Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bad Ratings a Substitute for Own Failings?

A Computer Science Prof from the Northeast sends in this post:

I am one of those who takes a beating on RMP, and I'll grant that I have had a few teaching flaws in the past that have led to less than stellar evaluations. But I think some students use those flaws as an explanation or substitution for their own failings.

For example: a common criticism is that I have a very quiet voice. Negative criticism stops there as students claim they could learn nothing. Positive critics, however, point out that I answer email promptly, welcome office visits, provide much useful assistance during visits, and answer the questions they pose in class to their satisfaction.

Another common criticism is the difficulty of the homework I assign. The positive critics will say that this forces them to think; graduate applicants will come back to me later and say they could not have passed their candidacy exams without the grounding I gave them. But since the negative voices are so loud, I sometimes feel like my position is at risk.

I received a note from the department head regarding some of the grades I gave to the graduate students in my senior-level undergraduate course. This was probably a special batch. Some scored less than 50% on exams, where the undergraduates averaged above 70-75%. One graduate student even requested a chance to retake the final exam (again under 50%) during which he asked if I could replace a question he didn't know how to answer with another one that he did.

My A students are a real delight. I don't see all of them during office hours, but those I do see are always prepared, have interesting questions, and ask how it can apply to other courses and other areas. They often come back later to talk aboutt heir graduate work or just to shoot the breeze -- which somehow makes all the other pain worth it.