My friend’s question about whether she is a good teacher got me off on a research binge. Her question arose from negative teaching evaluations; something that I think even the best teacher has to put up with.
Earlier in the semester another faculty member mentioned that students’ evaluations of teaching don’t correspond to their learning. That study shows that professor quality has an effect on student learning measured through their grades in subsequent courses. Student evaluations of teachers are heavily influenced by the grade the student expects to receive in the current (contemporaneous) course.
Inevitably, in freshman weed-out courses you will get worse teaching evaluations than for a small senior seminar.
This paper also shows that professors who do well at helping students with contemporaneous learning on average harm the students in subsequent (more advanced) classes. Whoops! Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous achievement and negatively correlated with follow-on achievement. Academic rank, experience teaching, whether or not you have a terminal degree are negatively correlated with performance in the current class and positively correlated with student performance in subsequent classes.
Perhaps my friend should embrace the painful teaching evaluations?
On the other hand, this worries me; my teaching evaluations are fairly good. Am I teaching to the test or am I promoting deep learning? I hope I am promoting deep learning, although I also think that exams should not come as a surprise to the students provided the student is doing what he/she is supposed to do. I will have to reflect on this in future semesters. I know that having taught broadly within the curriculum has influenced my teaching; when I know what expectations are in later courses, I make sure things get covered in earlier courses to promote the later learning.
I’ve taught differential equations three times, and I have consciously tried to make the course more difficult each time I’ve taught it.
Another complicating factor in evaluating student evaluations is that they aren’t gender-blind. Male students rate female professors more negatively than male professors. Female students tend to rate female professors more highly, but this doesn’t help if you are a female teaching in a predominantly male discipline (like upper-level math).
This got me thinking about my mathematical modeling course. The best semester I had with it was Spring of 2012. That class produced great work and awesome outcomes; I had a lot of fun with them, and they with me. The Fall of 2012 class was a real let down; there were a lot of weak students in the class, and I was too lenient early in the semester. This semester is going well and students are performing well, but there’s not that extra oomph I recall from Spring 2012.
I wonder what I’m doing different or not as well.
After reading the article, I started wondering if it is me. In Spring 2012, out of 18 students, I had 8 women in the class. In Fall 2012, I had 5 women of 17 students. This semester I have 4 women out of 34 students split into two women in each of two sections of 17 students. I think that is one of the major influences on the dynamic of the class. You need a certain critical mass of women in the class for the culture to change. I had it in Spring 2012, and I don’t have it now.