Dear Universities,

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Ixtellor
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Dear Universities,

Postby Ixtellor » Wed May 29, 2013 6:16 pm UTC

As a high school teacher, I request that you ignore the pressure from American society, government, and interest groups to increase your graduation rates.
You are the last bastion of accountability. Your clientele are adults. Your clientele are cognatively, legally, and morally obliged to accept responsibility for their actions. Furthermore, you have no reason to feel pressure from parents, as attending college is a privledge not a legal right. A college degree should mean something. It is your obligation to weed out those students who do not possess the intellect, work ethic, or ethics commensurate with the recognition of a college degree. The pressure you feel to graduate more students is just a guise for grade inflation and rewarding the undeserving.
We have enough of that in America. Too many people have an inflated sense of confidence based not on achievement but on entitlement.

While many of us are fighting the fight in K-12, many more will succomb to the pressure of granting credit where none is due. Does little Johnny really deserve to not graduate just because he plagiarized his final paper? Especially when you factor in his troubled home life, the pressure of playing sports and school, the fact he promises he learned his lesson, and lastly that he is only 17 years old(basically a child)?

Weed them out. Teach them that cheating has consequences. Teach them that life has consequences. In K-12 we coddle them, maybe even rightly so because they are kids.
But in college, you are dealing with adults. And they need to get a big dose of reality.
The battle is lost at the lower levels, and please do not let the infection spread to higher education. We need you to teach accountability and have a level of standards that clearly differentiate between the deserving and people good at making excuses.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Thu May 30, 2013 2:09 pm UTC

Summary: "I can't teach my classes the way I want, could you teach your classes the way I want?"
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu May 30, 2013 2:39 pm UTC

As a graduate student who frequently comes face to face with undergrads at an institution I would pretty heartily describe as 'privileged', as an individual who screwed up in undergrad and paid the consequences for it, I fully, 100%, absolutely agree with Ixtellor here. This is not a gripe about him not getting his way, this is a gripe about a serious and obnoxious issue plaguing many, if not the majority of our institutions of higher learning.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Ixtellor » Thu May 30, 2013 5:00 pm UTC

doogly wrote:Summary: "I can't teach my classes the way I want, could you teach your classes the way I want?"


Absolutely NOT.

I teach all AP classes and have a long trackrecord of success and competency, thus I have the ability to 100% hold students accountable. Worst case scenario is a students drops my class and moves to a lower level.

Summary: High school education doesnt' hold much value for a variety of factors that would take me 500 pages to explain. Now a huge number of these students are going to college, and the pressure that destroyed the value of a high school diploma is beginning to infect college. They need to resist. They basically only have political pressure to contend with, and are in a far better position to withstand the onslaught of devolutionary forces than the high schools are equipped to deal with.

This is not to say a student can not receive a great education in a public high school. The key is to take all the higher level classes. AP, Honors, Dual credit, etc.
These are the students who fully deserve to get into and graduate college.
Other students in lower classes are capable of college, but they are mixed in with a TON of noncapable students --- and we need the colleges to differentiate by not submitting to political pressure to dumb down their coursework --- of which the pressure is getting bigger every year.

Mega brief, but expanded details.
Spoiler:
I am talking about High school in general where is basically impossible to fail if a student is willing to put forth any effort. Additionally, students are only accountable to the lowest common denominator.
Many teachers are scared to fail students or decide it is not worth the effort, especially if the student has enabling parents.

The students understand the game and many will take full advantage of all the factors in their favor.

A smart student could complete their entire senior year in a week if they know 'the game'. So for the actual school year, they can goof off, text, clown, and basically do any non-felony thing they want.


Generic Scenario that illustrates the problem:
Spoiler:
Scenario: You are a bright eyed first year teacher. Thus you get stuck teaching regular freshman classes. You think "I'm not going to dumb down anything and give them challenging tests that require them to master the content.".

You assign a test, non of the students study, and most of the class fails.
Whose fault is it? The teachers.
Did you follow every students individual learning plan? You see half of your students have unique rules you have to follow when teaching and/or assessing them.
If you can't prove that you did everything required by law for that individual student, then you can't justify failing them.

(Typical requirements: extra time, must sit in the front row, only has to get 70% correct for full credit, documentation you addressed issues in class, parental contact, instructional specialist contact, provide opportunities to leave class, retests, mandatory tutoring [even if they don't show up], reduced options on tests, reduced questions on test, more space on test, lower reading level on test, oral administration on test, small group test [no more than 5 students present during time of test], no due dates )

So the teacher thinks, "I will reteach this material and get everyone up to speed".
State cirriculum guides require you to move to the next section. Additionally, there is a state benchmark test coming up in 4 weeks and you are required to cover 8 full chapters by then, so any time spent reteaching, is just subtracting from other content you have to cover by law, and your students are going to be state/district tested over.

Here is a real option you might be faced with. Create 45 versions of the same test and then be willing to have 40 hours worth of meetings, and another 40 hours worth of paperwork justifying your test question choices and grading practices

OR

write a really dumbed down version of the test that the least motivated and lowest intellectually capable student can pass.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Thu May 30, 2013 5:26 pm UTC

Ahhh. "I can teach my classes the way I want, but I'm worried that the stupids are getting diplomas by taking the classes I'm not forced to teach. Can you make sure to tell them they are stupid and immoral?"
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Ixtellor » Thu May 30, 2013 5:43 pm UTC

doogly wrote:Ahhh. "I can teach my classes the way I want, but I'm worried that the stupids are getting diplomas by taking the classes I'm not forced to teach. Can you make sure to tell them they are stupid and immoral?"


Ok, I see your intent on making this about me and what a horrible, jaded, teacher I am.

How about instead, you explain your insight/relevant experience and why you feel an American high school education is a valuable commodity based on merit, and why Universities should increase their graduation rates to accomodate all of these outstanding students being produced at the High school level.

You know, a response that looks more like a reasoned position and less like trolling.

Here is a link to what I am talking about.
http://www.statesman.com/news/news/texa ... uat/nWSDt/
Texas flagships race to increase four-year graduation rates


This is going to result in grade inflation and reducing merit, based on what I have seen at the high school level over a long and successful career.
(or as you would say "a horrible, pathetic, jaded, cry baby teacher with nothing to contribute" --- coincidently that is exactly how all conservatives react)
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu May 30, 2013 6:49 pm UTC

Doogly, I don't think you're being reasonable here. Aren't or weren't you a graduate student?

At my university, which is not a crappy university, students have decided that triple or quadruple majoring is a wise decision, because the university encourages such a practice by absurdly overlapping the major/minor requirements. Bio majors can also major in chemistry by taking ~2 extra classes. Want a physics minor? Take two more classes!

This isn't a fabricated issue; the professors I work with are terribly frustrated with this system, a system that was encouraged in no small way by parents, paying inordinate amounts of money for their children's education, and wanting to see 'results', which are easily filled by having Junior brag about their multiple-subject degree. The position of the faculty is that it does the students a disservice.

For serious Doogly, you should consider this point; American Universities are in large part influenced by the business model that supports them, and it makes for poor business if you kick students out or don't rope in their siblings. Many colleges have become not a place for adults to go learn, but for high school graduates to safely continue their educational adolescence, with no promise of employment or guidance or skill acquisition in the process. The quip about Harvard being the worlds most prestigious hedge fund and dating service underline this nicely.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Thu May 30, 2013 7:10 pm UTC

I was! I finished! I win!

I'm not saying universities have no problems, I'm just saying Ixxy and his attitude are going into the "part of the problem" column.

Really HSs just seem to send me students sorted by standardized tests, whether SATs or APs or state things or what have you, and I just have to spend some time telling them that HS was useless. Fortunately for me they are all sort of receptive to this message. Though there is a little friction from the students who did well, and are now being told that all of their accomplishments were in meaningless bubble filling, or mathematical problem solving that was about as sophisticated as a soduko puzzle. But, for the most part, they can tell HS was a sham. It's actually nice, it's a cheap way for me to build a rapport with them.

But seriously seriously, if students respond to your adverse incentives in a rational way, don't call that "unethical." If you can't change a system, don't blame the students for it. They didn't pick it.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu May 30, 2013 7:16 pm UTC

doogly wrote:But seriously seriously, if students respond to your adverse incentives in a rational way, don't call that "unethical." If you can't change a system, don't blame the students for it. They didn't pick it.
Which is why I think Ixtellor was telling universities, not students, to get their shit together.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Thu May 30, 2013 7:22 pm UTC

The shit he wanted universities to get together was the shit of sorting students according to some value system he had in mind. Some ideas about students. I am unpacking some of his attitudes. And then to help me feel extra confident in my unpacking, we have lovely references to the horrors that are the "lower classes." Ye gods.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Adam H » Thu May 30, 2013 7:28 pm UTC

doogly wrote:The shit he wanted universities to get together was the shit of sorting students according to some value system he had in mind. Some ideas about students. I am unpacking some of his attitudes. And then to help me feel extra confident in my unpacking, we have lovely references to the horrors that are the "lower classes." Ye gods.
I have no idea what you are responding to, but it is nothing on this thread.

Me and my kind (early 2000's undergrads) were horrible University students. Absolutely horrible. No one put in a single ounce of effort. Cheating was rampant. And everyone got a degree.

I agree with Ixtellor that the solution is simple: tell students that if they don't want to be in college, they don't get to be in college, and then follow through on that promise.
-Adam

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Thu May 30, 2013 7:43 pm UTC

I did a deconstructing of text. It is a thing good university students learn how to do : )

Oh man but this is actually a great idea, I am going to embed an audio of "I Want You To Want Me" into my future syllabi. I love that song, this is perfect.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Ixtellor » Thu May 30, 2013 7:50 pm UTC

doogly wrote:I But seriously seriously, if students respond to your adverse incentives in a rational way, don't call that "unethical." If you can't change a system, don't blame the students for it. They didn't pick it.


I have never blamed the students : they are reacting rationally to the incentive system they have.

Other than trolling, I have no idea what your trying to accomplish.

doogly wrote:The shit he wanted universities to get together was the shit of sorting students according to some value system he had in mind.


Not once did I ever suggest that.
I just want colleges to judge students on merit and I do not want them to succumb to pressure to lower merit to achieve higher graduation status. That has been my consistant message, that you insist on twisting to achieve your own agenda.

That is High School --- remove merit, to increase graduation rates.

doogly wrote:I am unpacking some of his attitudes.


No, your injecting your own perverse interpretation of my attitudes.

And then to help me feel extra confident in my unpacking, we have lovely references to the horrors that are the "lower classes." Ye gods


Here is are the 'classes' I was talking about:
English IV AP/Dual Credit
English IV AP
English IV Honors
English IV

By lower classes, I was not referring to humans or socioeconmic status. I mean a less rigorous class, as in "lower standards".

If you think its bigoted to differentiate between a regular English IV cirriculum and an English IV AP/Dual cirriculum then, we will agree to disagree. But any rudimentary look at the publically available requirements would prove me correct.

doogly wrote:I did a deconstructing of text. It is a thing good university students learn how to do : )


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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Internetmeme » Sat Jun 01, 2013 3:06 am UTC

doogly wrote:The shit he wanted universities to get together was the shit of sorting students according to some value system he had in mind. Some ideas about students. I am unpacking some of his attitudes. And then to help me feel extra confident in my unpacking, we have lovely references to the horrors that are the "lower classes." Ye gods.


That's not really what I got out of the OP. He just said that universities shouldn't be afraid to fail students that don't put forth the effort, and I agree with him there.

I also agree with you that high school was pretty much a waste of time. In the end, getting into college with a full scholarship came down to studying for a sufficient score on the ACT, and making A's without studying because the material was so watered down. The real fun (and this isn't sarcastic; it was actually fun) started in my freshman year when:
1) The amount actually mattered to the grade you received
2) Professors had a greater amount of control over the content of their course, as well as a greater amount of authority in the class
3) People paid attention because they weren't being forced to be there
and 4) It wasn't the same material that had been re-hashed ad nauseum for the previous decade of school

doogly wrote:Oh man but this is actually a great idea, I am going to embed an audio of "I Want You To Want Me" into my future syllabi. I love that song, this is perfect.

I would take a class taught by you, just because of that.
Spoiler:

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Dark Avorian » Thu Jun 06, 2013 4:25 pm UTC

I'd point out that part of this can be correlated with a tendency towards using more and more adjunct professors, non-professor instructors, and others whose job security is vulnerable and less linked to research than to instruction. While there is certainly some value to having people accountable for the quality of their instruction, this can lead to the pressures you are talking about. A tenured professor, or even an associate who is more valued for their research, has much more leeway in their treatment of students.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:12 pm UTC

You're not accountable to the quality of your instruction as an adjunct, you're accountable to course evals. Lordy lordy, how useless those are.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Dark Avorian » Thu Jun 06, 2013 9:27 pm UTC

Not entirely true. Evaluations have served me as a good way to see how potential profs are as teachers during registration. Further, I definitely appreciate a chance to give feedback, especially if it will hep future students know what they're taking.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:29 pm UTC

Are you a student? You precious child, your opinions are worthless.
I'm sure the chance to fill them out sounds meaningful, but whenever any actual research is done to attempt to correlate the average evaluation scores assigned to a professor by students at semester end to, say, scores on a common final, or to performance in the next course (eg, calc 2 after calc 1) their futility is manifest. But, as you say, the students enjoy the opportunity, and the customer is always right.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Dark Avorian » Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:13 am UTC

doogly wrote:Are you a student? You precious child, your opinions are worthless.
I'm sure the chance to fill them out sounds meaningful, but whenever any actual research is done to attempt to correlate the average evaluation scores assigned to a professor by students at semester end to, say, scores on a common final, or to performance in the next course (eg, calc 2 after calc 1) their futility is manifest. But, as you say, the students enjoy the opportunity, and the customer is always right.


Is that tone truly necessary? I'll trust you and the science that any attempt at quantitative evaluation via evaluations is unhelpful. To be sure, every numerical portion of an evaluation I've ever filled out has been pointless, I barely know how to evaluate a professor on vaguely phrased questions scored from 1-5.

However, as I mentioned before, I genuinely think that professor evaluations help students at my school to choose professors who fit them better.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:41 am UTC

It might help you to choose someone you find more pleasant; it demonstrably does not help you choose professors that teach the material or improve your capacity for critical thought more effectively. Student evaluations are right in line with the mission of collecting your tuition and causing the least amount of fuss.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Dopefish » Fri Jun 07, 2013 6:09 am UTC

It's nice to hear someone who apparently knows how useful they actually are bad mouth them, as I got into a habit of not even bothering with them unless the professor was spectacularly bad/good (more so the former, since the latter ones were probably already tenured).



I've never really viewed schooling/university marks as reliable indicators of intelligence regardless of how hard the marking is. Nearly everyone seems to cram a metric butt ton the night(s) before a test/exam and may well ace things, and then a week later they'll be clueless about the same material. To me, that's practically as bad as cheating, since exams are supposed to test what you've learned, not what you crammed into short term memory (imo anyway).

I'm not sure the system works in a way that is good at differentiating learning from memorizing, and I don't think cracking down on folks for not delivering would help things.

Spoilered for personal anecdotes
Spoiler:
For what it's worth, I'm one of the people who completely abused the state of the K-12 system and very very rarely did my homework/projects, because once I had proved to myself I'd learned the material I didn't feel like wasting my time doing more problems/projects for the sake of a fairly meaningless number (which was typically super inflated from tests anyway). I'm inclined to think that the fairly loose requirements allowed me to be more casual about my work and actually focus on learning things, instead of ending up like some of my peers who were always freaking out about getting perfect scores for the sake of scholarships or whatever, often at the expense of actually learning.

The top student of my year in university probably attended about half of her classes if even that, and spent most of her time playing cards in the physics lounge, as opposed to doing crazy cramming studyfest/assignments. I was number two overall, and was frequently playing with her. Number three overall was someone who actually did take the more traditional approach of always studying tons and attending every class, and would actually break down and cry if he didn't understand the material well enough to complete an assignment (much to the great discomfort of those around him) because he was worried about failing. The thing is, #1 and I would always endeavor to make sure we did indeed actually understand the material, even if it wasn't always via means that'd give us credit (so convincing ourselves answers actually made sense, instead of convincing ourselves that the work was correct). The existence of various solution manuals which are unlikely to be officially condoned was certainly known to us, and I would imagine that if they were acquired they would have been used to greatly accelerate the process of doing assignments. I would also imagine that the discovery of solutions that differ from what one thought was correct can be an extremely good catalyst for figuring out why the given solution is actually correct (or better yet, for figuring out the error in the book solution).

I really believe that #1 and I probably learned the most knowledge that will actually stick with us, despite having completely horrible work ethics and general approaches to university, to the point that if someone was blinded to our marks they'd probably expect us to be failing. #3 on the other hand, I question their ability to retain things, not to mention they were a tragic stress ball throughout university. I worry strict adherence to failing people for all infractions or low end marks would create an army of #3's who aren't actually learning a lot, where the slightly slacker approach in part allowed folks like myself and #1 to thrive and actually learn a lot more than I think we would have otherwise.


I suppose part of the issue relates to what the goal of university actually is. I think it's widely regarded as something to further prepare you for entry into the workforce, but what exactly that means depends on who you ask. On one hand it's a place of higher learning so you can learn a variety of knowledge based skills and tools and in some sense learn how to learn things, while on the other hand it's something to get you used to the stresses of an overwhelming workload which may well include a number of pointless or repetitive tasks to get people in habit of always working hard. Arguments could be made for why it should be solely either one of those, (or both, although I think it's often a matter of how much trade off you're doing) and I think they would all require different implementations to be particularly effective. To steal a tag line from some random infomercial product, I believe people should 'work smarter, not harder' so I'm largely on the side of Universities largely being a place for learning, and it shouldn't necessarily be about how life sucks if you don't work hard enough. If the best way to facilitate that happens to let a lot of less capable folk graduate who didn't necessarily earn it, then in my view that's not an issue. There will always be plenty of people who manage to get through all the hard work and earn their degree, and a fair portion of them will still be idiots who would make poor employees despite their degree, and in an extreme case Universities could end up becoming notorious for teaching nothing that is retained since students are too busy worrying they won't make the cut, devaluing degrees as much as the extreme where almost anyone can get them if they attend.

Theres issues with the system certainly, but I don't think a solution is just having professors/universities take a stand and failing people more often.


I apologize if I've rambled or said anything incoherent, it is now past 3am, so yeah. Off to bed with me.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Fri Jun 07, 2013 6:24 am UTC

One of the things that has come to light in physics education research is that it's not even a long term / short term thing. At least with physics, the learning in class or lab is often extremely compartmentalized. If you ask someone to use physics class vocabulary to describe how they experience their commute home from the class, it is not so good. There is a sense from the beginning that physics class is about solving some specific category, "physics problems," which are the kinds of problems you see on a physics exam. Or you will hear an endless refrain, "I like reading but hate English class." Something is wrong here.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:56 am UTC

As an anecdotal example of evaluations being useless, I'd like to throw in the example of one of my lecturers. He took the 1st year algorithms course. About 80% of the students on this course are computer scientists and almost all of the others are natural scientists (usually physicists). His evaluation scores were on the good end of the scale for absolutely everything. The thing is, he was terrible at actually teaching the material to someone who wasn't already familiar with it (which was most of the natscis and a few of the compscis). The problem was that because most people were already familiar with the content, they were able to swamp all the very negative reviews from those who weren't familiar. Furthermore, the reviews weren't compulsory and lots of those who disliked him as a lecturer had given up on attending his lectures and were just reading the notes and so weren't able to give feedback.

Feedback forms are a terrible system for judging how good a lecturer is even when implemented well (e.g. with close to 100% of people filling them in particularly of those who gave up attending the lectures).
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Puppyclaws » Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:33 pm UTC

As a student I found evals frustratingly useless. I was either evaluating professors who had tenure where the school did not care about their teaching anyway, or advanced level grad students who were leaving next year to go on to something else anyway. I remember one of our professors telling us it was our chance to have our say in who teaches at the school, and that we should take her eval seriously, and we all looked at her, "Uhh, didn't you tell us you're leaving for your internship and never coming back?"

I also sat through a lot of classes with students who could not care less about learning the material -or- learning how to successfully write a paper/take a test, and who were basically giving bad marks on evals to professors for not giving them infinite retries. (That said, I had awful professors who would fail 75% of the class and then blame the class when in fact they were failing to teach the material or care very much about that fact; but as I said, as a student, there was nothing to be done, they were either temp. with no plans to stay or tenure.)

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby ameretrifle » Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:50 pm UTC

doogly wrote:Are you a student? You precious child, your opinions are worthless.
I'm sure the chance to fill them out sounds meaningful, but whenever any actual research is done to attempt to correlate the average evaluation scores assigned to a professor by students at semester end to, say, scores on a common final, or to performance in the next course (eg, calc 2 after calc 1) their futility is manifest. But, as you say, the students enjoy the opportunity, and the customer is always right.

You know, I agreed with your opinion much more before I read your posts in this thread. Now I feel like an asshole by association, and I'm rethinking my stance. :/

Are publicly available course evals a thing elsewhere? In my university, it was always strictly for the department and the professors themselves. (And the people who scan them in, technically. "TARDIS drawing!" "Holy crap, who types up a two-page manifesto and brings it in to staple to the form? Call the supervisor to see if we can run this one or not." "Okay, making check marks instead of filling in the bubbles I can understand (though it's dumb), and marking in pen instead of pencil I get (though it's dumb), but check marks, in PURPLE? How are you still in college??") I know some young teachers try to learn from them, I have seen it happen with my own eyes. Couldn't say how many do, but it is a thing that is possible.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Puppyclaws » Fri Jun 07, 2013 3:01 pm UTC

ameretrifle wrote:You know, I agreed with your opinion much more before I read your posts in this thread. Now I feel like an asshole by association, and I'm rethinking my stance. :/

Are publicly available course evals a thing elsewhere? In my university, it was always strictly for the department and the professors themselves. (...) I know some young teachers try to learn from them, I have seen it happen with my own eyes. Couldn't say how many do, but it is a thing that is possible.


Yes, even if doogly is right (and I am not convinced) it was sort of an asshole thing to say.

A good friend told me that at University of Chicago, they make the course evals available to the students. I imagine some other schools do this as well. It seems smart; students are going to turn to "rate my professor" and the like anyway, internal evals are more even handed and balanced with students who had middle-of-the-road experiences (and, ideally, no ballot box stuffing).

My mother taught at a CC, and I know she would take comments into serious consideration and adjust her lesson plan based on it. A lot of professors I had started the semester with the opposite tack, saying "My evaluations always say I assign too much reading, and that is how I like it." Inevitably nobody did all the reading in these classes, it was more self-defeating than anything.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Sat Jun 08, 2013 3:12 am UTC

No but seriously, what is the actual goal of a college course? Is it to provide a student with a feeling of satisfaction and delight, or something else?
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Dark Avorian » Sat Jun 08, 2013 4:11 am UTC

I'd say there are various goals of any college course. The first is to hopefully impart some knowledge upon the student/teach them to work in a particular field/use particular tools or techniques. The second is to force them to again jump through various hoops that indicate to the guardians of later worlds that these students are capable little beasties. The third is to impart upon the students a passion for and interest in the subject they are learning. As my complex analysis professor once said: "I aim to show you both the technique and the art."

A bad professor, as determined by evaluations, may well have students who perform just as well at the first, and possibly even better at the second. But bad professors corrode the passion of any young student. If the goal of a university/college department is to train young people to work in that field, then it is essential to make those students care.

Also, as mentioned, in general the University of Chicago does make evals public. Some profs have hard copy evals that they had out, these rarely make it into the system.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby screen317 » Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:02 am UTC

I'm with doogly on a lot of the points brought up in this thread.


As an aside, this is part of what I don't get:

From OP:
But in college, you are dealing with adults. And they need to get a big dose of reality.
What makes the students who are in their first year of college any less childlike compared to six months prior when they were still in high school? The onus of instilling "reality" should not immediately fall on college professors. Where is cheating tolerated? Every school I've ever attended (public middle school/public high school/public undergraduate university/private graduate university) has had a zero tolerance policy for cheating. If you're caught cheating, you fail the course and are "investigated" for further disciplinary action. This was true for everyone, athletes included.

Does that mean people didn't cheat? No. They were rather clever about it and annoyingly so.

Course evaluations have never had any merit to me. Rarely anyone filled them seriously during undergrad; what is the point, I often overheard, when the class is already finished and this no longer affects me?

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Nem » Wed Jul 03, 2013 4:10 pm UTC

The more realistic tests get the harder they are to cheat. Seriously, if a test measures real world performance and someone cheats, that just means they're going to do well in the real world too. IME a lot of tests are just memorise this crap nonsense. I can totally see why people would cheat in those - from cramming, which is cheating in spirit since the test's meant to get what you know and not just what you've temporarily got, all the way through to sitting there with a radio in their ear.

Open book exams were always amusing to me. Seeing people whose only real skill was cramming suddenly getting two or three grades lower than they normally would.

If students are cheating the tests, I question whether the test is a good way of measuring attainment. Maybe the solution is to come up with a better test, or at least a better set of conditions for it.

screen317 wrote:Course evaluations have never had any merit to me. Rarely anyone filled them seriously during undergrad; what is the point, I often overheard, when the class is already finished and this no longer affects me?


I only filled those in honestly in my last term, when I knew I'd never get to be punished by the teacher in terms of future grades.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby ameretrifle » Wed Jul 03, 2013 4:28 pm UTC

Nem wrote:
screen317 wrote:Course evaluations have never had any merit to me. Rarely anyone filled them seriously during undergrad; what is the point, I often overheard, when the class is already finished and this no longer affects me?


I only filled those in honestly in my last term, when I knew I'd never get to be punished by the teacher in terms of future grades.

...Are there actually universities stupid enough to make course evaluations not anonymous? Sure, if you write comments, maybe your teacher can recognize your handwriting, but in my experience there's always been a whole long section of little bubbles you fill in with pencil, which is about as untraceable as you can get. Written comments were completely optional. If the evals were actually in some way not anonymous and you saw the same teachers often, then your position makes sense and your university administrative staff was crammed with morons. Which is obviously not the most outlandish possibility in the world.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jul 03, 2013 4:41 pm UTC

ameretrifle wrote:Sure, if you write comments, maybe your teacher can recognize your handwriting
I haven't seen physical evals since high school, truthfully.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Dopefish » Wed Jul 03, 2013 5:06 pm UTC

My school had physical ones, but if you opted in to allow your comments to be read by the professor, they would first be typed up by someone else.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Angua » Wed Jul 03, 2013 5:08 pm UTC

Mine said they retyped all the answers so it would stay anonymous.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby quetzal1234 » Wed Jul 03, 2013 7:11 pm UTC

I've seen reports where they just condense the statements - similar to what amazon does at the head of their reviews now. If everyone wrote "no comment," the teacher saw "no comment" - 10 people made a similar statement. or whatever. Pretty anonymous.
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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby ImagingGeek » Fri Jul 05, 2013 2:18 pm UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:As a student I found evals frustratingly useless. I was either evaluating professors who had tenure where the school did not care about their teaching anyway

Hate to break it too you, but most of us - even the tenured - care quite a bit about our teaching and work hard to get it right. Moreover, and contrary to what a lot here think, teaching evaluations have a large impact on what/how we teach and our career advancement. My pay (I'm a prof, if it isn't apparent yet) is linked, in part, to my teaching & my teaching evaluations. Every year I undergo a detailed evaluation, and by contract, 40% of that evaluation is based solely on my teaching. It is in my best interest to improve my teaching every year as my raises, tenure, and promotion, my recruitment opportunities elsewhere, and any movement I may make into uni administration, are directly and irrevocably linked to my teaching performance. This is common across most uni's. Like others mentioned previously, the trend towards non-tenured lecturers/part-time instructors has decreased educational quality, but perversely, has made teaching reviews even more important. Afterall, for this ever-growing portion of the faculty, teaching evaluations remain the only measure by which contract extensions are considered and through which promotion to regular faculty can be achieved. To say that they are useless shows a shocking degree of ignorance about what they are used for, and just how important most institutions make them for the P&T process.

That said, 99% of the feedback I get (which is a mix of scores, scaled 1-7, plus written comments) is useless. It is inevitable that people will complain about the course being too hard (you're in uni, they're supposed to be hard), the exams are too tough (in a course with an 85% class average), too many multiple-choice Q's on exams, too many written Q's on exams, I lecture too fast, I lecture too slow, they didn't like the textbook, they only got a 95% and now wont get into med school, they didn't like having to write exams outside of lecture hours, didn't like that tutorial materials were on the exam, etc, etc, etc. That sort of feedback is meaningless - one persons desires/complaint often contradicts anothers, much of it is petty, and a huge portion is simply whining.

But the 1% of feedback that we get that is well thought out and meaningful is hugely useful. For example, last years a few students mentioned that they way I taught a set of materials (I had split cellular functions from the basic descriptions of the cells and their origins) made it hard to assemble the pieces, and recommended I "mix" the lectures together. I've since re-worked 4 lectures on the basis of that recommendation, and IMO, it is an improvement (we'll see this fall). That is good feedback - i.e. a clear problem, followed by an implementable solution. Pointing out things that we do well also helps; we know to keep those materials/teaching methods in our lectures.

And don't forget - our main goal is to teach a specified knowledge set, and to evaluate both your knowledge of that information and your ability to apply/synthesise based on that knowledge set. So any requests to lower standards or teach less material will always fall on deaf ears. Likewise, solutions to issues relating to material volume will often not be what you desire, but rather, will be solutions that allows us to maintain our standards while dealing with the volume issues. I.E. in years past we had students point out that there were too many questions for the allotted time on the handful of in-class exams we ran. So we now run all exams in evening or on the weekend, and provide an additional hour for the same number of questions. Likewise, we are adding additional (mandatory) tutorial hours to give students less exam-based evaluation and to dedicate more time to application & synthesis work. I doubt that future students will be happy with those changes - but they are the best solution to previous classes feedback about not having enough time for exams and having trouble answering the application & synthesis questions on the exams.

As for the OP, we're trying. But having a student expelled, or even failing them, is not trivial. The expulsion process is a complex one, with multiple stages, all of which are intended to give the student remedial opportunities in order to remain in the program. Likewise, failing grades are easily challenged, and there are far too many opportunities for students to withdraw prior to receiving a failing grade. And frankly, its out of our (the faculty's) hands - most of both the withdrawal and expulsion process is run by committees. The point of separating us from that process is a good one - to keep personal vendettas out of the process, and to have an uninvolved group take a second "sober thought" of the issues - but it does mean that it is very difficult for us as faculty to ensure that poor students do not get a degree.

Ultimately, I expect this problem to get worse, thanks to the commodification of education. Gone are the days where an education was something you achieved - it is now seen as something you buy. Parents, students and politicians (an unholy trifecta, if one ever existed) have created the expectation that lots of money = university degree, and because they control the purse-strings, uni admins roll over and give them what they want.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby ImagingGeek » Fri Jul 05, 2013 2:19 pm UTC

Angua wrote:Mine said they retyped all the answers so it would stay anonymous.

That is what happens here; we don't see the originals, we see histograms + means/medians of the scores, and typed versions of the comments.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Nem » Sat Jul 06, 2013 12:23 am UTC

ameretrifle wrote:...Are there actually universities stupid enough to make course evaluations not anonymous? Sure, if you write comments, maybe your teacher can recognize your handwriting, but in my experience there's always been a whole long section of little bubbles you fill in with pencil, which is about as untraceable as you can get. Written comments were completely optional. If the evals were actually in some way not anonymous and you saw the same teachers often, then your position makes sense and your university administrative staff was crammed with morons. Which is obviously not the most outlandish possibility in the world.


Well, mine didn't, at least as far as I know. They handed out the feedback forms, most of which was qualitative, in class and took them back in the same class. Nothing really stopping them looking that I could see.

- I think it was a by department thing rather than a by uni thing though. I took a course in my last year about AI programming from another department - you know, filler-credits kinda course - and they did all their feedback online. Which was nice because I struggle with handwriting anyway :P The only drawback with online feedback is you often wonder whether they've put a limit on the text-box so that half of what you write in it goes to the great server in the sky instead.

I saw my teachers quite a lot year on year because I had a bad experience in second year taking teachers who I didn't know and had a bunch of really crappy courses as a consequence. I figured - you're only here for 4 years, if you take a bunch of teachers who do a bad job for a semester, then that's a significant chunk of your time here... so I tended to pick courses more by who was teaching them than by what the course content was predicted to be, which didn't really seem to mean that much when you got down to actually sitting in the classroom. I was fairly sure if I went with one of the lecturers I know to be good, then I'd have a good time whatever they were teaching. ^_^

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby Puppyclaws » Tue Jul 09, 2013 3:14 am UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:Hate to break it too you, but most of us - even the tenured - care quite a bit about our teaching and work hard to get it right. Moreover, and contrary to what a lot here think, teaching evaluations have a large impact on what/how we teach and our career advancement. My pay (I'm a prof, if it isn't apparent yet) is linked, in part, to my teaching & my teaching evaluations. Every year I undergo a detailed evaluation, and by contract, 40% of that evaluation is based solely on my teaching. It is in my best interest to improve my teaching every year as my raises, tenure, and promotion, my recruitment opportunities elsewhere, and any movement I may make into uni administration, are directly and irrevocably linked to my teaching performance. This is common across most uni's. Like others mentioned previously, the trend towards non-tenured lecturers/part-time instructors has decreased educational quality, but perversely, has made teaching reviews even more important. Afterall, for this ever-growing portion of the faculty, teaching evaluations remain the only measure by which contract extensions are considered and through which promotion to regular faculty can be achieved. To say that they are useless shows a shocking degree of ignorance about what they are used for, and just how important most institutions make them for the P&T process.


Try better, not harder, then? OR, consider that my professors were not you, and my school is not yours? A large number of my classes were taught by people who were graduate students on their way out the door or MA's on their way out the door, moving across the country when the semester was over, the eval did not significantly effect them. The tenured professors I had who were bad, were awful. Not only were they poor at teaching, they were generally bigoted, and in a couple cases this bled also into their research. The minute effect I might have upon their raise is pretty meaningless to me. I suppose that being the case, any reasonable amount of effect a single student could have is meaningless to me. A lot of it extends to my frustration with homophobic sentiments and poorly done or poorly understood science by people who are supposed to be professionals, which extends beyond the classroom. A number of professors I took classes under also violated the basic rules laid down on the evaluation sheets, in efforts to improve their scores. In addition, most students fill out "excellent" for every category and turn it in, thus diluting the value of any commentary-- and in fact I have seen the opposite as well; excellent but quirky professors who expected students to work being given horrible evals, and in one case at least ended up losing their non-tenure position because of it. I suppose my real frustration is feeling like a voice lost in a sea of other voices sometimes.

I work for my university in a research position, working under two professors. The professors I work under have said, directly and unsolicited, that they earned tenure and various accolades through publishing (and certain other non-classroom matters) and nobody cared what they did as far as teaching, at least at their particular school; this was acknowledged to not be the case at many institutions, but was very much the case in the place they earned tenure and they have pointed to other schools that have a similar mentality (partially as a warning for places to not go to for grad school unless I really want to put up with that mentality).

I am aware of the importance of evaluations in specific situations (as mentioned above, my mother teaches at a CC; nearly lost her job once due to bad evals), but when I wrote what I wrote, I most definitely meant -me.- I personally feel (I guess I have the degree so I should say felt) powerless to have any say in who taught at my school(s) and the eval almost was like faking like I could effect something I could not, rather than just allowing it to be in the big box of things I cannot change.

Conclusion: Blanket statements are dangerous. ImagingGeek seems to take a rather dim view of students for somebody who professes to care quite a bit about teaching. Puppyclaws wishes that as a student he personally could get professors fired (mostly for being bad scientists who say homophobic things), but recognizes this is not very realistic/fair/etc.

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Re: Dear Universities,

Postby doogly » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:42 am UTC

I've never adjusted my teaching strategies based on course evals, for two reasons:

One is that any reasonable and insightful feedback offered by a student is something they are eager to share and have told me earlier in the course. These are the folks who are invested in their education - and what makes me more pleased, what makes me give out more brownie points, than this sort of enthusiasm? Of course they want to share these thoughts. There have been some good ones.

The other thing is that there is a large body of physics education research, and one of the things it shows is that people are terrible at self awareness for their learning. There was the traditional method of teaching physics, where you get up and write a bunch of lines on a blackboard, and nobody learns much of anything except maybe, if they are good at that sort of thing, how to solve analogous problems. And then they forget next semester, for the most part - or they really, really do well, and then become physics profs, and figure this is a good way to teach, because there is an anecdote for success - their own self, everyone's favorite anecdote. So that went on a for a bit. But then there are some other anecdotes, like maybe people are "visual learners," or need more demonstrations, or whatnot, and there is a lot of "feel good" type instruction revision. That doesn't actually achieve anything. This is really quite common - you can, instead of just writing down equations for cross products and angular momenta and yikes vectors are hard, bring in a wheel and sit on a chair and show the class - look, you can see that when I tip the wheel this way the chair spins that way. And it's a fun demo. And as they exit the room, not the next semester or at the final, but as they leave the classroom, if you ask, students will not remember what just happened.

There are other studies where they look at things like charisma, rapport, presentation skills... they strongly increase people's confidence that they have learned something (how satisfying is it to watch TED talks? So great!) and if you try to do something like check... no difference. Huge difference in the course evals, of course.

It's also very hard because we try to get savvier about what are good questions to ask. Parroting back the solutions to problems, no matter how complex, if they are simply rehearsed performances, it's not what we want. But this is a little weird, now. We don't just want to test your mastery of some body of isolated knowledge, something that could be a list, we want to test problem solving, acuity, adaptiveness, critical thinking, etc... how the hell do you teach that? I can sort of point at those things, like if you want to get better at solving problems, here are a list of good problems, and if you are making a mistake I will help corral you away from wasting *too* much time on a flawed approach (but enough! you have to see the flaw yourself!) But I can teach a bright student a lot of physics and I can teach a not so bright student a little physics, but I can't teach a not so bright student to be bright.

So, when Bryan said that it was folly to say evals are useless, I stand by my statement that they are - he was giving examples of how they are actually used. I meant that they do not actually serve the purpose well though. They are not a good barometer of effectiveness. But I do certainly have to care about them if I want to keep myself employed, oh yes indeed.
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