Looking for Stories

Metrics!  No matter your job, there are data available to validate, educate, or eliminate you!  A solid organization will utilize all three purposes while managing the people side of the operation. During my decade in higher education, “educate” would seem a natural fit, but metrics applied in higher education can make people wonder just what they taught us at our alma maters.

If you were ever a college student, you know that the preferred method of gathering metrics from students is through the end of course survey.  One concern is that they tend to attract your most ardent supporters and frustrated detractors.  To be fair, that is an unscientific opinion supported by personal experience over several years.  I would be pleasantly surprised to find otherwise, so if there is good evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

A second concern has to do with the psychological effect looking at my scores has on me.  As much as I say and believe that I am not competitive, I sure find plenty of evidence to the contrary. Since I teach a class on thinking critically about data, I should know better. Actually, I do know better.  I also know that if Vegas ever offers betting options on what motivates decisions – emotions or evidence – put your kid’s college fund on “emotion”. But I look at the score, then immediately see how my score compares with the University average. Above average means I have been validated and I am a great teacher and should keep on keepin’ on. Below average and I may need to revise my syllabus, dust off the CV, or both.

Now that I teach several times per week instead of a few times per year, I am on campus a good deal. Which means I get to run into students from my early courses on a regular basis.  I like these student interactions because they tell a story better than the data sets.  As someone who teachers with a philosophy that we all enjoy stories and should tailor our communications to that reality, it makes sense for me.

Recently I ran into three students from three different classes on the same day!  First, I enjoyed the fact that enough of my students persisted through their early coursework in order for me to run into them!  Second, I remembered two of their names!  More importantly, the short conversations we had between classes left me feeling that I am making a difference.  One talked about his tough but survivable Math class, and how it related to some of our discussion topics in English. The other warned me that there are still plenty of teachers still doing the “Death by PowerPoint” thing.  He said if the military could not break him with months of jargon-filled slides, an occasional four hour session of them was not going to stop him either.  The third conversation was the most supportive and it came from a student that really did not like my class all that much.  We talked about work stuff and parted with a friendly handshake.

All three interactions came about by chance.  A chance that happened only because they chose to stick with the program and I chose to be out and about at my campus.  For me, it was validating.  To see them still at it, to see they wanted to continue the conversation long after they had to, helps me understand my goal as a professor.  It is not to get a higher score than my peers. If I truly wish to help them “Rise”, I must make it a point to see them, and hear them, long after they have passed my class.

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Filed under college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, metrics, UOPX

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