Last week, the course evaluation results were made available for Introduction to Design Computing, the course I taught last fall. Unfortunately, the feedback I got was not very positive. In fact, it was outright deplorable. Out of 5, the average score for the course was 2.09, and for me as an instructor, 1.91.
I must say the results were a hard blow. The comments were even harder to take, especially since most of the class are also my peers. The main issues were that it was difficult to know what the course was about, that there should have been a greater emphasis on the tools, and some people felt I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about the material (though others complained that they felt they could have learned more from me).
While not the feedback anyone wants to hear, I understand their frustration. The course is not clearly defined, which was my main concern when planning it. There was a big question about whether the course was about the tools or prototyping design ideas. I questioned why a Flash tools course was required for graduate interaction design students, since many of them already have the skills. Through discussion with other faculty, it was decided the course needed to change from strictly a Flash course, which meant I needed to develop the syllabus from scratch. The school did not help me prepare for this. Other than the meetings I initiated about what I should teach, I was on my own.
This is the norm for graduates students who teach, which is not good for the teachers or the students. And as I stated at the beginning of the course, I did feel unprepared. While I attempted to stick to talking about design concepts within the context of digital prototypes, I was constantly pulled toward more detailed teaching about the tools due to some of the needs of the students. This created a question in my mind about what the course should really be about, which probably didn’t help things.
This is all not to say that I could not have done things better. Definitely, I could have. My idea of keeping the syllabus flexible to respond to the student needs seemed to have worked against me. And I should have learned more about the differences between ActionScript 2.o and 3.0, as it took me a couple weeks to figure it out.
On the positive side, I had an open conversation about the course during the final, and several of the students said they learned a lot and enjoyed certain projects (while others thought certain projects were useless). As for the evaluations, a few students gave me an above average score. And some comments were positive. So not all bad.
I shared the verbal feedback I got with other faculty and hope it will affect the future of the course. For one, I stressed the difficulty of having a graduate student teach his peers, and the odd role dynamic that it creates. I also highlighted the need for the content to be more defined and questioned whether it should be a required course for interaction design graduate students.
The feedback really made me think hard about preparing for the Basic Interaction class I’m teaching this semester. Again, I was on my own. But fortunately this time I had four previous syllabi to pull from, I have taken the class, and it’s my degree, so it was a lot easier to plan. I’m a lot more confident and prepared this time around.
Overall, I still believe my teaching experience last semester was valuable, and I’m happy I was able to help some of the students learn new skills. I’m disappointed that this wasn’t the case for everyone, and I wish it would have gone more smoothly. But I think the experience and the feedback will help me both this semester and in the future.