Ah course evaluations. Love ’em or hate ’em they are a part of any legal research instructor’s life. They can be an uplifting pat on the back from your law students for a job well done or a swift kick to your self-esteem groin. Perhaps they are just a minor nuisance that you immediately file in the round basket in the corner of your office or put in the Recycle Bin on your desktop. Personally, I view(ed) them as much-needed input and critique for improvement of my teaching during my first few years of teaching.
The fall of 2010 was the first semester I taught legal research, which also coincided with the first semester librarians were given the opportunity to teach the legal research portion of the 1L Legal Research and Writing course. We knew the program would experience growing pains and that would be reflected in the course evaluations. The primary complaints about that first year included things which I had little control over- namely that the class met at 3pm on Mondays and featured a class of 60 taken from 3 different sections of the 1L class. The complaints about my teaching style, while hurtful initially, were something that I could try to fix in between academic years.
That first year, students said that I relied too heavily on Powerpoint slides. I had too many slides and not enough live searching of databases. Check. This past year I limited my presentations to 10 slides and did LOTS of live searching in class. Students said in that first year I didn’t engage them enough in the classroom. Noted. So this past year I implemented group presentations of which I posted about here and took routine improv style hypotheticals from the class during the live search demonstrations. Students said after that first year that I talked too fast in class. Okay. So this year I slowed my tempo down a bit.
The results? This past semester’s evals claimed I still read from the PowerPoint too much (really?), the live searches were over their heads, I spoke too slowly, and they didn’t care for the group presentations.
The lesson? You can’t please all of the law students all of the time. You’ll be lucky if you can please 10-15 of them, which I managed to do if I am to believe the positive comments section. While course evaluations can guide you on how to approach teaching, it cannot be the driving force behind your course design.
For the most part, I received positive reviews from my students. The good slightly outweighed the bad and that was good enough for me. Let’s be honest, law librarians aren’t going to be afforded the same amount of respect in a classroom as a law professor. Anything short of a Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society type performance is going to draw some detractors with our 1L audience.
So, perhaps stay tuned for next fall when I jump on top of a desk, whistle the 1812 Overture, and yell at my 1L’s to carpe diem. Hey, I’m a sucker for positive reviews.