“I found looking at research sites for two hours to be dull but I learned a lot…”

By Guest Blogger Thomas Sneed

I would like to once again thank everyone at the RIPS Law Librarian Blog for another opportunity to contribute.  And from the title, could anyone tell that I was going to talk about evaluations?

A few weeks ago, I received the student evaluations from my fall business and tax legal research class. The title of this post is one of the comments provided by a student. Not only was it a bit humorous, but it was also the most in-depth comment from any of the responses. I can’t blame the students for not providing more detailed feedback because they are, after all, students. They aren’t critically looking at the pedagogy of the class or my presentation style. But I want to continue to improve and could use constructive criticism.

I had never taken a look at student evaluations from my classes: primarily because I never expected much from them. The forms consist of a set of bubbles and vague comment boxes handed out late in the term when everyone is starting to get semesteritis. After looking at this year’s comments it made me think more seriously about productive ways for us, as librarians in instructional roles, to gain insight into our teaching.

Could we ask the students better questions?

Many of you are probably already doing this, and I have done it in the past. I have asked evaluative questions early in the course and then provided more pointed questionnaires along with the standard end-of-the-course forms. I was recently sitting in on the class of one of our other librarians. They started a very organic discussion that brought about a few good comments. From my viewpoint, if we are going to get quality feedback from the students we need to find alternatives to the standard forms.

Can we step away from the law library / law school for feedback?

I often have the opportunity to work with librarians across my campus and have found them to be a wonderful source for many things, including ideas for improving bibliographic instruction. We have a collective of teaching librarians that regularly meets to present on various instructional issues. This month we had a session where librarians could bring an exercise for an upcoming presentation and allow the group to review it and make suggestions. This is a great opportunity to hear from a diverse group of colleagues that could prove quite valuable. Beyond other librarians, our larger university offers many instructional skill-building opportunities for faculty and would no doubt welcome teaching librarians into the mix. The key to this approach: don’t be shy about stepping outside the box to get quality feedback from alternate sources.

So what does everyone else think? Do you have any good ideas for quality evaluation of our teaching endeavors?

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