Laura Gibbs

What Students Say: F17 Course Evals

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Dec 21, 2017

Time for another #ReflectBlog post, this time reflecting on the course evaluations that just arrived for the Fall 2017 courses. I think everybody knows how much I dislike number-based grading of students, so you can imagine how much I dislike the ridiculous numbers that result from our end-of-semester course evaluations. More numbers does not mean the numbers are useful in any way, shape, or form, except for invidious comparisons. I loathe them. The cult of numbers. Ugh.

 

screenshot of course eval stats

(this is just a snippet; the numbers go on
for column after column after column...)

 

But... there are also comments from students, and those are the most useful things of all! When I wrote up my "ungrading" essay for Starr Sackstein's column as EdWeek, Michelle Pacansky-Brock suggested to me that I collect student comments about grading from the course evaluations, which turned out to be such an awesome idea. Then, the next semester I decided it would be useful to collect the comments students make about the creative dimension of the classes, since to me they are linked: the whole reason I want to get rid of grading is in order to free up a creative spaces where my students are ready to take risks and experiment.

 

So, every semester it is now my pleasure to go through the comments looking for "grad-" and "creat-" to expand on the collection of student comments semester by semester. These are the real words of the real students (not the faux statistics), and it is what the students SAY that makes me feel confident about my teaching, while also inspiring me to find new ways to open up spaces for creativity and growth in my classes (more about my plans for next semester in a later post!).

 

You can read all the student comments here about grading and creativity going all the way back to 2010 when our evaluations went digital:

 

What students say about GRADING

 

What students say about CREATIVITY

 

Because of the generic cookie-cutter nature of the course evaluation questions, I don't get really specific feedback from the students about how to improve the classes, but I gather that feedback from students in other ways during the semester. At the end of the semester, though, it does feel good to see that my goals and the students' goals are very much in synch overall. Here are some of the comments from this semester's evaluations re: grading and re: creativity. I want to teach a class that is challenging, but in a creative way, without stress... so when I hear that message back from students, I am very happy!

 

  • I learned so much and never had to stress about my grade. I always knew where I stood in the course, the organization made me feel comfortable by the first week.
  • I just love everything about the format of this course — it really allowed me to use my own creative ideas, gather up points for my desired grade, and receive feedback from her and students in the class.
  • Choosing the grade I wanted and being able to map out what I wanted to do to get there on my own schedule was really useful and lowered my stress significantly in this course.
  • One of my favorite courses I have taken! It was so refreshing to be challenged in a more creative way.
  • I really appreciated the way our assignments were graded. This class focused so much more on growth than grades, and that made the class feel like a much more positive environment than others I've taken before. When I fell behind in this class, I knew I could catch back up, because the focus was so much more on growing in my writing.

 

Those are just a few, and for lots more thoughts from students, see the links above. I include all the references to grading and creativity in those lists, so you can see the varied reactions. This approach works well for students across a whole range of personal goals and preferences; they all enjoy the classes, but for their own, sometimes very different, reasons. And to get a sense of those personal differences, you need their actual words... not numbers.

 

Outcomes