Thursday, July 16, 2009

Student Evaluations of "Spanish & Entrepreneurship"

by Ann Abbott

I was happy to see students' positive evaluations of the "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course from the spring. It tells me that many things in the course are going well, but I'm always on the look-out for ways to improve. So here are some things that I gleaned from students' comments. (Thank you, students, for writing your honest thoughts!)

Love what you do and it will show. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship, community service learning (CSL) and teaching. Students pick up on that. Many wrote that they appreciated my enthusiasm and that I cared about the students. That's true. Other important personal factors seemed to be that I was "open-minded," fair to all students and interactive. I guess my advice for others would be to simply let your love for your work show.

Students who like CSL, really like CSL. This prerequisite for this course is "Spanish in the Community," kind of an Spanish CSL 101. Therefore, my students knew what they were getting into and chose to do more CSL work. When asked what the most beneficial part of the course was, many cited their work in the community. Some students hate CSL work. Some students like it. And some students really like it. What I have heard from students who really like it is that they appreciate having more than one opportunity to learn this way. After all, we have dozens of Spanish classes that are taught in the "discussion" format. It's good to have at least two in the CSL format.

If you make students buy a book, use the book. Even though I told students that no appropriate book on social entrepreneurship exists in Spanish (as far as I know), they still were unhappy that the book was in English. I understand that. They also complained that we didn't use the coursepack that much in class. Again, I totally get that. The coursepack has activities in Spanish, and it was supposed to be the bridge between the English textbook (Enterprising Nonprofits) and our class periods that are conducted totally in Spanish. Next time, I will either update the coursepack so that it has really useful information for almost every class period, or I will eliminate it.

Students want to know why they're studying what you're teaching. One student wrote that s/he was happy that this was one of the few courses they had taken that was "applicable for the future." Faculty are busy explaining to themselves why they shouldn't be teaching anything "applied," shouldn't be seen as a "service department" and shouldn't have to capitulate to the corporatization of the university. Students aren'ts listening to that conversation. The world outside is changing--people are demanding to know the value of what they are teaching--and our students are struggling to find their place in it. I sustain that this internal faculty debate is premised on a false dichotomy. You can remain true to your humanistic values and teach students how that is directly applicable to the world outside the classroom.

Your students will give you good nuggets of information. If the big structural parts of your course don't work for the students, the whole thing will fail. But if that structure is solid, students will point out smaller things that you can tweak. My students told me that they would like more guest speakers, more credit for the CSL work, less multiple-choice quizzes on the readings, and for future students to pick up the team projects they started and move them further. Okay!

What insights have you gained from your students' course evaluations?

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