Student Comments

I sneaked into the department this morning to pick up some things from the office and leave some other things that I’ve finished with. I went quite early, to avoid the Saturday crowds there and back.

One of the things I found in my pigeonhole was a packet of student questionnaires about the third-year module Nuclear and Particle Physics for which I was responsible. It seems like a decade since I finished teaching it and marked the exams, but it can only be a couple of months. I was dreading reading the responses this time because I know I struggled a bit with this module, partly because it’s the first time I taught the Nuclear Physics part and partly for other reasons I won’t go into.

In fact the students were very kind and gave me quite good reviews; the only score that let me down really was that they thought the material was rather difficult. I’m not really surprised by that, because I think it is. However, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s a physics lecturer’s job to pretend that the subject  is easy; it is  a lecturer’s job to try to convince students that they can do things that are difficult. I don’t mean making  things difficult just for the sake of it, but trying to get the message across that a brain is made for thinking with and figuring difficult things out can be intensely rewarding.

The main criticism that students wrote in the space provided for their own comments was that they didn’t like the fact that I used powerpoint for some lectures. Actually, I don’t like using powerpoint for lectures either, but unfortunately I had no choice on some occasions. First I had a rather large class (85 students) and one of the rooms I had to use had a very small whiteboard; I was worried about its visibility from the back and the need to keep cleaning it every five minutes. Also in that room the projector screen covers the same area as the whiteboard, so it’s a pain to keep changing between powerpoint and whiteboard. Anyway, it’s a fair criticism. I’ll try to work out a better way of doing it next year.

To be perfectly honest I don’t like whiteboards much either. Call me old-fashioned, but  chalkboards are much better. Received wisdom, however, is that we have to have whiteboards, with all the ludicrous cost and environmental unfriendliness of the accompanying dry-wipe marker pens. But I digress.

Anyway, next Wednesday afternoon will see our graduation ceremony. Graduation day always reminds me of something somebody told me years ago when I attended my first one, at Queen Mary (and Westfield College, as it was then).  The essence of the comment was that what you have to remember as a lecturer is that when the students do well it’s their achievement; but when they don’t it’s your fault. Life’s like that, it’s never as symmetrical as particle physics.

Many of the students who took  Nuclear and Particle Physics will be graduating on Wednesday. I’m distraught that I won’t be able to go myself; this will be the first ceremony I’ve missed since I moved here five years ago.  If any of the graduating Physics class from Cardiff University happens to read this, I really hope you have a great day on Wednesday. I wish I could be there to shake your hand and wish you a very fond goodbye, but sadly that’s just not possible on this occasion.

5 Responses to “Student Comments”

  1. A shame you won’t be there.
    All the best, Professor.

  2. Nearly 10 years since Tufte had his powerpoint is evil rant. How time flies.

    As handouts, though, the slides can be quite useful for making notes on.

    Well done all the students who’ve got this far.

  3. Bryn Jones Says:

    My feeling is that most university departments issue module questionnaires to students when the module is nearly finished. This provides feedback on the entire module so that the lecturer can improve the teaching the following year.

    In contrast, questionnaires for most of the modules I used to teach were handed out about halfway through, so that the feedback could be used to improve the teaching for the later parts of the module. The students could benefit from their responses. The disadvantage, of course, is that the student responses might not have been relevant to the module in its entirety.

    • telescoper Says:

      I sometimes wonder how different the comments would be if we handed out the questionnaires after the examination….

  4. “The main criticism that students wrote in the space provided for their own comments was that they didn’t like the fact that I used powerpoint for some lectures.”

    Do they not like PowerPoint because they prefer chalk and talk, or do they not like PowerPoint because they prefer some other format (PDF generated from LaTeX, say) beamed onto the wall, without the PowerPoint bells and whistles, comic sans etc?

    I recently gave my first talk without transparencies. (Actually, I had some with me as a backup, but didn’t have to use them.) I felt something like Neil Diamond in a sequined jumpsuit in Las Vegas in the late 1960s, but it went over OK.

    Frankly, I was a bit surprised when I read that there would be computers connected to projectors and “traditional overhead projectors”. At first, I wanted to use the traditional projector, but in the end decided to combat my inner Luddite and go for the modern stuff. I’m glad I did. It is much easier to produce a file than transparencies (which means printing them out then using a fancy copier to move from paper to plastic, or directly printing them on plastic with an even fancier printer) and much more convenient during the talk, especially when one needs to quickly go back in response to a question, say. Bringing one’s own laptop (not that I even have one) is so 1990s; just a USB stick or, better, upload it to the conference computer via HTTP. Of course, I produced everything on VMS. A bit of tradition is a good thing.

    One thing I do miss is the ability to quickly draw something on a plot, say, in response to a question.

    (It turned out that the “traditional” overhead projector was just a digital camera connected to the same projector the computer was. Traditional transparencies thus had to have a white sheet underneath. Of course, one could just use printouts on paper, as opposed to actual transparencies. This is actually quite a nice setup as one can put anything under this camera, such as an open book, without having to copy or scan anything.)

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