Student feedback

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.
Also note:
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.
  • 27 Responses to “Student feedback”

    1. Ian Says:

      I’m thinking there might have been a part B that asked about delivery method. I know that’s been a question from the UofA Physics Dept in the past (or at least they asked a-b-c-d what kind of delivery should happen). I assume B is white/blackboard. Check with admin maybe.

    2. Cherish Says:

      You have a lot more experience teaching than me, and this is not guaranteed to help, but I will suggest it anyway. 🙂

      I like it when professors talk about the problem, then write the goals and process on the board. Even better, ask them what you’re solving for, why you’re looking for that value, and how to get it. Then write that in words on the board, and, finally, perform the calculation.

      I think that it’s very easy to assume that students know what the goal is, but very often (and I am guilty of this as well), it’s too easy to miss the forest for the trees. You get caught up in the details and miss what the whole point of it was.

      Your mileage may vary.

    3. Professor in Training Says:

      I’ll be really interested to hear your interpretation of the comments … here’s mine … The thing that struck me was how many students commented that you were skipping from one concept/problem to the next – maybe you’re not communicating your train of thought effectively.

      My favourite comments: (1) “LOL nobody cares” and (2) “Although I like him very much as a person, I wouldn’t recommend him as a professor.” Haha!

      The best one I got as a TA was “PiT rocks :)” It’s still at my parents’ place in a box somewhere … I’m going to get if framed one of these days!

    4. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

      PiT — Fundamentally, my problem is one of numbers. I have here comments from barely 24% of all students in the course — over three quarters of them did not bother to give any feedback whatsoever. One of them even wrote that much — “Nobody cares”. Doesn’t this by itself undermine the credibility of the entire process ?

      Now, out of these comments, drawn from a small minority of students, a sizable fraction, maybe 25 of them, indeed criticize me for being unclear, or confusing, or for going too fast through the material. We are talking here barely 14% of the class, and I also see comments (not as many, but quite a few) that praise me, some directly contradicting what the complainers state. One of them almost goes out of the way to say that I did not go too fast.

      My question is: why should I give that 14% any significance ? Why should I assume that that 14% is somehow expressing a concern shared by a majority of students ? I know that my department chair will say that to me, but it is a baseless inference.

      Is it at all possible that I actually did explain, each and every time, what the goal and purposes were, and that the minority who are complaining were simply not paying attention, or perhaps could not follow because their background is deficient, or because they did not study the material on their own after class, and blame it on the instructor ?
      Is it possible that if I had repeated everything one more time, some people would have found me boring or would have fallen asleep, and maybe written that on the comment box, instead of leaving it empty or writing that I am entertaining ?
      Is it meaningful to expect that I make everyone happy ? Is it not conceivable that a 15% of “customers” will always be dissatisfied, no matter what I do ? I have “amazing patience” according to one, while I “talk down to student” and have a “very negative attitude” according to another ? Who is right here ?

      Cherish — let me tell you what I do keep assuming, and maybe it is time for me to stop making that assumption (though I am not sure what to do about that): I keep thinking that students will spend a few hours per week going through the material on their own, reading the textbook and thinking about the concepts, whereas many just don’t. They come to class, take notes, and that’s it. Many of them never open the textbook at all.

    5. Professor in Training Says:

      I see what you’re saying about the 14% but the chances are good that several of the 76% of students that didn’t comment also feel the same way. Not bothering to comment doesn’t necessarily mean they were completely happy or unhappy with your class.

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        chances are good that several of the 76% of students that didn’t comment also feel the same way

        No, I am sorry, I am not giving this to you — it’s totally baseless, and it is exactly the disingenuous, adversarial type of comment that I hear from administrators (“If one of them complains, many more might have felt that way but did not bother”). This is nonsense. No other segment of society would accept this rhetoric. It would go nowhere in a court of law.
        The way the rest of them feel is expressed by the numerical averages, which place me squarely where the majority of my colleagues are — if they “did not bother” it is because there was nothing to bother with. That is what any reasonable and rational person, much less a scientist, would conclude. Anything more than that is pure speculation.
        For anyone to allege without a shred of evidence that the majority of the remaining 76% feel the same way as the 25 who criticize me and not the 18 who praise me is ridiculous. I do not believe you will find a single business which would take any action to change its mode of operation based on a feedback of this type.

        Not bothering to comment doesn’t necessarily mean they were completely happy or unhappy with your class.

        Exactly. So, why suggest that they were probably unhappy, other than to build a non-existent case against a professor ? See, that is precisely what is wrong with SEI.

    6. Professor in Training Says:

      I wasn’t suggesting that the non-commenters would have opinions in the same ratios as the commenters, just that there would like be some that would have the same positive and negative feelings. Apathy does not equal no opinion.

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        Apathy does not equal no opinion.

        PiT, I completely agree with that, but since neither you, nor I, nor any administrator is capable of reading minds, we simply have to take this as a wash-out. Any attempt to build a case, one way or another, is disingenuous and likely motivated by a political agenda, not the desire to improve on the service.
        If one raises a red flag because a student says that I “talk down” to them, while dismissing the comment of the student who says I have an “amazing patience”, this is not objective — there is an agenda.

        (Of course I agree that there is a pretty good chance that positive comments are coming from female students who have a crush on me — eh, I can’t blame them… in fact, come to think of it… there is a pretty good chance that all of them may have a crush on me, even though the majority did not bother to write it down… yeah it totally makes sense).

        Seriously, I am not asking to be rewarded for the positive comments, I am simply requesting fairness in evaluating the negative ones. I mean, this is really common sense; after any election there will be some attempts on the part of a political leader or a party to claim that many of the votes that were not cast would have gone a certain way, had they been cast, but society as a whole agrees that such claims ought not be taken seriously.

    7. Professor in Training Says:

      I completely agree that without 100% response from the students, it is difficult to make assumptions about the overall feeling of the class but that’s the nature of evals. You could also argue, as I think you did in your post, that the students with negative comments were likely to be the ones who had an axe to grind for their poor grades. As a TA, I could always tell the students who gave me scathing reviews because there was usually only one per class and I always had one student in each class who did poorly – typically because they didn’t bother to put in any effort. In your shoes, I would take these comments with a grain of salt, perhaps look at whether there were any areas that could be improved, enjoy the positive comments and move on.

      (Of course I agree that there is a pretty good chance that positive comments are coming from female students who have a crush on me — eh, I can’t blame them… in fact, come to think of it… there is a pretty good chance that all of them may have a crush on me, even though the majority did not bother to write it down… yeah it totally makes sense).

      LMAO!

    8. Steven O Says:

      I think the conclusion that Massimo was getting at is the correct one, and the one supported by the most numbers. His numerical score was on par with his colleagues, and probably on par with many of the student’s other experiences with professors, so they felt no need to comment.

      But to end this discussion ‘conclusively’, after having Massimo as an instructor (in a graduate level class), he is an excellent instructor, who is much above the level of most of his colleagues.

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        Thanks Steve — by the way, I am sorry I forgot, was it the Mazda or the Toyota the one that I have to wash ? Just kidding…

        Anyway, my initial point was not so much about me, as much as the difficulty of extracting any useful indications from this type of feedback. I used myself as an example just because I happen to have my own comments.

    9. James Says:

      My question is: why should I give that 14% any significance ?

      Perhaps this question highlights the need to determine what fraction of students constitutes a significant fraction before the results of the SEIs are returned.

      Is it meaningful to expect that I make everyone happy ? Is it not conceivable that a 15% of “customers” will always be dissatisfied, no matter what I do ?

      This question might already have an answer, but I am not familiar enough with the physics education research literature to say for sure. Is the type of data you’re after not readily accessible to you? Can the physics department not supply you with (anonymous) data of SEIs from other profs and from years past to see if 15% is indeed the noise level in the student signal?

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        Hi James,

        does it have to be physics necessarily ? I don’t think so. If what I suspect is accurate, namely that out of 200 people you will always find 30 who will say “eh, this could have been taught better”, then I think it must be true across the board — humanities included. It does not seem so far fetched to me, but you are quite right, there is a pretty good chance that this issue may have been addressed already.

    10. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

      Having no teaching experience of my own, it’s very difficult to comment. But if yours was the only class where a student did not fall asleep, you’re clearly doing something right. The comment about negative attitude / talking down to students can safely be ignored as it was the only one that said such things, and like you said was specifically contradicted by many other comments.

    11. ADHR Says:

      FWIW, I teach in a humanities discipline (philosophy), and my evaluations tend to be nonsense. That is, I get evaluations where the numerical evaluation is decent to good, and the written evaluation is scathing (and vice versa). So, the 14% signal-to-noise seems quite good, in my experience: I’m used to far more noise!

    12. R Says:

      I don’t know how it works at your univ, but assuming you are the one that hands out the SEI forms and then leave the room, why don’t you tell all of the ones that are present to write something on the comment, even if it is you suck, or you did OK?

      If they ones that typically don’t write any comments are some that actually like you or don’t dislike you at least, I think they will make the effort and write a line. If they hated your class, they’ll write you suck, which isn’t really that much information but at least you will have a greater number of comments.

      I always do that, I tell my students (although I am only a TA) that the only way I will know how they felt is to get feedback from them, otherwise I will continue to be an ass. I even tell them that my mom, grandma and wife are off-limits, anything else is fair game. I always get comment from at least 90% of the students.

      In your case I would actually believe that the other 60 students that didn’t write a comment do have a bad opinion of your course… come on, how good of a teacher can a theorist be? haha just kidding…

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        In your case I would actually believe that the other 60 students that didn’t write a comment do have a bad opinion of your course… come on, how good of a teacher can a theorist be?

        Don’t discount the effect of that “crush” thing…

    13. Cherish Says:

      You could look at it another way. The ones who answered the survey are the most likely to have actually attended class on a semi-regular basis and are more likely than those others to say something useful. Of the comments you got, there did seem to be a trend and that trend seemed to indicate that several students found you moved too fast. Therefore, if you felt the need to work on improving your teaching, that was the most prominent comment and probably would be the one to work on.

      You could perhaps experiment with different ways of doing things and then end the class with a “minute paper” or something similar where you have them write what they thought was the point. See which method or speed seems to get the best responses.

      I guess my thought is that it’s an easy experiment to try. Maybe you’ll find that one way of moving between steps is more effective than others…or that it depends on the topic…or that it doesn’t make a difference.

      I believe it is quite plausible that all the female students in your class have a crush on you. That’s because all the ones who didn’t switched to a different section, leaving only the outliers. 😀

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        Cherish,

        I understand what you are saying but my point is that I have been there already, attempted to make changes to my teaching style based on feedback of this type, coming from a small minority of students, and ended up being criticized by roughly an equal amount for other reasons (“he is boring”… “repeats stuff too much”… etc).
        And what about those who say that I did not go too fast, that I did not waste time ? Are they just wrong ?
        Also, what do you make of the fact that nobody comments on me offering extended office hours, being available over the weekend as well ? They don’t seem to be very impressed with that… should I take it that it is not that important to them ? Should I then stop doing it, simply assign office hours and if they cannot make it at that time, tough luck ?

        That’s because all the ones who didn’t switched to a different section, leaving only the outliers.

        Well, see, I thought of that, but all sections were full, you see ? So, they could not have switched anyway… Believe me, I do look for other explanations, but, there just don’t seem to be any…

    14. transientreporter Says:

      Sorry, I didn’t read through all the comments carefully, but your general beef seems to be that the evals reflect a biased sample. Now, let me stipulate that I’m skeptical of the whole evaluations process – it’s seems to reflect (in my experience) how much the students like you personally rather than your communications skills. I fear for the professor who dares challenge the students too much. But what’s the alternative? No evaluations at all? You need some sort of feedback. I think it’s up to the instructor to look through the comments and see what makes sense to you. It requires you to be honest with yourself. Hey, no-one said this teaching business was easy…

      There are all kinds of problems with evaluations other than just biased sampling. They’re like political polls – they reflect opinions “of the moment.” 1) You would get different evals during the middle vs end of the semester, even if your teaching hasn’t changed. 2) You might’ve been very careful and methodical the whole semester, but God forbid you skipping over stuff on the day you hand out the evals. 3) Imagine if you decide to rectify the biased sampling issue by handing out evals on the day of the midterm. What would the comments look like then?

      Administrators need to take evaluations with a grain of salt. I would have a problem with anyone who does not. The only time administrators should take stock of evals is if the same issue comes up consistently again and again by a majority of students over several semesters, and the instructors does nothing to rectify the problem. It’s reflective of the instructor’s mindset as much as anything else.

      Since you’re such a hottie, you could always offer to sleep with your students for an “Excellent”…

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        Transient,

        again let me make it clear: SEI are necessary. In my view, they are the only way to spot cases of egregious misconduct, unprofessional behavior on the part of a professor. If you get comments saying that the person is constantly late for class, leaves early, cancels classes, or acts inappropriately toward students, you simply have to take them seriously.

        Beyond that, it becomes really iffy, in my opinion. You say that we need the feedback, but honestly, when the feedback comes from a minority, and not even everyone in that minority is in agreement (it is funny how some of the comments that I got seem to respond to comments made by others… I wonder whether they had discussed among themselves), I am unclear as to whether there is any reason for an instructor to keep changing delivery method or teaching style. There will always be a minority who do not like your teaching, we have to live with that, I am afraid.

    15. Cherish Says:

      I see your problem now. That look that you thought was adoration? It’s actually something along the lines of, “If I smile and nod, maybe he’ll let us leave rather than putting ANOTHER equation on the board.”

      They don’t have a crush on you…they are trying to flee.

    16. William Says:

      So I have to say, those evaluations look pretty standard – “best teacher ever, best teacher ever, worst teacher ever;” if there’s anything resembling a through-line, it’s that you skip steps in calculations, but this behavior is pretty standard, and as you say, a response to previous evaluations.

      So basically, I agree with every single assertion you’ve made, and come up feeling like you’re tilting at windmills. If you have gotten in trouble with administrators before for your evaluations, and feel like you are in any way going to be in trouble for these evaluations (as you said, they are on par with your peers), then there are very deep and not at all universal problems at hand. Otherwise, what’s the fuss? These are pretty noncontroversial opinions.

    17. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

      So basically, I agree with every single assertion you’ve made, and come up feeling like you’re tilting at windmills.

      I have re-read my post, and it seems clear to me.

    18. William Says:

      Ah, then maybe I was unclear; I’ll try again. 🙂

      You say:

      “I really have no problem with SEI. It is rather the use that is made of them by some administrators that worries me.”

      Then the discussion is about the SEIs themselves, and their various well known faults… But who are these “some administrators” who use them in such a way that you are made to worry? My only teaching experience is as a TA, but our student evaluations were taken very lightly (except obviously in cases where they clearly show the instructor to have been grossly negligent), and it seemed, at least, that many of the professors felt the same. If this is not generally the case then that is the problem more in need of serious, open discussion than rehashing the actual student evaluations.

      • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

        Then the discussion is about the SEIs themselves, and their various well known faults…

        No, it’s not. I say “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.”. I also have a link to a previous post of mine in which I discuss specifically my experience with SEI and their own evaluations. As to who are those administrators, just ask any college professor — department chairs, deans, members of college reappointment promotion and tenure committees, provost, presidents… all levels of administration actually.
        You can do a google search yourself, and trust me — they are not taken lightly at all.

        However, in this post I am discussing explicitly the value of the feedback provided by them, and how it can benefit the instructor.

    19. Nathan Says:

      Hi. I am going back through your blog and it is now my favourite.

      My impression of your teaching style is that you are an above average instructor. There are very few (if any?) vengeful comments. I see students of all types trying to give constructive feedback. The lack of absolutely horrendous comments suggests to me that the students aren’t anonymous when filling out the forms.

      It is surprising that the students suggest that the whiteboard/blackboard is less common than powerpoint. Maybe it is a Life Science thing.

      From my experience teaching (in the military) and now being a mature student, I see you make some common mistakes. First, I think Feynman was bang on when he suggested that there isn’t a right way to teach. He just decided how he thought each small topic could be best taught, rather than have a set in stone teaching philosophy. So, ignore any of my suggestions if they don’t work.

      A few suggestions:
      0) During the first class in detail, explain what you expect the students to learn, what your teaching style is and how you will test them. Also, explain why your teaching and testing style are the best to maximize their learning. If you can’t do this you are stealing the students’ tuition money and you should quit.

      1) Establish a state of mind, during your lectures, where you want all your students to be as succesfull as possible, despite their shortcomings in study habits. This is only a first year class of life science students, and their high school math/physics teachers may not have cared for or majored in those subjects.

      2) Nothing is secret. Just like giving a good conference presentation, make a claim and explain its importance/utility THEN show why the claim is true. They should want to know the reason.

      3) Have an outline/map of what you are doing and reference it constantly. Challenge them by asking occasionally what you have done so far and what needs to be done.

      4) To learn physics one must produce a mental model/assignment question algorithm and test it constantly and reformulate it when needed. Many practice questions with detailed answers must be supplied to students to do this. They (1st year life science students) can not create questions on their own.

      Some other points that are more specific to the students comments:

      Concepts
      “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.”
      “but concepts I felt, were not explained too clearly”
      “Need to write down theory rather than just use examples”
      “Should be more clear when explaining concepts.”
      “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. ”
      “No concept building. Jumping around assuming you’re smart in all areas. ”
      “but he failed at explaining concepts to the class.”
      “and helpful, but sometimes wasn’t clear in what he was trying to convey.”

      Ensuring the students understand the physical concepts should be your main goal from now on. This means you must know that they know. I also have an inkling that you are using a level of physics shop-talk above what they understand. You can test this by recording yourself give an explanation and have non-scientist point out how many words are completely foreign to them.

      Testing
      “Exams should be more difficult and curved.”
      I do think bright students rightly feel robbed when the less capable get marks too close to them. This student suggests a good strategy for spreading the marks out and then translating the marks to give reasonable grades.

      “The different versions had various difficulties.”
      The purpose of grading is to compare students to a common standard.

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