Monday, February 25, 2008

Today I Think I Taught Something Useful

The timetable of fall classes was released today. This is the list of what's being taught, when, where, and by whom. Now, if you're looking at the math department, just about every class is listed as being taught by "unknown," but other, smaller departments have all their fall classes scheduled and assigned to instructors.

The students are, mostly, unaware of the online timetable. The typical way that they find classes is by using the online registration system in which you put in a course (by department and course number) and the system suggests sections that will fit in your schedule. The registration system tends to leave out details, like who is teaching the class or what time the labs and discussion sections meet or whether the class meets on the main campus or the extension campus. It's sub-optimal.

So I showed my students how to get a list of everything being offered by a department. I explained that someone who is teaching four courses has a primarily teaching-oriented job but someone teaching two courses has another component to their job (typically research). I pointed out that in some departments everything was scheduled and assigned to people except for a few courses where the instructor was unknown; I told them that it probably means that whoever teaches those classes hasn't been hired yet (or was just hired and isn't in the system yet).

What I didn't show them was the link to the online course ratings. I am unsure of what these measure. I know that Professor Popular's ratings are off the charts. Yet, when I've observed Professor Popular's class, it was nothing special (and half the class was absent). I also know that in our courses with common final exams that Professor Popular's students did not perform as if they had received exceptional instruction. Also Professor Generates-Complaints scored above average. Most of the complaining students in my office last semester were concerned about Professor Generates-Complaints; after I observed the class, I could see how they came to hold that point of view. (And I wonder why their opinions weren't included in the ratings.)