11:14 AM

Communicating Science: Midterm Evals

Thanks to all of you who completed midterm evaluation forms in class last night.  You provided a ton of valuable feedback.  More than any class I've taught, the feedback in this course was incredibly diverse and varied.  I did some work grouping like responses together to figure out which comments to act on.  I'm happy to provide you with those groupings (they're lengthy!) but for this post I'll just reflect on the areas that came up the most in your evaluations.  Please leave more feedback in the comments if you like.

Also, you'll see that the tone here is a bit formal--I'm going to just plop this in the "Teaching Reflection" section of my yearly review next year.  It also doesn't have an introduction yet--I'll write that at the end of the semester.  Thanks!




Readings

Students were fairly uniform in their dislike of the Holliman text.  Sensing this, I asked them a few weeks ago if they would like to disengage from the second Holliman text and switch to scanned readings.  Students agreed by majority and returned the second Holliman texts for refunds.  They seem to be enjoying the scanned readings and discussion has improved, though one student notes that they seem “biased” (without providing more information about that) and another notes that they are hard to relate to because they are about science and not engineering.

I won’t order the Holliman texts again for next year but am instead working on writing and assembling a sci comm reader with scholar Susanna Priest.  Students seem to be enjoying “classic” sci comm texts, and these can be supplemented with more current readings.  More readings about technology and engineering communication can also be included—this is a good suggestion.

I think students will enjoy the upcoming readings we have after the break.  They will let me know!

Discussion

About 1/3 of the students noted that they enjoy class discussions of readings, but a handful noted that the discussions sometimes seem too theoretical or wandering (there was particular frustration after the class in which we tried to define “science”).  I am frustrated with lack of participation from nearly half the students in the class.  I think this lack of participation is partly attributable to the size of the classroom—too many students in too small a space—but may also have to do with our slow start with texts or problems in the way I lead discussion.  I’ll have to think more about that.

Students also seem to enjoy discussion of good blogs or good blogging strategies, if kept brief, because these apply directly to their own blog work.  I also hope that some of the boredom/frustration with the length of the class (which will be split in subsequent semesters) will be alleviated when we begin the livelier practicum section of the semester after spring break.

The Blog Project

Apart from a few dissenters, the students seem by and large supportive of the blog project, both learning from it and enjoying it.  One student noted that it’s a good idea but needs to be better “executed” but provides no specifics.  I could fill in the blanks from some other student comments:  some students want to be assigned more “hard” deadlines for the projects; others are tired of their topics and wish they had understood the grading structure earlier on because they feel trapped in blogs they are bored with or that aren’t working.

The second time the course is taught, the grading rubric will already be in place and, having taught the course once already, I’ll be more ready to provide guidance and advice early on to students who are not comfortable with the idea of blogging.  For example, spending more time at the beginning of the course examining good blogs (like Revkin’s Dot Earth), exposing students to the medium, and giving them time to experiment with blog topics should alleviate some of these anxieties.

Grading

Students were visibly upset by the grades they received on the first reading quizzes (though they were only worth 25 points).  I was surprised at this given that they were given the questions ahead of time in class and could work together to discuss answers.  But performance was bad on that first quiz.  Grades on the second quiz improved dramatically, but students still seemed anxious about them and requested take-home quizzes or essay questions.  I see no problem with adopting these strategies for the rest of the semester and in future iterations of the class.

Some students like the flexibility of the blog project—they like not having posts assigned or minimum requirements each week.  Others are ill at ease with this approach, preferring more structure and guidelines.  Some feel locked into their projects and because of poor early grades are afraid of failure for the rest of the semester.  My hope is that their hard work will pay off on the second (of three) grading period for the blog and they will see improvement in their grades.

I prefer to keep things open because this mimics project work in the professional world and because it allows exploration and freedom.  But it is much harder to pull off successfully in such a large class where I can’t do much one-on-one instruction.  Keeping up with 35 blogs is incredibly time-consuming.

Class Size and Location

A substantial amount of pressure has been placed on LAIS professors to accept large numbers of students into 400-level classrooms (beyond the 25 cap), and classroom space is also at a premium on campus.  We are somewhat limited because we need to be in a computerized classroom.  As a result, we are in a fairly cramped room and the size of the class makes it difficult to have good discussion and to provide enough tailored feedback to students.  I have made some adjustments, and realize economic times are difficult, but I hope administrators at the division and university levels see that increasing class sizes does jeopardize the quality of liberal arts education.  In the meanwhile, I will do some research and see if we can move this class, this semester, to a better space.

Workload

Mines students have an excellent reputation as being hard workers, very focused on their studies.  I have the utmost respect for the pressures they face given their many obligations.  And I hear the comments that the class feels like a lot of work.  However, there is about the same or less reading in my class as there should be in other LAIS seminars (we have studied this in the Division) and the blog writing will end up constituting the same amount of writing or less than formal writing assignments for other courses (we have also studied this).  So, I know you’re working hard, but you are meeting the standards the Division and the university have set for 400-level work.

I’ll take into consideration the many other good comments I received.  Thank you for your feedback!

Comments (2)

I noticed you mentioned a couple times of student comments you didn't understand or weren't explained (probably due to space and time constraints). I think talking to the students to clarify this would be important. I know I mentioned changing the structure of the blog in my evaluation, but didn't have much time or space to provide ideas. Perhaps even a blog topic for the week as to the most important fix for the class.

Good idea! Please post if you feel inclined. I'd rather not make this an assignment, but welcome further constructive feedback.