Monday, June 13, 2005

TA evaluations

I was a teaching assistant for two classes in the fall. One was a biostatistics class, the other an introductory organismal biology lab.

At the end of the semester, students fill out an evaluation. It has a petty numerical section which is good for number crunchers but is useless for making any decisions or changes.

It also has a series of questions that students are asked to give written answers for. Poorly paid undergrads take them away and transcribe the written comments, then they disappear into the bowels of the administration. At long last, I have the written comments handed in last December.

If I may, I'd like to note a few things. (Aside from the fact that in my first year as a TA, two students wrote that I didn't seem to have a clear grasp on the material.)

One biostats student says I didn't explain things well.

The other 7 who submitted comments (out of 56) describe me as helpful, clear, good at explaining things, easy to approach, and good at passing out handouts.

Longer comments are great:
Josh was very helpful with homework assignments and very easy to approach at virtually any time. He knew the material well and was committed to finding an answer.
You're a great TA. I hope you'd continue to be a Biostats TA because students could really benefit from you. Your explanations were clear though some ambiguous, but overall, you really helped me understand the material and helping me in preparation for the tests. Thanks Josh.
My 8:30 am lab section of introductory biology (for non-majors) complained a little about the time (but not about the fact that I was never there even a second before 8:30, and rarely before 8:35).

They also said I was helpful, enthusiastic, thorough, entertaining, fun, good, and nice.
I thoroughly enjoyed this class, this is the first lab I have taken that has been halfway bearable. Josh did great with the material and is a great teacher. This says a lot for an 8:30 AM class too. Aside from his liberal views, he's pretty cool.… TA of the year!
Josh made us think a little more, and I liked the hands-on aspect.
I don't mind that some of the biostats students found my answers ambiguous, because I used a very Socratic style in office hours. I prodded them to find a way to answer the question, and really tried to understand how they were thinking wrongly. Once I did that, I could correct their error and get them back on track.

Statistics in particular simply requires you to twist your brain a little bit. You are dealing with aggregate properties, error, uncertainty, etc. The only way to do well in stats class is to get your mind into the right place that those things make sense. Once that happens, the textbook goes from Greek to Dr. Seuss.

I'm really glad that 9 of 12 students in my lab wrote comments, and that so many of them felt like they got something out of the labs. I'd say that the non-majors' classes are the most important place for good teaching. Majors' courses can coast on the students' enthusiasm and desire to understand the material in their chosen field. Non-majors' classes are where we make sure that the next generation of voters will elect good school boards, support science funding, and listen to the scientific experts before making complex policy decisions.

I'm feelin' good.