Although my Introduction to Programming in Python (CS-1064) course has now been over for almost a month, I still had to finish reviewing all my TAs. This required opening up the “Anonymous End-of-semester Staff Survey” that I had been holding onto. I’m not someone who likes reviewing others, so I’ve been holding off on this for a while. Plus, when you need to review survey responses for 300+ students, it can be a little overwhelming.
TAs in 1064 were required to attend class to help students after lecture (roughly 30 minutes of class time was active), hosted 4-5 office hours, graded the projects and ethics assignments, and participated in weekly staff meetings. At the end of the semester, students were given an anonymous survey that asked the following:
1) For each member of the course staff, there was a drop-down menu indicating: [Positive Interactions], [Negative Interactions], and [No Interactions]
2) A free response question for students to describe any Negative interactions they had with a member of the course staff
3) A free response question for students to describe any Positive interactions they had with a member of the course staff
Overall, I was very happy with my course staffs’ performance. Student feedback was positive and I wouldn’t ask for more from most of them. A few TAs have room to grow, and one or two might not be fully suited for this line of work, but overall things went great. Writing their reviews turned out to be fairly straightforward. However, as I read over the students’ responses, I knew I would need to self-reflect on my own performance. No one likes to self-evaluate, but it’s one of those things you need to do in order to improve.
We can start with my quantitative results. 213 students reported positive interactions with me, and 14 students reported negative interactions with me. It’s impossible to tell how many of these students were of the 248 from my section, especially since I did drop by the other section several times. I had more interactions with students than other member of the course staff, so it’s not really meaningful to compare me to the TAs or other instructor. At the very least, it doesn’t seem that there was an overwhelmingly negative response.
Of course, I didn’t do perfect. What were those 14 students bothered by? Well, you can find the word “condescending” 8 times in the survey results, so that should give you some idea. Some students were upset that I was “playful” with my answers to their questions - they felt that I was intentionally withholding help. One student was upset that I would have them read instructions or code out loud like an “elementary school student”. Apparently, my body language and tone was sometimes rude during one-on-one sessions; multiple students delineated between my behavior in lecture (“friendly and happy”) and my behavior in office hours (“rude and condescending”). This matches with my SPOT evaluations. I scored higher than the department and college average in every category except for “Instructor was warm and approachable”. For that element, I was not significantly different (alpha=.05) than the department or college average.
I felt a bit better reviewing students’ positive interactions with me. Many students said that they loved my teaching style, and that I was very helpful both in-and-out of office hours. I really appreciated one student who said I had “a lot of heart”. Several students appreciated how I wouldn’t just give out answers, but preferred a more socratic approach. I think the big thing that students harped on was that I was “always willing to help”. Here’s a quote that might sum up my behavior from the past semester: “Dr. Bart’s questions (when asking him for help) were frustrating, but I think I learned the most in those moments”.
Overall, there seems to be room for improvement in my interactions with students. Things seem to be working well enough, but I think I have to pay more attention to how I come across to some students. You always have to take these evaluations with a grain of salt, but there does seem to be some merit to the idea that I’m not as warm and approachable as students need. I’ll note that I don’t get this kind of feedback in my CS1014 Introduction to Computational Thinking class. I have a different attitude and approach with those students - I know they’re a vulnerable population, and I have different expectations. 1014 is meant to be a complete introduction, but 1064 has a mixed population of experienced programmers and complete novices. The experienced programmers do need opportunities to struggle with the core learning objectives. How much do I need to be supportive vs. socratic? It’s very possible for me to modulate my behavior; the bigger question is “how much” and “when”. The answer is at least, “More than I’m doing right now”. And that’s a viable target for improvement!