SOLE Survivor

This week I received the results of the “Student On-Line Evaluations” for my cosmology course. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I thought that this, my fourth and final year teaching the course, had gone pretty well, and I was happy to see that the evaluations bore this out: 80% of the responses were “good” or “very good”, the remainder “satisfactory” (and no “poor” or “very poor”, I’m happy to say). I was disappointed that only 23 student (fewer than half of the total) registered their opinion on subjects like “The structure and delivery of the lectures” and “the interest and enthusiasm generated by the lecturer”.

The weakest spot was “The explanation of concepts given by the lecturer” with 5 for satisfactory, 11 for good and 7 for very good — I suppose this reflects the actual difficulty of some of the material. In the second half of the course I need to draw more heavily on concepts from particle physics and thermodynamics that undergraduate students may not have encountered before, concepts that are necessary in order to understand how the Universe evolved from its hot, dense and simple early state to today’s wonderfully complex mix of radiation, gas, galaxies, dark matter and dark energy. Without several days to devote to the nuclear physics of big-bang nucleosynthesis, or the even longer necessary to really explain the quantum field theory in curved space-time that would be necessary to get a quantitative understanding of the density perturbations produced by an early epoch of cosmic inflation, the best I can do is give a taste of these ideas.

And I really appreciated comments such as “Work with other lecturers to show them how it’s done”. So thanks to all of my students — and good luck on the exam in early June.