From: Steve Ehrmann
Date: Apr 28 2006 - 9:27am
I was the person (or at least one of them) who asked the question Steve cites at the beginning of his email. Here are some additional facts:
* the two physics courses have very different designs. The earlier, traditional design features a single lecturer, and about 800 students (two lecture sections; lots of discussions sections taught by others). The use of only one lecturer (in a department of 80+ faculty) makes it more feasible for the department to select superior lecturers, and student ratings are often high.
* One faculty member (who had taught the course some years ago and had gotten high ratings) didn't like the learning outcomes and redesigned the course. In the new design, students are taught in groups of 100 (each with a different instructor, plus TAs), using discussion, experiments, clickers, etc. I THINK his ratings went down. I'm sure that the ratings of the average instructor (8 of them) were lower than the ratings of the single lecturer in the old design.
* I know the learning outcomes (conceptual understanding) improved dramatically, relative to the old design.
* a highly rated instructor in the same department claims that a) the department doesn't have enough good teachers to staff so many sections of the redesigned course so that the average rating of the eight course leaders will be significantly lower than the rating of the single lecturer in the old design, b) he infers that lower instructor ratings mean that students in this introductory course are less likely to want to learn physics in the future. It's better to have more affection for physics than better learning outcomes, he said. Whether you agree or not, this is consistent with what Mike said in the workshop - whatever SCE [Student Course Evaluation] measures, it's only a partial measure of how good the course was.
* My guess is that many faculty in this research-oriented department of 80 faculty would agree that most of them could not do either model well (lecture freshmen; guide on the side for freshmen), that some could teach comfortably in both ways, and that some could do only one well.
I've heard this story many times before: instructor shifts to a design that involves more active learning, collaboration, and student responsibility. Instructor ratings drop, sometimes to a career threatening degree. I don't know how often this drop in SCE scores is a measure of decreased satisfaction (the instructor isn't working as hard for me? I'm not comfortable learning this way?) and to what extent it is an artifact -- the change in pedagogy created a mismatch with the questions on the form (which perhaps were biased toward questions about lecturing - the instructor is lecturing less so scores go down, even for students who are satisfied with the course and learning well).
Steve Ehrmann (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The TLT Group