Midterm Evaluations

I am pleased to say that I have been in the habit of offering midterm evaluations to my students for the past couple of years. I have always meant to hand them out, but I sometimes got lazy. No longer.

I have found that there are two advantages to these evaluations. First, I learn more about the class. I can learned how effective things have been, and I get a sense of how the students feel about the class. Second, the students have said they feel better about the course by my offering a chance to evaluate it. This is not surprising—everyone likes being listened to, and few people are listened to less than a college student.

One nice thing is that I can customize my evaluations to my course (as opposed to the evaluations that many schools require, which usually involves a bubble sheet and generic comments like “Bret rocks!” or “Bret sucks!”).

Here are the questions I asked this time:

  1. How helpful was the introduction of our 10 “toy” groups (S_3, D_4, quaternions, etc) to your learning? Should we have spent more time on these, less time, or did we spend the correct amount of time getting familiar with these groups.
  2. How useful is it when we go over proofs that people submitted for individual homework? How much do you learn from comparing these proofs?
  3. Has Bret provided enough support on \LaTeX for you to use it effectively?
  4. What are the benefits and drawbacks of our in-class exam format of “no surprises?” Would it be better to add a problem that you have not yet seen? Would it be better to add more “cooperative” questions? Should we leave the format the same?
  5. How useful has the feedback on the individual homework been?
  6. How could the in-class lecture time be improved? Should we be spending our in-class time differently?
  7. How effective have the cooperative groups been in helping you learn the material? Would you guess that you have learned more, less, or the same amount that you would have if you did all of the homework on your own?
  8. I am planning on following the textbook (Gallian) more closely from now on. How likely would you be to pre-read if I told you which section of the text would be covered in the next lecture?
  9. Overall, how much do you feel like you are learning in this class?
  10. What other suggestions do you have?

Here is a brief summary of student responses for these questions:

  1. Somewhere between “helpful” and “very helpful.” We spent roughly the right amount of time on them.
  2. Somewhere between “useful” and “very useful.” One student suggested that I have the students read through the proofs at home to save on class time. This was a brilliant suggestion, and I am going to change my course accordingly.
  3. Yes. Google is also very helpful.
  4. Most people liked the exam format, although some wanted more “surprise” computational questions. We will discuss this before the next midterm.
  5. The feedback has been helpful.
  6. Sloooooooooow doooooooown. I apparently go through proofs quickly. This response played a large role in my decision to start using Beamer for my classes. So far, it has been working well—a straw poll of my students suggests that we are now moving at an appropriate pace.
  7. “Very helpful” to “extremely helpful,” with perhaps five exceptions, who said that they learned an equal amount to if they had been working individually. But of those five, three said that they really did not meet much with their cooperative team. It seems like those who work with teams almost always get a lot out of it.
  8. Some said they would read ahead, some said they would. This information is embedded in my Beamer slides, so it is there for the taking.
  9. “The usual amount” to “an unbelievable amount.” No one suggested that they are not learning much.
  10. Sloooooooooow doooooooown.

One thing that I did not do this time was to ask questions that make students reflect on how they are responsible. I usually ask a question like, “What can Bret do to help you learn more?”. I follow this with “What could you be doing to help you learn more?”. I omitted it this time due to space considerations; also, I ask them a similar question every cycle (roughly a week) on their homework (so I guess I have mini-evaluations once per cycle).

Finally, I feel like I have the responsibility to report back to the class what the students said in their evaluations. This took the form of a three minute class presentation.

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