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A ritual followed near the completion of every college-level academic term is the distribution and collection of the misnamed “student evaluations.”

Student evaluations are, in fact, the grade assigned students by their professors. It is the professor’s judgment of student achievement. And, usually, there are metrics – a rubric – that guide the evaluation: test scores, grades for papers and projects, etc. Or, willful subjectivity.

What is meant by end-of-term “student evaluations” is the students’ evaluation of their teacher. Typically, students are offered a series of statements about the professor and for each one, the student indicates how well or poorly the teacher has performed using a closed-ended response option. For instance: “How much the professor stimulated your interest in the subject” followed by a response scale ranging from 1 = “A lot” to 5 = “Very little.”

In addition, open-ended comments are invited.

Over the course of four decades I’ve had the pleasure and the pain of reading quantitative and qualitative evaluations of me, the courses I’ve taught, and my teaching. Most of the time, in truth, it’s all pretty benign and sometimes even bland.

There have been complaints about technology: “I wish you’d use PowerPoint more often” and “I hate PowerPoint and wish you’d use the board.” And there have been compliments: “Love your sense of humor” or “That joke about the peanut really stuck with me” (but not the lecture, apparently).

Occasionally, though, thoughtful students offer ideas for improvement that are worth trying. And, sometimes, the ideas are very good, can be readily adopted and are genuinely helpful in enhancing learning.

My all-time favorite evaluative comment was by a student enrolled in a face-to-face summer class taught twice a week from 6 to 9:50 p.m., for five weeks. This class was a grind. For everyone.

“Overall,” the student wrote, “the class was pretty good.” Nice to know. “Your lectures were interesting and held my attention,” the student continued. Also nice to know, even if not especially helpful in directing improvement.

“And your sometimes bizarre examples really helped me to understand the concepts,” the student asserted. Okay. Something concrete. Note to self: adding bizarreness improves comprehension.

Finally, the student closed with this: “My only recommendation for improvement is that you serve pie. Because everything is better with pie.”

And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have it. Pedagogy isn’t enough. It’s pie coupled with pedagogy!

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