Course Reviews & The Older Woman

Jan 19 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

I got my course reviews from last term. Its a big class (the entire first year medical class) and I give about 10 lectures and many many hours of lab. This year nothing approximated the best comment from my first year teaching at almost-MRU:

Dr. Theron is insufficiently nurturing,

a comment that I am sure men have received through the ages.

This year I was compared (unfavorably) to the two young, relatively goodlooking men who teach in the course.

Why can't Dr. Theron be more like Dr. Good and Dr. Looking? They are incredible teachers who really care about students.

Actually, if the students knew the truth about Drs Good & Looking's sentiments about students they might feel differently.

There has been lots of work on perceptions of teaching and student evaluations. One interesting place to look is here, from Ben Schmidt. He took the the 14 million reviews from and turned it an interactive website that lets you type in words and see the gender split measured in "uses per millions words text". For example (in a very bad image, I encourage you to go the web page itself):

gender diffs

The yellow dots are occurrences of "happy" for female instructors and blue dots the occurrences  for male instructors, again, per million instances, over a number of fields.

gen dif 2Try "good" and "excellent" and "challenging" and "valuable". Try "nurturing" or "evil". Unless you really believe that females make more evil professors than males, there is a problem here (and not just my inability to capture images from this web page). Although see this for another view. And this.  Age also factors into perception, with significant interaction between age and gender, with young males getting the highest ratings for a limited number of variables.

For me, this is not so much of problem, except for my slightly bruised ego. The head of the course (older, male) basically said that he didn't give a damn about the specific comments. My overall numbers were sufficiently good, and he thought my lectures were fine, even strong. Its also not a problem as I am not up for tenure. If the bias is against older women, it won't play into tenure too much, because we all know that older women don't need jobs because they are supported by their partners (unless of course you've got two older lesbians).

Part of my problem, to my thinking which includes a sample size small, is the change in students. This is material I've been teaching for many years, taught in medical schools, and undergraduate courses, and grad programs. I've kept up with the "new pedagogy" and even (yes, that old) weathered the transition from overheads to powerpoint. Over time, my reviews have changed, for the worse.

Now, it could be less enthusiasm for teaching on my part. It could be less fear about promotion and evaluations. I do not hold that I have stayed the same. Obviously not, I'm significantly heavier than I was as an assistant professor with more pubs, and my bad attitude has subsided, a little. But my reviews have followed a nice parabolic trajectory. Dreadful in the beginning (when I was younger than the medical students), improving, but then dropping about 5-7 years ago. In this latter time period, I've improved those scores (at least) as I try & modify to meet the needs of "today's students". I now give detailed handouts, despite this:

To provide or not to provide course PowerPoint slides? The impact of instructor-provided slides upon student attendance and performance Debra L. Worthington, David G. Levasseur Computers & Education Computers & Education 85 (2015)

 As PowerPoint has pervaded today's college classrooms, instructors have struggled with the issue of whether or not to provide students' with copies of course PowerPoint slides (instructor-provided slides).While students report that such slides assist them academically, many instructors have expressed concerns that these slides encourage absenteeism and classroom passivity. To help assess the academic impact of instructor-provided slides, the present study examined two semesters of students' progress in a communication theory course. Across these semesters, the study charted the relationship between access/use of various types of instructor-provided slides on class attendance and exam performance. In its key findings, the study found that instructor-provided slides had no impact on class attendance and an adverse impact on course performance for students using these slides in their notetaking process.


My second favorite comment, 2-3 years ago was:

Dr. Theron actually expects us to take notes during her lectures. Why can't she put all the information in her handouts?

America, these are your future doctors.

5 responses so far

  • Zuska says:

    Well, that certainly makes joining the Hemlock Society look like a more attractive alternative than hoping the quality of gerontological care improves by the time one reaches old age.

    • potnia theron says:

      Nah, because geriatrics is not a high-profile specialty as is surgery and neurology and oncology. The chronic care specialties (such as PM&R) tend to be chosen by people who are a little more people-oriented.

  • chall says:

    "expects us to take notes during her lectures. Why can't she put all the information in her handouts?" HAHA. It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad.

    The whole "learning by writing and processing" is probably completely out of date nowadays. I'm sure evreyone learns by clikcing on ppt and listnening to the lecture on line and then it should all pop into your head.

    (I know I would fail the class for sure. I need to write comments and form my own summaries in order to remember. but i'm weird. and old. obviously.)

    For clarity, my fave comments from an old eval was "Dr chall is not nice. She corrected our language in the lab report and declined to pass it first time. This was not a language course". As a note, the whole lab report (for microbiology) was written without any type of . , or Big letters in beginning of sentence, just fluid text. I asked for bullet points or something that would make it more readable... pure evil I tell you ^^

  • JustaTech says:

    I had a few professors who handed out the slides for every lecture and it never really worked for me. Either there wasn't enough room to take meaningful notes, or the professor used it as a way to jam way more stuff into the lecture than you could expect anyone to take notes on.

    Even now I'll download the slides to make sure I've spelled everything correctly, or for a particular figure, but I still take notes by hand.

    (I'd be interested to see the gender breakdown of the reviews for my program, since almost all of it is online, so you only occasionally see the professors, even if you do hear them.)

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