Monthly Archives: October 2010

Mid-semester Feedback

Because we use a paper system, instructors do not receive student feedback until well past the end of the semester.  At this point it is too late to address any issues.  So, I decided to create a mid-semester survey and upload it to Blackboard.  Student participation was voluntary and anonymous.  I asked general questions, as well as questions centered around the goals from my Teaching Philosophy statement: creating a safe learning environment and helping students to learn to think critically.

Results: With all but a handful participating, my ratings were really good in almost all areas.  Not nearly as many students as I expected thought I taught them critical thinking.  Either they do not understand the concept in the same way I do, or my portrayal of it is too subtle.  Perhaps I need to be more covert.  Another consideration is that perhaps in some courses critical thinking is less important than in others.  But, in a career development course, it is of some  importance.  Students praised me for my timely responses, and reported that my energy made the classes fun.  I was not surprised about the timely feedback comment, as I am somewhat obsessive about checking and returning emails.  But, the energy comment surprised me a little bit.  People say that I am energetic, but I do not feel energetic.  I just feel like me.  A little less of me, actually, since this is a night class and I am NOT a night person.

Another comment that surprised me was that not all of them gave me top marks in being prepared.  Most of them did, but some rated me as less than 100% prepared.  This puzzles me.  And I completely disagree.  I pride myself on being both on-time and prepared.  Perhaps it is because career counseling is not my domain, and so sometimes during lectures I would need to refer to my notes, or I may pause at certain points trying to think of what I wanted to say.  I should have added a free-form comment area on this question so I would understand why they felt that way.  Actually, there were a few questions I wish I had added a free-form area so that students could explain their answer.

The students also reported that they did not like having feedback about their sessions public.  My initial idea was to email them privately, but the professor of record wanted them to be posted publicly so that others could benefit.  Therefore, I felt a bit validated by the student’s comments.  Next time, I will provide feedback privately, and more general feedback publicly.  I did create a YouTube of general feedback, but I need to check the views on it to see how many watched it.

I highly recommend doing some sort of mid-semester evaluation, even if it is as simple as having students spend the last 5 minutes of class writing a paragraph about what they like and don’t like.  You’ll have time to correct things that aren’t working, and you’ll get confirmation about what you think is working.

Update on 12/18/12: I continue to do mid-semester evaluations in all of my classes, with the exception of the last class I co-taught, Trends and Principles of the Counseling Profession, because the professor of record believed in processing student’s reactions in class, so having a separate forum was unnecessary. 


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Going Old School

Tonight I went retro.  Tired of PowerPoint slides, I took to the board with my dry erase markers.  I was a little anxious about this, because for the first time the students would not have lecture notes posted to Blackboard, and, (horrors!) they will HAVE TO TAKE NOTES.  And, worse, this is right on the tail of receiving their mid-semester feedback, which included a few comments to the affect of wanting MORE text in the presentation, not LESS.  But, I listened to my gut instead of my head, because I knew that the type of information I was presenting was better suited to a more interactive, explanatory style.  I was going to explain basic statistical concepts to career counseling students.  I just didn’t see how a zen PowerPoint was going to cut it.

So they wouldn’t think I had ignored their feedback, I made sure to explain before my lecture that this material would be better explained verbally.

Results: The statistical and math concepts went well.  I was able to draw, stop, talk, ask, explain and draw again.  Once I filled up the board, rather than erase and write again I decided to present the rest of the information verbally.  Unfortunately students kept asking “is that under #1?”  See, I was describing the steps for deciding on an instrument.  Because I knew the material well, and a lot of it is common sense to me, I didn’t focus on the organizational level of the information, but rather presented it in order and connected the ideas.  I think part of the problem here is that because of my experience, I don’t see this information as strictly linear, but since my students are new at this, they do.  Lesson learned.  Next time I will either use a transparency or outline it in the board.  And I will not assume my students share my conceptual background.

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Feedback on the Feedback

In the graduate level career development course I am co-teaching we provided feedback on the students’ counseling sessions.  Some feedback was provided individually (when requested), face-to-face in a group format, online (via Elluminate) in a group format, and online via discussion board posts.  I wanted to know two things: 1) which format was preferred; and 2) what specific feedback they received that was most helpful.  Rather than just call on people, we had a bag of lollipops, each with a student name attached.  A student selected a lollipop out of the bag, then read the student’s name that was attached.  Then, that student shared their feedback.  When they were done, that student then selected another lollipop, and so on.  In addition to making sure each student shared feedback, we were also able to take attendance (the lollipops still in the bag were the absent students), and finish learning student names (with a student calling the name, it didn’t look like we were searching for the student ourselves).

Results: The activity went very well, and the students were engaged and interested.  One student didn’t want to take a lollipop, which threw me off for a moment because I wasn’t expecting that.  So instead I just had her pick one, read the name, and give it back.  The students seemed very comfortable because they shared feedback that made them seem more vulnerable, personal feedback about a bad habit they had, ie. a nervous stutter, as opposed to more general feedback such as “I got new ideas about which instruments to use.”  We praised the students for taking risks, and explained to them that these were all areas for improvement, rather than an indication that they were terrible career counselors.

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The PowerPoint dilemma

I just finished reading a book called “presentationzen.”  Basically the idea is to have little or no text, but to include a picture or graphic that communicates your ideas.  Reading a lot of text on a slide can be very distracting when the presenter is talking.  The “zen” idea was to eliminate all that so that your audience can just focus on what you are saying, using the picture as an aid.  Well.  Students aren’t so crazy about this.  Despite me posting a separate document with all of my lecture notes they are still saying there isn’t enough detail on the slides.  I can understand wanting more detail in the slides because it is easier to put the information into context.  Yet…what is wrong with making them take notes?  Why can’t they just write down what they are hearing?  One student suggested adding notes to each slide, so I may try that.

Update on 12/18/12: After teaching several classes, the style I have settled on is part Zen, part not.  Generally, I have minimum bullet points, and I add visuals to enhance the information.  The bullet points serve both to outline the important concepts, as well as trigger my own memory as to what might be important but obscure pieces of data.  This also means I no longer need lecture notes, so I don’t have to look down and read anything while I am talking.  Because my style is to walk around a lot when I am teaching, this allows for better flow, since I’m not fumbling with paper as I am teaching.

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Ball Toss Activity

This semester, in our master’s level Career Development class, rather than use a textbook, we are having the students research articles on various topics.   The students like it, because they can research what they find to be of interest.  The challenge has been how to discuss their findings in class.  We started out by allowing them to share, and although we specified “briefly,” it was anything but.  Then, I came up with two ideas:

1.  Do a “ball toss” activity.  The students form a circle, then toss a ball to each other.  Whomever has the ball shares one sentence from their article.  They then toss the ball to another classmate who hasn’t shared yet.

Reaction: The activity went really well, although the students struggled to come up with just one sentence.  Discussed next time allowing them two or three sentences.

2. Allow them to interrupt me in my lecture to share the findings of their article.

Reaction: This also went well.  The positives were that their sharing was relevant to the current discussion, so it flowed better.  The negatives were that there is  no elegant way to figure out who has shared and who hasn’t.


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