We get most of the official feedback on our teaching through a mechanism called SOLE — Student On-Line Evaluations — which asks a bunch of questions on the typical “Very Poor” … “Very Good” scale. I’ve written about my results before — they are useful, and there is even some space for ad-hoc comments, but the questionnaire format is a bit antiseptic.
On some occasions, however, students make an extra effort to let you know how they feel. Last year, I received an anonymous paper letter in the old-fashioned snail-mail post from a student in my cosmology course which said, among other statements, that I should “show appropriate humility and shame by not teaching any undergraduate courses at all this coming year.” Well, that year has come and gone, and I was not absolved of teaching responsibilities, so I soldiered on.
Today, I received another anonymous letter, from a most assuredly different student, who said that this year’s cosmology course “is without a doubt the most interesting undergraduate course I have taken at Imperial.” This would have left me ecstatic, except that this otherwise well-intentioned and obviously smart student managed to put the envelope in the mailbox with insufficient postage, which meant that I had to trudge across to the local mail facility and pay the missing 10p, along with a full £1 fee/fine! (If the author of the letter happens to read this, please consider a donation of £1.10 plus appropriate interest to the charity of your choice!).
It would be self-serving of me to make too much of this, beyond noting that, although I did make some significant changes in this year’s course, these letters more likely indicate the very different reactions that a given course can engender, rather than a vast improvement in my teaching.
My apologies to both students if they would have preferred I not quote them on-line, but such is the price of anonymity.