Course Instructor Surveys need questions about teaching styles

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Have you ever had a professor whose presentation methods didn’t suit your learning style? Maybe they only used paper and you like having everything online. Maybe they use the chalkboard, but you prefer having their notes uploaded to Canvas. Maybe they spoke so quietly you had to arrive early to get a seat close to the front.

When I was picking my classes last semester, I scoured the internet for this very information. To my dismay, I couldn’t find it anywhere. RateMyProfessors.com had mostly harsh critiques or glowing responses, Reddit had entirely inconsistent reviews and, most surprisingly, UT’s own Course Instructor Survey results were too vague to answer any of my questions.

The CIS is designed to give future students detailed, relevant feedback on professors to help them make decisions on whose class to take. However, the survey fails to provide enough information on presentation methods, an important aspect that helps students pick a professor whose classroom setting best fits their learning needs.

Because of this, I implore UT to add more specific questions about professor presentation methods to the CIS.

Brian Evans, Faculty Council officer and electrical and computer engineering professor, said since the current CIS is on paper, it’s unable to support nonstandard questions like the ones I was curious about, and that a completely electronic CIS is in the works.

“When you go electronic, you have more options than just a scale of one to five,” Evans said. “Instead of confining every question to just five possible answers, now you can have sliders, check boxes and whatever you want.”

If the proposal goes through, this could be a simple solution to including specific questions on presentation methods in the CIS — one that is both cheap and easy to implement. Student responses would likely be more informative as well because the electronic surveys allow questions to have more complex answers than five bubbles.

Ideally, the CIS would contain questions that let students list the teaching methods professors use, such as diagrams on the chalkboard, slideshows or onscreen handwritten notes that are uploaded to Canvas. It could also include information on classroom styles, such as whether the professor employs a flipped classroom model or the more traditional lecture setting.

The closest the CIS comes to answering these questions is with the prompt “the instructor communicated information effectively,” but again, this question can only be answered with a score of one to five. Questions like these make it impossible for students to glean useful information about what the professor’s classes are actually like.

For example, mechanical engineering junior Malini Josiam said she prefers when professors encourage her to take an active role in her learning.

“If you go in knowing a professor’s teaching style, you can kind of pivot and decide how you’re going to approach the class,” Josiam said. “I think you would be able to have a lot more choice in what professors you pick.”

Students such as Josiam would benefit from a reformed CIS. They would be able to pick and choose the classroom setting that complements the way they learn, whether it be auditory, written, kinesthetic or visual.

The CIS has the potential to be a powerful tool that can provide students with valuable information about professors. By making it more representative of each professor’s teaching style, UT could provide students with a professor review system they can truly depend on.

Shah is an electrical and computer engineering freshman from Plano, Texas.