Want to know what the best parts of your class are? Ask the students.

May 02 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

One of the best things I've done as I've fumbled through learning how to teach, has been to routinely ask for student opinion. I've done this both anonymously and not, but the answers are always enlightening. I administer a mid-semester evaluation of the class to see how things are going, but I also find that asking students about what topic they liked the best over the last X time period can yield surprising results. On my last midterm exam I used this as a bonus question and found the the answers converged roughly on three topics. Two of them were side things I tossed in to the lecture because I thought the students would find it interesting.

Based on the feedback I may find ways to expand a bit on those topics in future years, but more than that, it gives me a bit more information on the types of subjects that engage the students. Biology is weird and fascinating and I like to make that clear. Sometimes I can grab the classes interest and sometimes they seem to glaze over. Asking them after the fact provides a lot of insight into what engaged them either in class or when they were studying later. Sometimes it's surprising what stood out to them.

5 responses so far

  • a says:

    I've found that these "side topics" often garner more interest as well. I do wonder if it is the subject matter, or if it is more of the delivery. For me, these side topics often pop in my head during a lecture and the presentation of them tends to differ from the planned lecture content. The presentation of the material is often more laid back, more story telling, and less like a point that needs to be delivered. Of course, many of the points are also quirky little details as well.

  • MZ says:

    I love asking these kinds of questions -- often I put a 2 or 3 point question on the final exam asking the students to explain something they found interesting in the course. The points meant that they really paid some attention to it (while, really, not affecting their overall grade much), and often the points they found the most interesting were not the ones I would have expected.

  • mpledger says:

    Do you think by asking the question in an exam and offering points that you are biasing the students answers? If a student wants their exam paper to stand out from the others' they may feel they have to answer something unusual/counter-intuitive as their interesting thing ... and the converse.

  • Terry says:

    ... and you can ask the worst parts, too. Just don't attach it to an exam or their name 🙂

  • MZ says:

    @ mpledger:
    I see what you mean, but I hope that because I am asking for something they learned that they found interesting, not something I did well or that they "liked," the students get that I am not looking for a particular item. I suppose they could feel pressured to get points by HAVING to come up with something interesting instead of just saying they thought the entire course was dead boring, but then I am not too concerned about those students. Thanks, though -- if I do it again I will have to keep that in mind.

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