Last week one of my classes underwent a small-group evaluation conducted by a trained evaluator through Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning. For those unfamiliar with the process, the professor or section leader leaves the classroom for the last 20 minutes of class, during which time the evaluator solicits feedback from the students. The feedback is then provided to the instructor through a private consultation, and the instructor can institute as many changes as she feels comfortable with.
Despite being a senior, this was my first such session. I wonder why. I’ve had some great professors here, but I’ve also had some, well, not so great ones. It is not that those in the latter group do not care about the class — they often do. Rather, their teaching practice is simply not up to par. Some professors, no matter how hard they try, simply cannot convey the material in an effective manner. These instructors would likely not benefit significantly from a small-group evaluation. Rather, the small-group evaluation could be beneficial for a professor who can convey the material well enough, but lacks in some other regards. Perhaps the examinations are unfair, the readings aren’t relevant, the office hours are poorly scheduled, the lecture slides are incoherent, or there is no midway break for longer classes.
These minor details add up, yet they are often unaddressed until the end-of-quarter Axess evaluations. Sometimes students will take it upon themselves to email the professor or TAs, yet doing so has certain flaws: There is no trained evaluator to filter comments or for the professor to consult, and email feedback only represents the opinions of a fraction of the class. Entering the small-group evaluation, for instance, I was sure that the class would benefit from a laptop ban. Yet once I suggested this to the evaluator, it was met with protests from every corner of the room. Although I may not agree with my peers’ opinions, I trust the evaluator will suggest a reasonable course of action on that front to my instructor.
I doubt many faculty members and other teaching staff will read this post. But if you are an instructor, I would encourage you to utilize this resource. Even the best classes I’ve had could have benefited from some tweaks here and there. If you are a student, I would encourage you to suggest this resource to the professors or TAs who you think could use some immediate feedback; if you think that a class has flaws, there is a strong chance that a lot of other students feel the same way. Rather than provide the instructor with just your opinions, have the class provide its collective feedback to a trained evaluator who can appropriately relay that information.
Want to give Adam some midterm feedback? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.