One thing that’s really killing the OP in her reviews, i think, is the nature of the reviews themselves. I teach college-level history, and i have friends who teach in public and private universities all over the United States, and one real problem is that more and schools are moving to a system whereby filling out evaluations is optional, and is done online or through some sort of individual submission system.
As the OP realizes, this means that you really don’t get a representative sample from your classes. You tend to get the super-keeners, and the malcontents, just like on ridiculous web-based evaluation services like RateMyProfessors. Those are the only students who are going to eat into their own good time in order to fill out an evaluation. If you distribute evaluations in class, and allocate class time for the students to fill them out, there is no reason for students not to complete them, and you get a much better sense of how the class as a whole really went.
There are still malcontents, and there are still plenty of students who seem to have a very depressing view of education, but at least the evaluations will be a better reflection of all students’ opinions.
Another problem, and one that might contribute to criticisms like those received by the OP, is the fact that many students seem to evaluate classes not by how much they learned, nor by how rigorous the requirements were (often the opposite, in fact), but by how much you entertain them. Entertainment and diversion seem to be valued over actual education by many students, and anything that forces them to tax themselves is often graded very harshly on evaluations.
I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t try to make our classes interesting, but we shouldn’t do this at the expense of content and intellectual rigor, which is what some students seem to expect. For me, the history that i’m teaching is inherently interesting—it is full of fascinating stories and outrageous people and infuriating episodes—but many students don’t seem to have much interest in the material itself.
This is especially true in required classes, where you will often have a lot of students who don’t really want to be there, but who have to take the class for their major, or for some general requirement. One of the classes i’ve been teaching is required for students in a particular major, and i consistently get my least positive evaluations in that class; others in my department have reported exactly the same thing.
If my students, particularly the ones in the required class, told me to show “more enthusiasm,” my response would be, “You first!” Because many of these students don’t do the required reading each week, make no effort to participate in class discussions, and sit there for an hour either with a dead-behind-the-eyes look on their faces, or text-messaging on their cellphones. In each class, it’s almost always six or eight keen, motivated, interested, and engaged students who really make the whole thing work.
This leads to another problem in course evaluations. In talking about the format of the class, two of the most frequent comments i get are “Too much reading” and “Lectures are too long.” Anyone see the problem here? I try to set enough reading to allow for extensive and interesting class discussion, but if no-one will actually read the assigned texts, and come to class ready to discuss them, it’s a bit hard to have a lively class discussion. In such cases, i’m left with little option but to lecture. This isn’t grade school, so i’m not going to pass out cardboard and glue and ask them to build a model of Fort Sumter, or make a poster about Pearl Harbor. This is a university-level history class, and we’re supposed to be dealing with ideas, and the way you do that is to read about them and talk about them.
Two of my favorite student comments exemplify the gap between faculty ideals and students expectations. The comments were both designed as criticisms, but i took them as high compliments:
“Class was always about a debate or an arguable point. History should be about what happened and the facts.”
“This felt like a critical thinking class rather than a history class.”
Comments like this make me unsure whether to feel or :smack: or .