Every other Monday at Boston University, biomedical engineering professor Mohammed Zaman passes out ratings sheets in his classes. Two of the questions are “How can the professor improve your learning of the material?” and “Has he improved his teaching since the last evaluation?” Zaman reads what students say about his teaching technique and sends an email to the class telling students what things he will change.
A good indication that this practice is working for both the teacher and his students is that Zaman won the university’s highest teaching award and his “grades” from his classes have gone up over the years from 3s to now 4s and 5s.
Most students know about the “Rate My Professors” website and have probably checked out an instructor or two. I found out about this site a little too late to avoid taking a course that I didn’t enjoy and didn’t learn that much from. If I had just looked at the ratings and comments of others, I might have tried to take the course from a different instructor.
But “Rate My Professors” is a static, one-way model. Students who have completed the class rate their experience with an instructor. Professor Zaman employs an active two-way model. Students rate and comment on their learning experience as they experience it.
Why wouldn’t every instructor do this? It seems tailor-made for our experience here at Fresno State with all classes tied into Blackboard. One reason might be the top-down approach by many professors to the material they teach. They designed the curriculum, and taught the class that way for years — why change? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some tenured professors teach their classes without regard to the way their students feel about it.
Other reasons might be that there are already evaluations done in most classes once a year. But the evaluations are narrow, only allowing students to answer yes or no or to give a number rating on general topics.
Moreover, students in the current class don’t benefit in any way if an instructor makes changes after the evaluations. They have moved on.
Using regular interactive ratings surveys during the semester does not permit students to affect a change to the curriculum. Vague comments saying that a course is too hard or that a Psych class should be about Adler instead of Freud are areas not open to change.
When Zaman’s students tell him they are having trouble understanding the material, he responds by accommodating their concerns. After students told him that they were color blind, he ditched the use of colored markers in his lectures, sticking solely to black markers.
Establishing a bi-weekly feedback loop allows teachers to see how well they are getting their curriculum across to their students and gives students a feeling of participation and excitement because their valid concerns about learning the material are being listened to and if necessary changes are being made.
We’re all here to learn, even professors and staff. Learning to get better at teaching a course should be just as important to teachers as learning and mastering the materials in each class is for students.
Stephen Keleher is a staff reporter for The Collegian.