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Student Evaluations

October 19, 2018

An old graduate school friend from Loyola, Abe Schwab–currently an associate professor of philosophy and medical ethicist at IPFW–wrote an interesting reflection on “the ethics of student evaluations and program accreditations.”

I surprised at how much the complaints of his students mirrored those I’ve heard from my past students (prior to the fall of 2018)—even though Schwab’s students are in philosophy rather than history. Here are the passages that resonated:

1. “There’s one kind of comment that always seems to bother me. There’s always a student or two who interprets classroom dialogue and exchange, challenges and rebuttals, as something gone fundamentally wrong in the classroom. As ‘fighting’.”

This speaks, I think, to both student expectations and their lived experience. On expectations, it’s about information exchange. On experience, little debate occurs in some classes.

2. “This particular course serves a population of students who are in fields requiring great deals of memorization and retention—dental hygiene, nursing, radiography, etc. As a result, they come to my class ready to memorize. And there are things to memorize: the definitions of autonomy, paternalism, and confidentiality; the features of informed consent and surrogate decision-making; and the arguments dealing with abortion, euthanasia, and the just distribution of health care resources. But “medical ethics”, for it to be worthy of the name “ethics”, must go beyond memorization.”

Again, information exchange—what Freire called the “banking concept of education”: deposits in, memorized, repeated, reproduced for tests.

3. “…Class time includes more than the review of information. It asks students to reflect, to think, to articulate their view. When they find themselves on the job and a situation comes up in which they have to decide what to do, a textbook definition may or may not be helpful. They’ll have to be ready to think for themselves, to provide answers to questions that weren’t asked when they were in school. Moreover, they will need to explain why their answer is a good answer, and articulate the values that undergird their answer. When I ask them for their answers in class, it begins a dialogue. I ask questions of their answers, point out implications that may not be anticipated, and ask them to consider how others, who don’t share their worldview might interpret their answers. And sometimes they convince me. Every semester my view on some subject or other is changed by a perspective, argument, or view, a student articulates.”

Interaction is the key—between fellow students as much as the instructor.

4. “One reason it’s important to stimulate and challenge my students, whether they are pre-professional, business, or something else, is their need for this kind of thinking in their work life. To be able to think clearly and to challenge the given wisdom of a dominant perspective needs more emphasis. My favorite example in this regard is Warren Buffett’s attempt to avoid the confirmation bias. In the past, Warren Buffett has invited someone highly critical of him and his approach to annual meetings, just to provide a check on his on thinking and assumptions.”

Transferable skills include debate, conversation, and criticism.

5. “And this is why programs in Philosophy as well as other Humanities and Social Sciences are so valuable for undergraduate (and graduate) training. As strange as it would be for me to try to teach Accounting, so it would be for someone in an Accounting Program to teach Ethics. And so when I do get students from these programs in my classes, I push them and prod them. I explore their ideas and arguments. I ask questions, in the hopes that in the future, they will ask questions, too.”

In some ways, this is also why interdisciplinarity doesn’t work. The teaching and learning are so different in various fields.

Anyway, Schwab’s reflection, despite its 2016 date, deserves attention. – TL

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