At the end of lecture tonight, I asked my students to take out a sheet of paper and answer this question - "If you found out your friend was registered to take this class with me in the future, what would be your advice to her?" The answers were generally positive, or at least the kind of answers I hoped for ("Don't just write down the slides" and "Come to all the lectures - the readings aren't enough" - stuff like that). I did have some negative feedback though, and it really frustrates me - not that they had criticisms, but that they didn't approach me with their concerns during the semester, when it could have actually made a difference. The frustration also comes from not being able to make them interested in the question I was trying to ask - and again, I think I would have been able to, had I known I wasn't. Here's an example -
To be honest, I would advise her not to take it. The lectures were full of detail, which is good, but they are never contexted into the larger picture. As a result, the final paper will be [ed. note: "will be"? It's due the day after tomorrow!] incredibly difficult to write, in addition to it being an impossibly broad question to answer.

I can't say for sure that this student didn't come to office hours, but I have a hard time believing that he would've had this attitude after speaking to me about the paper. In addition, they received the final paper assignment the first five minutes of the first lecture, so it wasn't a surprise that the question (Does international law have an independent effect on state behavior?) was going to be broad. Here's another example -
I would tell my friend to try to get out of the course. Your grading is really harsh. You expect something from the reaction papers that was never clearly told to the class. No matter how carefully I read the readings, my grade would not change. Also, an international law class should be about the law.

I had numerous students - ones that wrote them early enough to take advantage of this option - bring their reaction papers to me in office hours to discuss them before the due date. In addition, I allowed them to re-write and have their papers re-graded as many times as they wanted. I think that's a very generous policy, but it takes some effort on the part of the student. On the second point, I wish the student had asked me why I structure the class the way I did - I would have been happy to explain why I was approaching a class called Principles of International Law from the perspective of the motivations and incentives for states. Finally, the one that concerned me the most -
DON'T TAKE THIS CLASS. You can learn everything in 103 [Note: Introduction to International Relations] and that class is much easier. So there is no new info and this is a harder class, therefore it makes no sense to take it

It's not clear to me how the two courses could be covering the same material, but 103 could be easier - unless the student was only being engaged as the most superficial level. Yes, 103 and my class certainly address the same topics - it would be irresponsible to teach a course on International Relations without including interstate conflict or economic policy, for example. But if this student thought my class was just a more difficult version of the intro course, then he wasn't getting nearly as much out of the material as I wanted him to. Again - an issue that could have been addressed, but only if I know about it.


Spice said...

Gah. I think you ran up against the inability of some undergrads to do that whole 'abstract thinking' thing - which was much more a goal of your class than mine ("27 topics in 15 weeks - let's go!"). But there's really no excuse for not discussing those issues with you sooner - and if they're not going to tell you or your TA that they don't understand how to do the paper or reaction papers or whatever, they don't really have a right to complain after the fact.

J.Po said...

From my brief experience in the world of teaching, students cannot separate your role in assisting them in learning and their roles in taking charge of their learning. I bet if you matched up the responses with grades, it's the students who are doing poorly that blame you because they don't want to own the fact that they have almost all of the power in determining how well they do and how much they get out of the course. In other words, don't take it personally. It sounds like you aren't doing that, but I certainly did until I learned that the one harsh comment I got was from a student I discovered to be cheating (and essentially turned in for cheating).

How's the voice?

OleNelson said...

Eh. See my post today. I think my review is worse.

You're always going to get students who aren't engaged in the class and thus don't like certain elements of it. And you'd probably get different answers if you had asked them the question in two weeks, when they weren't in the midst of finals, stressed, and generally angst-y.

towwas said...

These kids lost all credibility for me when the first one used "context" as a verb. So, I say, fuck 'em.