Things I Know 362 of 365: Education bought a round of bad evaluations for the house

Nice! Compulsory feedback #fail

– Gary Stager

To register next semester, I (along with all other Harvard ED School students) were required to complete our Fall term course evaluations. One would imagine signing off on the student loan promissory note was enough to get the job done, but it turns out telling others how they did their job is one of those fine-print requirements.

I’m of a mixed mind about the process.

To not see the erosion of validity in mandatory course evaluations, I’d have to be blind.

Then again, my answers were truthful and honest, but I’d likely never have completed the evaluations if left to my own post-semester devices.

Realizing this puzzle, I’ve been trying to think of possible alternatives.

Evaluations for two of my classes were particularly frustrating because I’d been keeping a mental list all semester of comments and compliments about what worked and what didn’t. I’d been waiting for the chance to offer feedback. When the chance came, though, I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say. I remembered bits and pieces, but completing course work and getting assignments down on the page throughout the semester had taken precedence over keeping a running evaluative journal.

For another course, I wanted more than text boxes could provide. I wanted the chance to sit with the professor and say, “I know you’re brilliant. I know you understand more about this field than I can probably ever hope to understand. I’ve got a little game of my own when it comes to teaching. Maybe we could help each other out?”

I dig wordsmithing, but I just couldn’t find a way to put that sentiment judiciously in a course evaluation.

My thinking on course evaluations at any level runs parallel to my thinking on single-scoop standardized testing. The bulk of the work has been done, and the feedback is supposed to paint a picture of the learning and teaching as a whole. It just doesn’t work. Evaluations need not be mandated if they are meaningful to those on either end.

If students benefit from frequent and multi-faceted feedback, it stands to reason the same could be said of teachers.

It could be as simple as, “What would you keep, and what would you change from today’s lesson?” or “What are two things you would have done to make today’s class better?”

Not only would such thinking model a willingness for improvement, but taking the feedback seriously would likely improve the level of instruction in the class as well.

Few things are as lonely as those few moments after a class of students has walked out the door and a teacher is left in the vacuum between the lesson that has just concluded and the next lesson to be planned.

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