"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Passion and professing and blogging


 Jarred awake by a student comment on a course evaluation, Coffee with Clark has perked up this month, gaining some off the highest number of readers in its almost four-year history.
If you don't know, professors are evaluated every semester by students at UCO, with a lofty sounding survey pronounced "spee," from the acronym, SPIE ("Student Perception of Instructional Effectiveness").
Students rank us on 13 questions,  rating us on a scale of 1 up to 4. We have standards in our department and college that we should meet--called a "Dashboard, " and most of the ratings should be in the mid threes. Most of mine are, or a little higher. On the back of the surveys, they're allowed to make comments.
Here are the things we're evaluated on:
      1. Instructor available outside of class 
      2. Syllabus covered course essentials
      3. Critical thinking encouraged
      4. Variety of instructional formats used 
      5. Instructional methods facilitated understanding
      6. Asking questions was encouraged
      7. Constructive answers given to questions
      8. Working in groups encouraged
      9. Writing required in this course 
      10. Timely notice of grading criteria 
      11. Instructor feedback helpful 
      12. Class time used well 
      13. High academic standards set by instructor.
My lowest rankings, not quite at 3.5 are 2, (because I vary from the syllabus); 8, (because my classes don't lend themselves to that all the time, though I'm working on that); and 10,  (because I'm not very punctual and hate grading).
Good professors pay attention to these things, looking for trends, trying to improve. I think you can throw out the very bad ones and gushy ones, other than letting them stroke your ego if you wish. There is no relation between grades and hardness on these ratings, but there is if you treat students badly or are egotistical or unprepared. And of course those faculty never pay attention to the ratings. I look for trends and scan the remarks they can give on the back of the "instrument" as we inflatingly call it, like almost everything else in higher ed.

But one of the comments on the back of my evaluations from last fall jarred me. The student used a word I couldn't ignore, or pass over: "Passionate."  You can see it on the item on this post. I try to instill passion in my students and teach with it, because I think it is the key to success in a increasingly mediocre world.
My blogging had withered like  our land in the drought in the fall, almost somnolent, hibernating with only a couple of posts a month.
So the fact that this blog is back from four months of meager postings, is due to a perceptive and honest student in my blogging class. I'm teaching Blogging for Journalists again, and, in my world, you have to be able to do what you teach to have any validity and impact on students. 
You can argue that these evaluations don't make much difference, and students often feel that way. And in some ways, for a tenured professor, they don't, if the professor doesn't care and just manages to get by. That's one of the faults of tenure, but that's another issue.
There's another evaluation that can really be brutal, and students wanting to know about a professor ahead of time, use this all over the country: Rate My Professors.com  ratemyprofessors.com
Plug in the state and school, and you can find how students view professors. Again, the bad professors ignore these comments, and the good ones probably look at them to boost egos. If you're really liked by students, they'll award you with a red chili pepper, as a "Hottie." They're not foolproof as I know of at least one poor professor who got students to rank them high to offset all the bad ones, or perhaps wrote the glowing ones him/herself. I don't have many ratings compared to those that teach large section classes, and I suspect poor professors get more ratings than most of us.
I think the best evaluations come when I ask students every semester how to improve the classes for future students. I get a lot of good ideas, and the students are direct. It seems to me that's what "passionate" is about.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect that you are a demanding and popular professor. I like your attitude toward the evaluations. Honest feedback is very hard to get.

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