Monday, November 11, 2013

Verdict on Student Feedback About EECS 280

A couple weeks ago, we surveyed the students in EECS 280 to get feedback on how to improve the operation of the course after we received complaints about long wait times (i.e., hours) for meeting with instructors.  About 620 students registered for the course with two faculty, 13 TAs (of which 6 are quarter time), and 4 graders to cover three lecture sections, 16 discussion sections, approximately 25 office hours, nearly 24x7 coverage of the piazza forum, and grading each week. Taking into account part-time staff (1 faculty + 1 double-time faculty + 7 full TAs + 6 1/2 TAs approx= 13), there is effectively a 620:13 ratio of students to instructors or 47:1.

Here's the original survey, and the results.  Short story: we agree the wait times are too long, and we'd like to see improvements in the student-to-instructor ratio.  In the meantime, we are load balancing office hours to increase availability at certain peak times (at the expense of decreasing availability for hands-on exercises in the classroom and other things).  Unfortunately, we were denied requests for additional graders.  Human resources requested that we instead divert TA hours from in-person student interaction to grading homework.  Human resources further admonished the staff when one TA accidentally exceeded the allowable hours.  We're trying to figure out ways to do more with less.

The data, please:
The data indicate that a small number of students experienced excruciatingly long wait times.
At busy times, the more typical wait is about an hour.

Data indicate that very few students are willing to accept "group" office hours to cut down on wait times.
It seems that students strongly prefer 1-1 debugging sessions because of the personal nature of individual programming assignments.

The data are clear: Students feel overwhelmingly that they could perform better if staff office hours were more accessible.  We have rebalanced office hours to address this short term problem, but the long-term solution seems to require more instructional staff.
Surprising to the staff, the data indicate that students overwhelmingly prefer the whiteboard over the chalkboard.  Boo!!
The data seem to indicate a toss up.  Before the survey, a number of students wrote rather strongly that the slides put them to sleep.  We were asked to cut down on the use of slides (to which we agree) during lecture, but it seems a majority of students prefer slides over the blackboard.  We surmise that students who watch recorded lectures prefer the slides because the boards are illegible via the camera, but we have no data to support this hypothesis.


Muneeb Ahmad said...

Out of the 620 students, how many took the survey?

Kyle Lady said...

"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." --Steve Jobs

I'm a little wary of directly catering to the questions asked, just because a lot of times students know what they want, but not what will help them to learn more effectively. I've hated things that professors have done in courses until realizing there was a goal behind their choices, and that the annoying practice/policy did help me to learn better.

If you can get data to back up the slides/chalkboard divide, and, if it's the case that students in lecture prefer the board, one option would be to leave the projector off but advance the slides as though it were on so that students playing along at home get slides, but people in class get the benefit of writing on the board.

Also: chalkboards for life!!1!1!

kevinfu said...

Muneeb: 75. Which is approximately the same slice as voter turn out in Ann Arbor last week.