Laura Gibbs

What Teachers Learn from Students: Reflections/Proflections

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Oct 6, 2018

I just left an admittedly cranky comment on a discussion here at the Community about measuring faculty engagement in a course with numbers. Most numbers don't help me to really see and understand what is going on in a course... I really need to hear from the students, in their own words, how things are going! No, it's not a number, not objective, and how could it be? What my students are doing, experiencing, and learning in my classes is all highly subjective, and one of my goals is to give them lots of opportunities to bring that to the surface, becoming more aware of what they are learning and what they want to learn. That awareness can help them make better choices in the class (my course design is all about making choices), and by listening in on that reflections/proflections, I can learn a lot about how the course design is working, or not working, for any given student... with thanks to Kristin Lundstrum for this word "proflection," which I learned from her over at our Michael Bonner Reading Group!


So, during Week 8 (which marks the halfway point of our semester), instead of the usual reading/storytelling assignments which form the core of each week's work, I substitute some reflection/proflection blog posts where students look at their reading and writing in the class, their interaction with other students and peer feedback, and also their overall progress in the class; you can see Week 8 here.


The students put "Week 8" in the titles of their posts, so that allows me to collect them all at Inoreader, seeing them as they pop up (some students have already started Week 8), while also giving me a single-page view of all those particular posts; you can see it too: Week 8 posts for Fall 2018. I'll be working on my presentation on creativity for Can*Innovate this weekend (all-day event coming up on October 26: all Canvassers are invited: Can*Innovate schedule, plus event page for my talk on creativity here), so I'll be eagerly looking for any remarks the students might make about creative work in these posts, harvesting quotes to use in my presentation (my goal is for the presentation to be full of what the students say, not so much what I say... since I already say everything I want to say here in my blog ha ha).


This type of mid-semester evaluation is always really useful for me, and I've done it in lots of different forms over the years; this open-ended blog-based approach is my favorite that I've tried. It is a boost to see students who are happy with the class, and from those posts I get a sense of what is most important to them; I want to enhance, if I can, what they find most valuable.


For example, with the post below from a student who is very happy with the class, I learn that no matter how often I sign my name "Laura" to the emails, tell the students it's okay to call me by my first name, for many students that is just not comfortable... even though, ouch, I am not really a professor, ha ha. I also learn here that really engaging with students about their schedules can be helpful, so it's worth going through the build-a-schedule process that does admittedly take some time/effort in the first weeks of the semester. I also really like hearing about the productive struggle this student is having as they work on their blog and website: I want to provide tech support for my students, but not in the sense of removing all that exploration and struggle for its own sake. At least for this student, I have struck the right balance. There's other stuff too; those are just the easiest to explain that are general kinds of observations not super-specific to my classes.


But aside from the feel-good experience of positive feedback (and yes, it feels great, of course, especially when it is detailed and specific), the most useful feedback comes from the students who are struggling, for whatever reason (lack of interest, lack of time, frustration, etc.). They are often the students who do not write detailed posts like the post below, but I look for whatever clues I can to try to find out what I could do differently with the class to help encourage, motivate, support, etc. the students for whom this class is not a good fit right now. I feel really badly when students are not doing well in the class and/or not learning something that is of value to them... and those are also the students who have prompted me to make the biggest and best changes to this class over the years.


Everybody needs feedback, and these midterm blog posts are a way I get that feedback; it is way more useful to me than the pro forma end-of-semester by-the-numbers data we get back from our course evaluations. Personally, I think it is much much MUCH more useful to ask the students to reflect on their own learning than it is to ask them to evaluate my own teaching. It is more useful to the students: they need to learn how to think about their own learning because the most important learning in life is not going to happen in school anyway! Plus, it is more useful to me too because, in a sense, my goal is to disappear so that the students are teaching themselves and each other, with me just there to be a catalyst (not the boss, and certainly not the policeman).


So, anyway, below I've copied  the blog post at the top of the feed right now (that may be different when you happen to arrive at this post; here's the live feed)... and this one makes me feel GREAT. If every student could be having such a positive experience in the class, I would be in teacher nirvana, ha ha. Anyway, I can really hear this student's experience in their words (and it matches up with the work I see them doing in class). For me, that is way better than numbers.


Does anybody else have some mid-semester evaluation processes to share......? There are so many ways you can do that: with or without numbers, as self-evaluation or as course evaluation, anonymously or not anonymously, etc. etc. ... and it is ALL valuable. It is, after all, my favorite course design mantra: ASK THE STUDENTS. They will tell you!



screenshot of student blog post



And now, shameless plug again for Can*Innovate 2018 coming up on October 26!!! :-)


CanInnovate screenshot











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