Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Performance reviews

Now that grading is done, I get to see my fall student evaluations. I skimmed a handful earlier today and spotted a few "five-star" marks and a couple stinging criticisms. Time to pause now. The forms are resting outside in my car, so that tomorrow I can bring them inside and absorb them with an appropriately cool frame of mind.

The very same day my students wrote their anonymous evaluations, they handed in their final project reports. Each student had the entire semester to build any kind of website she wanted (e.g., Japanese, business, entertainment, sports, travel, cars). Each final project report told the story behind the website, concluding with the most valued lessons the student learned over the course of the project. One of my favorite endings was this:
I had, before this class, become obsessed with learning code "hardcore", but I see that I'll pretty much always be able to find useful code snippets in resources online.... For coding a whole website, it's not so much about a limitless knowledge of code, but about persistence. With trial and error, focus, solid consideration, and just a little work, you can usually make what you envision a reality (or something that works just as well as what you'd envisioned).

The flip side of this lesson came out in the anonymous evaluations. (Written the same day.) One student said it simply: "Everything I learned I had to teach myself." Another said, "Sometimes it seemed like there were students who knew more than the instructor." In the context of my consulting work, those two quotes could very easily be compliments, but my students wrote them in response to the question, "What were the most significant weaknesses of this course?"

My impulse in these moments of paradox is WWLTD -- "What Would Lao Tsu Do?" I am not sure that Lao Tsu's paycheck depended on anonymous student evaluations, though.

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1 comment:

tina said...

Sounds like the expectation from some students was that they would be spoon-fed an education, rather than experiencing learning themselves and through interaction with others in the class.

Maybe a 10-minute review of your educational philosophy during the first day of class, plus quickie reminders in subsequent classes, would change (and raise) the expectations for self-directed and interdependent, networked learning.