A Dialogue with Anonymity: Reviews of Spring 2018 PHYS 1303 (Introduction to Mechanics)

A look at anonymous student course feedback and responses to some of their written comments.

Faculty often have a lot to complain about when it comes to course evaluations. A significant body of literature suggests that course evaluations tell us little, as instructors, about the actual effect a course has had in achieving its goal (e.g. imparting a subject to a group of students).  However, one of the social problems that, I think, we have with course evaluations is that it’s not a dialogue or conversation; it’s a set of one-sided statements that come, all at once, around the time final grades are posted. The comments can be reflective, not of the value or rigor of the course, but rather the emotional state of the student in anticipating of the final grade they have earned in the course. They can be vacuously enthusiastic or bitter. They are often treated by the institution as definitive, without opportunity for faculty to respond to them.

I wish to turn this problem part-way around and make it, not a dialogue, but at least a response. I think it’s important to respond to student comments, especially the ones that are critical of the course in specific ways (e.g. due to another influence that soured them on the course, due to experiences with grading, etc). In speaking back to the commenters, anonymous though they may be, I hope to also provide something more resembling the “closed loop” of a real dialogue. At the very least, I can achieve one cycle of “call and response”.

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CERN Travel Journal: June 17 – 24, 2018


A view along a road inside CERN, bordering a vineyard on the south side. The sun is setting over the Jura Mountains.

What an incredible week. Not only was the weather a strange cycle of “uncomfortably hot” and “beautifully cool”, but the sheer pace of work this week was blinding. There was time to relax a little, too, as when the weekend came I had dinner with an SMU alumna and her husband – the person whom I met on the plane on my way to CERN a few weeks ago. There was a ton of research, some reflection on the U.S. in lieu of being here at CERN, and a lot of walks and runs around CERN, along with some wonderful opportunities to take photos that mix nature and scientific infrastructure.

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CERN Travel Journal: June 10 – 16, 2018

Four views of CERN from this week, spanning the entire set of weather conditions. It was great week.

This was a glorious week at CERN. Being away from the United States for a little while, in place that is both host to the complications of international cooperation and a reminder of how things can actually be when people of different nations cooperate well, has been an out-of-body experience for me as an American. It’s been a good thing. Of course, apart from what’s been good for the soul, there has been much research, which is great for the mind. Computer craziness ahead of a deadline, lots of data to copy, an analysis to run from scratch, and new views on old problems filled my week. I’ll reflect a little on this here.

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CERN Travel Journal: June 5 – June 9, 2018

I left behind SMU in late May to begin a short period of rest and recovery ahead of travel to CERN.

I’ve decided to use my blog to reflect on my summer research activities as they unfold. I find such reflection not only useful for thinking about what is accomplished and what is not, but also to communicate to an audience some of the aspects of the research life of a particle physicist (at least, one that has to travel to a remote site just to do their research).

This past week was a travel week for me, kicking off my time at CERN for the next few weeks. Prior to that, I visited my parents to get some much-needed rest and relaxation, as well as to (most importantly) spend time with family I don’t get to see very often due to teaching and research duties throughout the year. I arrived at CERN late on Wednesday (later than anticipated), and hit the ground running on Thursday.

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