Course Evaluation Data and Information

for English 455: Literacy in the United States

Spring Semester, 2010

Prof. Chris M. Anson


Before you begin: I strongly believe that teaching well is a lifelong pursuit--an art to be explored and developed, and a science that constantly presents new challenges and opportunities for analysis and growth. As a teacher, I am very much a learner. I need to reflect on what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. Student evaluations are one source of information for me to reflect and improve. As such, I use them formatively, as information helpful in the improvement of a significant part of my professional life: teaching students and teaching other teachers.

But student evaluations can also have a more public function, displaying areas of my teaching that students find to be strong, and areas they find to be in need of improvement. Below, you will see evaluation data from the course and term indicated above, along with a bit of reflection from me about what I see in these numbers and comments. Please use this information responsibly. If you're deciding whether to take a course from me, consider what you see here not only as evidence of ability, but as evidence of my willingness to listen to your peers and improve my teaching in ways that respond to their justified concerns and needs. If you're a fellow professional looking at these data because you want to learn about or evaluate my work, please consider them only as one part of an overall plan for teacher effectiveness and a lifelong pursuit of excellence.

In some cases, where appropriate, I have included anonymously written comments from the students in the course. If so, I have created a kind of "dialogue" from some of these comments by interspersing my own (italicized) thoughts and reflections, and on ways to address specific concerns the next time I teach the course. By working on areas of concern, I can then match student opinions in future courses against those here to see whether the changes are having a positive impact on the course and on students.


The following chart shows each question on the NC State University-Wide Evaluation of Instruction form. In the first box after the question appears the weighted mean of the results for that question (based on a scale of 1-5, as shown below). 5.0 is the highest mean score possible (every student would give a score of 5 on that question).


Score of 5:
Strongly Agree
Score of 4:
Score of 3:
Score of 2:
Score of 1:
Strongly Disagree


Ave. Score
1. The instructor stated course objectives/outcomes.
2. The instructor was receptive to students outside the classroom.
3. The instructor explained difficult material well.
4. The instructor was enthusiastic about teaching the course.
5. The instructor was prepared for class.
6. The instructor gave prompt and useful feedback.
7. The instructor effectively used instructional technology.
8. The instructor consistently treated students with respect.
9. Overall, the instructor was an effective teacher.
10. The course readings were valuable aids to learning.
11. The course assignments were valuable aids to learning.
12. This course was intellectually challenging and stimulating.
13. This course improved my knowledge of the subject.
14. Overall, this course was excellent.

Average of all questions :


What these numbers are telling me: This is the fourth time that the recently-approved course, "Literacy in the United States," has been taught at NC State (I have been its only instructor so far). The course involves a service-learning component in which students must tutor young children in poor communities for a minimum of two hours a week for the duration of the semester. This semester the enrollment was far higher than in any of the other years, which created a greater workload as I juggled the various service-learning logistics. Overall, the evaluations are relatively strong; but once again, I sense that the students feel they are asked to do more than in a typical course because of the tutoring requirement--and I have held the course to typical standards for three credits. The elimination of oral presentations two sections ago again seems like it was a good move, as it gave us more time to discuss the course material and provided better pacing. One somewhat puzzling result is the average for Question #14, because it's lower than any of the other scores. Some holistic judgment is not getting captured in any of the other more specific questions, and it will be worth trying to gauge why, perhaps in an anonymous midterm course assessment, which I administer in every class. I have never found an ideal book or collection of readings, a fact continuously indicated in the scores for Question #10, and I may need to do some special surveys of individual readings or discuss opinions of the current book more fully with future classes. No matter how overtly I refer to the course outcomes, including in an midterm assessment in which students must gauge how well they think they are accomplishing them, this score never reaches 5.0, and it should. I may need to think of some way to help students realize that we refer to these repeatedly in the course.

Anonymous Written Comments from Students (from the evaluations):


"Dr. Anson was a phenomenal teacher. His enthusiasm, both in the material and for teaching, showed through each and every class he taught. He is the model teacher--leading the class and yet responsive to students. He allowed me to think outside of conventional teaching methods and expanded my basic, narrow views of literacy."

"Organized, efficient, and approachable. I thoroughly enjoyed his teaching strategies and consistent feedback as to our standing in the course."

"The professor is very enthusiastic and very knowledgeable regarding the course."

"Great professor! He knows so much about the subject and he made it very interesting."

"Dr. Anson is amazing. He is an amazing teacher, and one of the few teachers who have been able to blow me away by their intelligence. Some teachers are so smart that it makes them unapproachable, yet Dr. Anson is incredibly warm and always open for students to contact him with any kind of question or concern. He is also generally very good about getting back to us with a quick response."

"This course is great. I could never give the outside tutoring the praise that it deserves. I learned so much from the students that I taught, and I hope that I helped them as well. The tutoring was by far the best part of the class, but that is just because I had such an amazing experience doing it. The reading material Dr. Anson taught was also very interesting, and while it was long, it was all very easy to read. He also made things interesting by having the class discuss difficult topics (such as literacy in prisons) to make us realize how hard some problems really are to solve."

"The course is designed unlike most other classes at NC State. It included a community service program that not only benefited K-12 students but benefited students in the class by helping us understand the complex facets of literacy. Dr. Anson set up the course so that students could introspect, analyze, and discuss our personal ideas/opinions/values about literacy through blogs and narratives, which made it much easier to connect the material that otherwise would have been abstract and challenging to overcome. I would recommend this course (and Dr. Anson!) to everyone."

"The course was great! The service-learning aspect was a lot of fun."

"Exposed to different aspects of literacy and its role in society--some we may not have thought about before. Information pertinent to proficient and less proficient readers and writers will be particularly helpful for those of us going into teaching. This course was loaded with implications for teachers and potential practice."

"I love the professor and his love of the course."

"The professor was always available through email and gave feedback quickly."

Things to work on:

"Sometimes the class got too loud and talkative. I understand it is college, but sometimes he needed to step in and take control sooner. As the semester went on, we had more mini-group discussions. I liked the interactions with students better than just a full-group discussion."

There were definitely times when discussion became animated, and lots of people wanted to express opinions. This is the kind of class discussion that I adore--when every student is engaged and immersed in the ideas we're considering, even if they are simply taking in what others are saying. I tend to let such discussions go for a while before exerting control over the group and reining it in. In this way, lots of ideas can be put on the table, and we can then begin to sort through them and see patterns and relationships among them, and work toward greater coherence, if only to lay out several alternative ways to think about the issues. However, as this student's comment suggests, some students may feel that too many ideas, expressed too passionately, get in the way of their understanding--that the discussion becomes "noisy" both literally and symbolically. I need to study this phenomenon more fully and try strategies that keep the energy going (and keep me off center stage) while at the same time bringing a stronger sense of direction, even initially. I often have students write down their ideas first, which then offers a way to control the follow-up, but simply reading the freewrites aloud doesn't often lead to the kind of dynamic discussion that throwing out a controversial idea does. This student has opened up an interesting area for further speculation and experimentation in the context of the course.

"Tutoring was not counted in the final grade for the course." And, in a similar vein, "Our volunteer work was very helpful and educational but had nothing to do with our final grade even though we were required to spend 20 hours at our chosen center outside of class. I feel this was one of the most helpful and important parts of the course but it did not reflect in the syllabus."

These students have identified a perennial problem in the course: that the service-learning part is not evaluated, only expected. Although there are provisions for recognizing extraordinary effort in tutoring, or lowering a grade for students who don't meet the requisite hours or become problems at the sites, I can't strongly rely on the liaison representatives in the after-school and community-service programs where the students tutor; often they're very busy with many tasks and can't monitor my students' time, and I hesitate to weave in assessments over which I have no control. And it seems that no matter how hard I stress that the volunteer work should be seen as "homework," and that the normal homework expectations are somewhat reduced accordingly, every semester one or two students make this same point. It might be worth doing something stronger to root the understanding about the tutoring more firmly into students' minds, perhaps through a sheet at the start of the course that asks students to acknowledge, by signature, the expectations about the relationship between tutoring and the other course requirements and grading principles.This issue also affects students' perceptions of workload in the course, which I don't adjust completely in parallel to the additional hours of tutoring, beyond reducing some of the time for homework and giving them a couple of classes off. The tutoring is like anything they do beyond the course, yet it's a requirement of it. However, part of what's required in the course draws on the tutoring experiences, such as routine reflections on the experience. Clearly, this is an aspect of service-learning that needs continued attention and discussion.

"The beginning material was very dry and boring, but toward the end it was more relatable. Maybe mini-group discussions could start at the very beginning of the semester. It might have helped me to understand everything more clearly in the beginning."

I find this to be an excellent suggestion. There's a lot of introductory groundwork to cover in the course, mostly focusing on broader definitions of literacy, metaphors often used to describe literacy (we read a quite challenging article about that), and theories of literate practice. Small-group work begins when we start applying some of this work to more concrete situations; but there's absolutely no reason why small groups couldn't focus on this difficult early material simply from the perspective of meaning and understanding. I'll put this into effect the next time I teach the course, maybe using some engaging low-stakes writing assignments such as "join the conversation," a strategy in which I make up brief written "voices," as if overheard, that comment on the readings, but contain false statements, misunderstandings, or poor reasoning mixed up amidst more reasonable statements. Students have to know the readings really well in order to react to any of these "voices" in a low-stakes response.

"The only weakness of the course was the amount of little things to keep up with. I found myself playing catch-up on the readings and different little assignments."

There are, in fact, lots of lower-stakes assignments in the course that balance out the larger projects. Many students like these opportunities, but they definitely need to be tracked and kept up with, and some students don't like to keep checking the syllabus to look at what's due the next day. This is simply a reality of the course, but there may be some things I can do to simplify or streamline the lower-stakes work. This semester, students wrote to five-person blogs in order to carry on a conversation about the material, and these entries had consistent due dates even though they didn't require a lot of sustained work. There was also a wiki to which students had to post several entries in different categories. By suggestion of a previous class, I placed due dates on the wiki entries rather than allowing them to be posted at students' discretion, but this only added to the number of due dates for smaller assignments. Although most students found the wiki valuable, there may be other kinds of assignments that could substitute for the several wiki entries, or, perhaps more sensibly, the wiki entries could be interwoven into the blog so that the two kinds of assignments are more seamless. Again, an interesting issue to work on.

This was the second time I used a wiki in this course, and one student last time had recommended dropping it. I didn't. But now I'm revisiting my sense of how strongly the wiki contributes to the course outcomes. The wiki is designed to provide a cumulative (cross-course) repository of information on literacy. But aside from putting materials to the wiki, I'm not sure that all the other entries serve much purpose to the students. I might substitute a kind of find-and-share assignment in which students summarize a book, article, program, or other resource in a one-minute micropresentation at some point during the course. --CA

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