, I like to ask my students to write a self-reflective “retrospective essay” about what they have learned and how they have experienced the course. For example, here’s the prompt I use for English 2100 (Writing I):

Please take some time to write in response to the following questions: What aspects of the course have worked well for you? What’s missing or could be improved? What is the biggest change in your writing—or your understanding of writing—since the beginning of the semester, and how are you feeling about it? What specific goals do you set for yourself going forward and how do you plan to achieve them?

I don’t grade or necessarily even comment on these—part of their usefulness is that they are not formal or “official” in any way—but I do count them toward the students’ participation grade. The responses are always interesting and usually fun to read. Students are remarkably honest, and I’ve had several tell me that they were surprised at how much came up for them in this exercise and how much they appreciated it.

As an informal self-evaluation, the assignment gives students a chance to reflect on their progress—to pause and evaluate what has happened for them during the course of the semester, and to articulate for themselves what they still need to work on and/or do in terms of process.

But from a course-evaluation perspective, there are several clear benefits for instructors, too: The responses are content- and course-specific, so I can tell if a particular teaching strategy or tool (the draft workshop, one-on-one conference, outside writing groups, etc.) is having the desired result. Also, the evaluative categories are student-generated, so what rises to the surface in these pieces is often very telling and helps me tailor future iterations of the course in content-specific ways. (I do this exercise at midterm, too, which gives me the chance to address any issues or concerns while the students are still in my course.)

This isn’t just for writing courses, either. There’s the pedagogic value of students writing about course material in their own words, reinforcing what has been learned, giving them a sense of progress, and creating an opportunity for them to take ownership of their goals and produce a game plan for future work in any discipline. Informal writing has been shown to help students learn—and remember—course content.

Another thing I ask students to do at the very end of the term is to write a brief letter to the next semester’s class about their experience over the course of the term and anything they wish they knew at the start that they know now. I then share these with my new classes, either by including outtakes on my syllabus or reading selections aloud in one of the early sessions the following semester.

These techniques don’t replace the official evaluation form, of course, but they do help give me another view into what students are learning and how they’re feeling about the course.

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Pondering Teaching Evaluations

Elisabeth Gareis recently raised a question regarding student evaluations of our courses, which prompted me to write this. But her post doesn’t have “evaluations” in its title, and so I’m making a new post of this, rather than simply commenting on Elisabeth’s, in order to draw attention to the matter of evaluations.

I take a deep breath and write that I find I have deep and progressively more distressing doubts about the worth and efficacy of teaching evaluations, at least as they exist at Baruch College. There, I’ve said it.

I lay no claim to having systematically studied Baruch’s evaluations as a whole. But I carefully scrutinize every evaluation of every member of my department every term, and as a member of the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ Personnel and Budget Committee I see the evaluations of every member of the arts and sciences faculty who comes before the committee for personnel actions, including reappointments, tenure and promotion, and sabbaticals. I’m probably as familiar with the college’s teaching evaluation patterns as anyone. And among the things I see are several consistent tendencies that trouble me. Trouble, as in “Why do we put so much emphasis on such imperfect instruments.” Let me quickly note that I wish the college paid a whole lot more attention to the importance of teaching in tenure and promotion processes than it does; what I’m talking about here are the evaluations, not the teaching. And, because this is a blog, I’m not going to go into detail; I’m merely pointing out some of the issues that concern me.

First, it is my considered opinion that our evaluation format serves primarily as a popularity contest. Because I’ve observed all my faculty (except some of the very newest GTFs and adjuncts) in the classroom, I have a sense of the relationship between what I can actually see of their skills and how students rate them. There is some consistency at the lower end, I think; people who are in my opinion less than skilled teachers do tend to get lower ratings, but I’m not sure there’s a strong correlation here. What I do find consistently, though, is that nice guys tend to finish first. I’ve seen accomplished teachers get lower scores because of their personalities. And I’ve seen at least one colleague consistently receive 5.0s while teaching not much differently than anyone else in our department. I have come to the conclusion that students tend to rate their profs by how much they like them, not by how skillful or effective their teaching is.

(more…)

Posted in Student Participation, Uncategorized | 21 Comments

A for Content . . . F for Form

It’s term paper time. Actually, it was time last week for term paper drafts in two of my classes. Unfortunately, six students had draft grades below 50 (three below 40). The thing is: Their papers were actually quite good with respect to content. The students had clearly conducted their research and presented interesting information and analyses. But the papers had 50 or more errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, citations, and reference formatting.

The drafts were supposed to be proofread and in decent shape. The students knew that they can gain back only half the subtracted points through revisions. I also encouraged students to show me their drafts before submitting them to catch problems early on. None of the six students did. They also didn’t go to the Writing Center, although I reminded them several times of its existence. (more…)

Posted in Students' Skills and Abilities | 6 Comments