Category Archives: Student feedback

Too much reading

My students filled out mid-semester (self- and course) evaluations last week. It was good to learn what’s working and what isn’t. In one class, the biggest complaint was about the number and/or length of reading assignments. (In another section of that course, not one student complained about this!) I just emailed the class and, after expressing some sympathy given the difficulty of some of the assignments, I told them this:

Reading is essential to accomplishing all of the course goals. If education is about intellectual fitness and a course is like a training program [a metaphor I use often], then reading is basic strength, conditioning, and flexibility: it’s the basis for everything else. Yes, it’s possible to hurt yourself if you try to lift too much weight or run too much, but I don’t think that’s the case in this class. In just about every case, you should be able to complete the reading for class in less than an hour of concentrated attention. (To continue the analogy, is an hour too much time to spend at the gym?)

The fact that I’m not planning to cut down the reading will probably disappoint a few students. But the students’ comments did make me think that they would be well servedĀ if I told them a little more about the purpose and what to look for in the readings. If they can approach the reading with a better sense for what to expect, then the assignments might not seem so heavy and pointless.

Do students say in evaluations of your courses that the reading load is too heavy? If so, how do you respond? Please share in the comments.

What course evaluations are worth

Q: “How could the instructor improve this course?”

A: “Ninjas.”

That is an actual written response a student gave me on an end-of-semester course evaluation. For the record, I did not implement this recommendation.

Answers like this raise the question of the value of formal course evals. Are they telling us anything useful? Can they possibly help us to improve our teaching, especially given how students do not always take them seriously? Continue reading