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Student Evaluations and What They Mean to My Teaching

Student evaluations of the 12 courses I have taught at the University of Texas suggest ways in which my teaching has progressed over the last 5 years. While I provide pdf files to each survey at the end of this page, I have condensed vital survey information into a single document that will easily provide a quick snapshot of my teaching. This shows only overall instructor and overall course responses by students. Enough data is here, however, to provide a sense of my development as a teacher, and I offer the following interpretation to show how I understand this information and use it to improve in the classroom.

I believe these results indicate that I have become a more effective teacher and course designer than when I began. During my first year at UT my average as an instructor in First-Year Writing, based on total number of student responses, was 3.7. The following year this rose to a little over 4.0 in my Rhetoric of Courtship course. In the 2007-2008 school year my overall instructor rating reached nearly 4.5.

These numbers suggest several things to me: While I was becoming more comfortable as a teacher, creating an atmosphere that invited students to participate and engage in course discussions and written assignments, I was also growing more confident in my abilities to pace daily class activities and to respond to assignments with a blend of directive and non-directive comments on student papers in ways that made sense for the students.

Over the last year, moreover, my survey rating remained near the same average. This stability was maintained even though I revised my classroom goals and assignments significantly in these first-year writing courses, thus having to learn new procedures and course material. Despite the new course design, I still maintained strong relationships with students in the classroom and helped them feel comfortable with the overall goals of the course, where I stressed writing as a way to engage public events by examining controversial public situations.

I believe these numbers indicate that I provide a consistent and engaging presence in my classes, and that students respond favorably to my extensive written comments on their papers. My availability in office hours and the stimulating classroom discussions I encourage all aid in my ability to maintain an overall high average score from my students.

Most students throughout my career at UT have rated my courses as being either “very good” or “excellent”, with a majority in recent years assigning an “excellent”  marking on the survey. During my first year, students rated my course with a little over a 3.4 average, while in my second year of teaching at UT this had climbed to a 3.8. Beginning in Fall 2007, my overall course averages as rated by students rose to 4.17, a significant increase suggesting that my ability to plan courses of interest and value to students had improved.

My development of the pace of the course, the reading load, and the specific goals and requirements of each class helped shape a compelling experience in writing instruction for these students. During this period (2007-2008) I had surveyed composition articles with Professor Patricia Roberts-Miller, and I began to reconsider strategies for giving written and verbal feedback to students. I also improved my ability to assess student writing partially by creating more focused and precise policies and assignments to help each class meet my expectations. Certainly, my own reflection on teaching methods and practical applications contributed to how I organized and taught my class, and students seem to have responded to this favorably.

Student Comments on my Teaching and Courses

My recent course evaluations are consistent with this, and I believe I have learned to engage with students in the classroom in a way that inspires their attention and dedication to writing as a form of civic engagement. I have provided a selection of student comments to indicate how they responded to the course in their own words. Not all comments are recorded; I have provided, however, the most substantial student commentary that will help provide a sense of my classes and my relationship to them.

Sample Student Paper with Comments

I have also provided a sample student paper along with my comments, both available as pdf files. In my assessment of student writing I keep my remarks on the student paper to a minimum, usually only writing a number next to a paragraph that corresponds to note I have written on a separate memo. By not intruding on the paper directly I hope to give students ways to understand their writing process not as a series of problems to be fixed, but as ongoing engagements with many complex skills and critical possibilities. I want students to be able to read my comments and to thoughtfully follow up on them in a revision, too. Based on their level of engagement with my concerns, I deliver a final grade based on a peer review process and responses to my own concerns for their revision process.

Detailed Course Instructor Surveys

Finally, the following course evaluations can be downloaded as pdf files. They were taken from the University of Texas Course Instructor Survey System and they can be downloaded from that site as well. For other questions about my teaching and these evaluations, please contact me at dmsmith at mail dot utexas dot edu.

Course Evaluations:

Fall 2005; Spring 2006; Summer 2006; Fall 2006; Spring 2007; Fall 2007; Spring 2008; Summer 2008; Fall 2008; Fall 2009; Spring 2010

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