Accepting criticism

In honor of the 300th posting at YCPMicro, a bit of a digression.  The student/teacher dynamic offers a number of opportunities for assessment and feedback during any course. I try to set forth a set of expectations at the start of the course, which include various learning goals that I would like the class to reach during the semester. Assessment points during the course (our clicker quizzes, midterm exams, discussions and questions during class) offer me ample opportunity to see whether the class as a whole is achieving the goals I would like them to. Feedback on whether instruction is effective is somewhat more difficult to visualize, and mainly comes from my personal comparison of classes from semester to semester, as well as the end of semester classroom observations of teaching filled out by students on my behalf. Those are seen by me, and only by me, after the end of the term, so it gives me little opportunity to alter things during the semester itself. By and large, the majority of these observations indicate that students are satisfied with BIO230 content, and my approaches in the classroom. I use feedback from those observations to tweak the class in subsequent semesters.

Other student opportunities for feedback are more public; for instance via Ratemyprofessors.com. A recent comment on that forum alarmed me, due to the anonymous student’s frustration with me in class this semester. I don’t believe that the “rebuttal” feature at that site is useful. The word “rebuttal” is itself loaded, and I think demeans the student’s very real sense of frustration. Instead, I would like to use this opportunity to offer to all a public apology, an excuse, and a recommendation.

First, an apology. The comments at RMP indicated that I have demeaned and diminished student opinion, and made students feel uncomfortable and inadequate. I would like to make a heartfelt apology that I did so, and to say that is the furthest from my intent. I value above all else honest opinion in the classroom, and do not want anyone to feel that their opinion is not important.  I think academic challenge is critical for learning, but also realize that learning styles vary, and I also realize that my approach might not benefit all students equally, and might be interpreted differently.

Second, an excuse. The comments also used the word “arrogant,” which is a word that I do see very infrequently in my end of semester classroom observations.  I suspect that my view of the word “arrogant” might be somewhat different from what students might perceive, but I would like to suggest that what a student might consider arrogant might be explained by my passion for the topic. I do get very excited thinking and talking about the process of disease, and I hope that if any frustration I might express when students fail to share my excitement doesn’t offend anyone.

Third, a recommendation. The comments further indicated that I am not very forthcoming with help. With the comments above, I understand that students might be hesitant to pursue help, however I do want to try and remain approachable in person in class, and elsewhere. I offer a number of opportunities that I want students to take advantage of for out of class help: office hours, explicit course learning goals, class discussion boards via Blackboard, feedback on assignments and assessment, classroom tutors at the CTL. I believe that it is each individual’s responsibility to utilize the full resources offered to them during the course. I realize that different types of help are necessary to match to different learning styles, so I do try to make a variety available.

I really enjoy BIO230, and I really like what you bring to the class. I have a lot of fun, and want everyone to come out of the class with the same enthusiasm. I understand that some students might not enjoy science as much as I do, but memorizing facts about Microbiology are not significant learning goals that I have for this course. It is more important for me that we develop critical thinking skills that we will continue to use everywhere, both in school and in life!

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 13, 2012, in Meta. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. [Heather wrote some nice things about me]

    • While I appreciate the positive comments, I absolutely recognize that an action that one person sees as positive, another may perceive it negatively. I have no illusions that everyone enjoys this class, but I do not want anyone to feel that I am treating them unfairly, or demeaning their opinions. That behavior has no place in my classroom.

  2. I may or may not have done my own ratemyprofessor entry in response to this…

  3. Rivers Singleton

    As another professor who has heard similar students, I second much of this post. I will add two additional reflections. First, for most (not all) teachers there are no dumb student questions, if the student has made an honest attempt to understand the material, i.e. read the assignment, etc. Second, I try to encourage students to view class discussion as an “idea laboratory.” One student expresses his idea about a topic, and another student expresses her different understanding of the topic. They are engaged in a dialogue (much as when scientists perform an experiment they are having a dialogue with nature), and out of that discussion a “truth” will emerge.

  4. Don’t worry professor Singleton, we got you covered! A lot of us put up the truth about you and your class. Don’t let one person’s negativity bring you down. Micro is really hard, but if we try really hard it is possible and you do a good job of making it possible.

  5. I agree with Rachel Hannum on this post professor. You do a great job at making Micro possible, and it is our job as students to learn the information. You are willing to help anyone who asks. Don’t let this person bring you down. You’re an awesome professor!

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