Advocates of student evaluation of instruction (SEI) often contend that feedback that students offer in their comments may help instructors improve on their teaching style and methodology. I have always been skeptical about this claim, based on my own experience, for the reasons stated in this post. I typically find it very difficult to extract the “signal” from the “noise”. As I already stated on more than one occasion on this blog, I really have no problem with SEI. It is rather the use that is made of them by some administrators that worries me.
So, I have gone through my own student evaluations from the course that I taught in Fall 2008, namely introductory physics for life science majors, and I thought I would post here all of the comments that I have received. Perhaps outsiders reading them may be able to help me identify a common complaint, or a concern that students seem to voice, that warrants some effort on my part in order to improve on my course delivery.
I have my own opinion as to how I should interpret these comments, but I would rather hear what others may think before I state it. Suffice to say that, altogether, I see no compelling reason to change anything in the way I teach this course, next time I am assigned to it.
First, some background information: Initially, 200 students registered for this course, but only 181 of them wrote the final exam. The day SEI were administered, 103 students completed the questionnaire. Of these 103, 43 elected to write something in the “Comments” section.
On the crucial question “Overall, this instructor was excellent”, 4 respondents checked the Strongly disagree box, 12 chose Disagree, 21 Neutral, 43 Agree and 23 Strongly Agree; this very similar to what I have been getting in the past, including at my previous institution, when teaching lower division physics courses.
What is slightly different this time around, is the fact that student comments do address mostly my teaching, rather than grading or testing. Perhaps that is because they understood that testing and grading would be largely out of my control, this being a multi-section course with fairly rigid guidelines for instructors.
I have to say I am surprised by the number of comments addressing my use of the whiteboard only. I thought that that was the norm — goes to show how out of touch I am, I suppose …
I am reporting below all student comments verbatim (including typos), as they were transcribed on the form that I have received. Thankfully, none of the students went PhysioProf on me, which is why I can post these comments in the first place (allegedly no censorship is applied). Note that the smileys are on the comments themselves, I am not inserting them myself.
Finally, some of the comments start with a B) and I am not clear as to what that refers to, other than evidently comments were sought in the form of a multi-part question. I do not know what it is, though.
1) Homework assignments were problems taken straight out of the textbook.
2) Physics 30 is a high school lever physics course, required of students enrolling in this course.
3) On numerous occasion, in the course of the semester, students asked me whether they needed to “buy the textbook”, or “read the textbook”.
Massimo was an excellent teacher
Your patience when asked silly math/algebra questions is amazing.
Course was taught well, but concepts I felt, were not explained too clearly; had to rely on textbook a lot.
Examples are sometimes hard to follow especially if the question is not written out.
Massimo is a good instructor; knows a lot and always available to help with questions. Sometimes goes too fast.
Dr. Boninsegni was a good teacher; he is very helpful and patient. Overall, excellent teacher.
The instructor did not hesitate to go over questions and concepts for those who did not understand. B) Agreeable judgment.
Massimo Boninsegni taught the class very well; his knowledge of physic is very great and wastes no time. He explains concepts in detail so no confusion is allowed
The only class in which I have not fallen asleep.
Dr. Boninsegni was a good prof. He was funny, took time to answer questions and explained as much as he needed for us to understand. He didn’t go too fast through the material. B) Notes on the computer may have been helpful for exam review.
To study, I had to use the textbook too much as the notes were hard to understand. Need to write down theory rather than just use examples as I, ahead of time, had no idea what the examples were demonstrating. Very helpful assignments and a fair midterm though.
Whiteboard was perfect for class (ppt, overheads, wouldn’t work.) Very helpful outside of class. VERY. Maybe goes a bit too fast; doesn’t present the purpose of each question clearly before doing it (eg. What the question is asking for). Speaks loudly and clearly; treats students with more respect than any other prof I know and I am in 3rd year.
The instructor needs to spend more time explaining how equations are derived, and use online notes as well. Should be more clear when explaining concepts.
He is respectful and kind to students, however when teaching, he goes through examples and theories quickly, moving from the first step to the last step, not explaining what happened between.
Should not use only letters; need more number examples. —-and variables chosen for numerous values did not make sense——
It was generally excellent, however, certain homework question was very confusing and the textbook was no help.
Mr. Boninsegni only wrote on the whiteboard all class. More demonstrations would be helpful and a computer to aid in displaying materials would allow teacher to spend more time explaining and demonstrating and less time writing. Exams well laid out. Overall, I found reading textbook more helpful than class time.
Exams should be more difficult and curved.
I liked the whiteboard delivery of notes. Prof. is a super nice guy, but terribly confusing; I had to rely on my physics 30 for most of the course.
I don’t like physics, but the instructor was great. B) Nothing to comment on.
He’s an awesome teacher, but could be a bit more clear sometimes. B) No comment.
Massimo is an excellent instructor, but can sometimes move a bit too quickly through problems in class.
The prof was respectful and helpful when I had questions outside of class but I was always confused in class. I think it would help if he wrote the question that he was solving on the board. Also it would be helpful if he didn’t skip so many steps.
A lot of examples we did in class had no direction. I didn’t know what we were looking for and got confused very easily.
Far too many errors in basic calculation were made. This is the first class in my 3 years of University that the textbook has been more help than the professor. He talks down to students and makes it sound as though their questions are silly or useless. Very negative attitude. Repetition of text book examples rather than more useful or different examples.
I like how he used the whiteboard instead of power point. Sometimes when he does examples he doesn’t really explain what we are actually solving for which makes it confusing.
I liked the fact that there were only 4 questions each week for homework. I didn’t like that there aren’t extra practice questions (with detailed solutions, not just answers), considering that lots of #’s helps you learn. Instruction notes weren’t easy to study from. I’m learning mainly from the text book. B) Delivery was good.
Dr. Boninsegni was a good professor, always willing to help students with difficulty ! The textbook was very useful as well 🙂 PHYS would not be taught effectively if information was provided by power point slides !!
More specific examples would have been helpful – examples similar to the homework.
LOL nobody cares. B) It was over 9000
Good delivery method.
Dr. Boninsegni often did not explain concepts and jumped around a lot in his examples. Instead of providing necessary background info for understanding, he just really quickly wrote down a bunch of examples that were often very difficult to follow.
Excellent teaching, no complaints here 🙂 B) Physics should, as with any math course, be worked at on a black/whiteboard. Moving to power point or overhead would make this course dull, and much more difficult.
Some of the concepts taught in class were hard to follow and were very confusing. A formula sheet would be very helpful for this course and more clear explanation of what we are to know for the exams. Overall the teacher was excellent and enthusiastic but skipped around a lot without explanation which made it hard to follow sometimes.
The midterm did not seem fair. Not enough points, questions given out. The different versions had various difficulties. Partial marks rarely given for some questions.
No concept building. Jumping around assuming you’re smart in all areas.
The instructor was very enthusiastic, but he failed at explaining concepts to the class. He is very hard to follow and he seems to get equations out of nowhere. Although I like him very much as a person, I wouldn’t recommend him as a professor. The open book tests are nice. It is unfair how everyone gets different questions for the midterm because some people got very easy questions on easy concepts and some didn’t. This is not a fair assessment. The homework assignments were hard, generally. But, the tutorial sessions were relatively helpful. The use of the whiteboard was suitable for teaching.
I enjoyed Massimo because he made the class slightly enjoyable through his humour but I found him to be all over the place when do notes on the board making the notes hard to follow when studying (I am not the only one who things this.)
Overall, the professor knew what he was doing and explained steps when asked. One critique that I have is that some intermediate steps are skipped, which can be quite confusing. B) Content was delivered fairly.
The notes are very good because they give many examples. He is a wonderful instructor and very helpful and entertaining, but I found that I was sometimes having to ask others for explanation too often. Overall, a good instructor.
Instructor was quite funny, very nice, and helpful, but sometimes wasn’t clear in what he was trying to convey. After the student’s asked questions, he was able to clarify, but should anticipate those questions beforehand. I like Dr. Boninsegni and his teaching/exams require you to understand, not memorize.
At times, it was difficult to follow along with what was being taught and I found it difficult to find a seat near the front since it was difficult to see everything written down on the whiteboard and to hear the professor clearly. B) As stated before I didn’t really like how the material was taught mainly on the whiteboard because when going through examples, it was difficult to look back on the examples and understand the problem (there was no written problem — just went straight into solution).
Great guy, enthusiastic and tries to help but not a good teacher. Overcomplicates concepts and didn’t emphasize key concepts.