The Awards: 2

The Department of Psychology's Teaching Honor Roll just came out. These awards are based on teaching evaluations in Fall, 2009 term classes. I'm pleased to report that I was named to the Teaching Honor Roll for one class, and the Honor Roll With Distinction for the other two. This is a good news/bad news thing.

It's good news that, generally, students in two of my classes had a very positive experience. But it's bad news that students in the other class did not have a similarly positive experience. It's the first time since 1997 that I have not received Honor Roll With Distinction for an intro psych class. Looking back, I know what the problem in that class was: the room.

The room I taught in is dark. The walls are dark brick, and the lighting is terrible--sort of pot lights, creating dim little spotlights here and there. Making it worse is the fact that I have to turn off some lights so everyone can see the PowerPoint slides. Why is darkness a problem?

If you're (literally) in the dark in a public space, you feel anonymous. It's like you're the only one there and no one can see you. As a result, you might be more likely to engage in behaviours that you might not, if the lights were on. (Don't believe me? Check out this paper, titled "Good Lamps Are the Best Police: Darkness Increases Dishonesty and Self-Interested Behavior".) The behaviour in this case was chatting. I had some students chatting during the whole entire damn class, from the start to the end. In case you haven't guessed, this really pisses me off.

I'm trying my best to provide a certain in-class experience for students. To do this, I require the cooperation of everyone in the room. Now I don't insist on absolute silence or anything. I've got no problem with someone asking their neighbour for the last fill-in word they missed. But if you're talking during the whole entire damn class, why bother coming? I mean, really? What are you getting out of the class? Filling in blanks here and there on a printout is not the same as learning. In fact, it's not learning at all. Even worse, with your nonstop chatter, you're disrupting the other students all around you--the ones who actually do want to learn something. And it also throws me off, too.

If a pair of students continues to chat for a bit too long, I often stop talking and glare at them until they get the message and shut up. (This is not going to happen to you if you're occasionally getting fill-in words from your neighbours.) Social pressure can work wonders. However, if a classroom is dark, I may not be able to see who's talking. That's what happened last term. Although I did stop-'n-stare quite a few times, there were always other conversations that just kept going and going and going. It was so bad, I had numerous students ask me to do something about it.

So I gave my class a stern lecture about respect and taking their conversations outside. That didn't work. So I threatened to remove the talkers from the class if they didn't shut up (which I actually had to do once before). That didn't work; I couldn't see them in the dark. I grew increasingly frustrated, and dreaded going to each class. That's right: I had a class that I did not want to go to. For me, this is a worst-case scenario--disliking a class. And this was just due to a very small minority of people. With a negative attitude, I probably did not do the best possible job for that class. For that, I apologize.

The point of this rant is to get out the message that your behaviour has consequences, often beyond what you might expect. If you're excited to see one of your friends in a class, that's great. But if you want to catch up, do it after class. Go for coffee, or have lunch together. But do not spend the whole entire damn class chatting. Realize that you're not just bothering the other students within earshot, but you may also be disrupting your instructor, thereby affecting the whole class.

Why aren't you studying?

UPDATE: Here are comments from my evaluations in that noisy class:

"class are also often too noisy"
"[instructor] did nothing to actually stop [the class] talking"
"I appreciate you respecting students' desire to learn by reprimanding those continually talkative students. They were the only downside in this course."
"Thanks you for acknowledging the chatterboxes in our class and reprimanding them"
"It was a noisy class!"

9 comments:

Anonymous said...
on

Well said. Talkers are the worst. Just because you're okay with wasting the $500 dollars your mummy paid for you to have a chat with your friends, doesn't give you the right to waste MY $500. Newsflash: I'm actually there to learn.

Anonymousse said...
on

Were the marks of the students any lower than usual, as well? Perhaps the poor classroom meant a lower attendance rate, or the darkness helped kids fall asleep. This is unfortunate, though!!

Karsten Loepelmann said...
on

@Anonymousse: Looking at the overall marks, they were not lower than previous classes. So I'm happy about that, at least. If the marks were lower, I'd feel absolutely terrible.

Anastasia said...
on

You should have brought a flashlight and shined it in the general direction of the talkers.

A. Nonymous said...
on

I agree - well said. Chatters are a plague that follow students throughout their university career, popping up in most classes at every level.

I appreciated your stop-and-glare routine in 267 because it generally seemed to work and the reprieve from chatting was wonderful.

Nadia said...
on

Thanks for your stop and glare in 385 the other day, and asking those chatters if they wanted to take their conversation outside! It was much appreciated!

Karsten Loepelmann said...
on

@everybody: Thanks for your comments. It would really help if you tell me that talkers are disrupting your concentration. I don't always know people are talking unless I can hear them myself. (Although I do notice those people who never face front.) So let me know--come up at the end of class, or fire off an email, or whatever!

Anonymous said...
on

I have to say, I sat in on one of your lectures last semester, in that very dark, very large room and the lecture was... different. Different in the sense that I have you this semester, in a very bright room, much smaller than the other one and the class seems so much more engaged. I didn't hear the chatter too much, probably because I was studying for one of my own classes but it definitely did seem as if a lot of people weren't paying attention. I could have easily fallen asleep simply because of how dim the light were. Not so much this semester. I wouldn't worry too much about not getting your Honors with Distinction this term!

Karsten Loepelmann said...
on

I just found out--I'm scheduled to teach in that room again this fall. Aargh! So I asked (begged?) to have the room changed, which isn't likely. So I'm sad.

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