"Nobody exploded" - on Classroom Observations

Middle of the week, office hours, too many colleagues ducking their head in to focus on a music post - maybe that was a bad idea. Just to be nice, though, I'll toss you a little border radio sounding gem that I've been enjoying lately: "My Sugar Blue" as performed by the Texas Tornados.

For as little as I'm trying to get done today, it feels like things are pretty hopping. Maybe that's because I just printed up paper copies of my Google calendar so that I could make notes.

This post picks up the thread of evaluation related worry started here and continued here.

My class observation is done; I don't ever have a sense of how they went, and when people ask, my response is usually something like the title of this post. We'll see what happens when the written report comes my way. The one comment we did get to after the initial observation came down to the question about class discussion. I felt like I had a lot of it, while trying to balance making sure that the students got a good springboard for how some of the big ideas have been used and defined. I suppose, at the end of the day, it'll all be fine. It's not like I haven't done this before - or been doing it for years now before this job.

Still these observations feel like a big deal.

What's been good in the observation process here - so far, at least - is that there's been the opportunity to talk about what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of the class and of my teaching style. One of the things that was a little frustrating at previous institutions was Navy SEALS approach to observations: observer parachutes in, observes, and reports back all under the cover of night and with as little record of their passing as possible. Sure, there was the option to respond, but it wasn't a discussion so much as a deposition. And it was an option that always felt a bit of a danger to actually exercise: are you being combative if you respond?

What I'd really like is for someone to come in and see how I set up a class and then to check in later in the term to see whether what's happening fits the model I gave. I try to be up front with students about who I am and how I teach, and it seems like in the consumer/contract model of universities and course design that we see today, that needs to be factored in somehow.

I try to couch student evals in a similar way. When it comes time for them to be completed, I let the students know, up front, that I assume they feel like there is too much reading and that it's a difference of opinion I'll always have with students. In the current class, I warned them there was going to be a heavy reading load, in part because the course needed some legitimizing externally: it's bad enough students look at the title and see "CAKE;" I can't afford administrators doing the same. But it would be interesting to hear how evals might be weighed differently if the third party considering them knew the set-up of the course rather than just the repetitive student refrains we all know and love.


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