On the last day of class I wrap up the semester by asking my class the following questions.
- What did you find most interesting/least interesting this semester? Students love to talk about their subjective preferences, and—in all seriousness—I tweak my courses every year, so this sort of feedback is useful when I get around to swapping readings or shifting the course schedule.
- What reading/activity/lecture/assignment did you learn most from? It’s always interesting to me to see how the answers to this question differ from the answers to “what did you find most interesting?” question.
- In 5 years you’re probably going to forget most everything about your college classes; if you remember just one thing about this course, what will that one thing be? Sometimes answers to this are substantial—“I’ll remember the statistics about race and economic inequality”—and sometimes silly—“I’ll remember that you brought a Mountain Dew to every class.”
- No teacher is ever “neutral” or “objective” in the sense of “completely disinterested”: what concerns or interests do you think directed my selection of the course material, my organization of the course, or my approach to the subject matter in the lectures? I often follow this discussion by pointing to the teaching goals I state on my website: “As a professor, his primary goals for teaching are, first, to demonstrate to students that societies are never set up in ways that serve everyone’s interests equally, and, second, to give them the skills to identify who benefits and who does not and how disproportionate social structures are legitimated and maintained.”
The last thing I do is tell them to tell their friends that I’m a tough professor and that they shouldn’t take my courses—I’ve got to keep up my reputation!