Last week, a panel of Rice professors discussed and responded to common issues in Rice undergraduate teaching.
Students, especially STEM majors, often complain about their teachers, whether they be lecturers or tenure-track professors. One of the most persistent problems students have voiced is that of professors who excel in and focus on research, but not necessarily teaching. This is, unfortunately, an overarching issue that would require a massive overhaul of tenure at Rice, a process over which students likely have very little control. Still, all students and instructors have the ability to do their part to uphold this belief and maximize the communication channels already available in order to continue seeking further improvement.
The course evaluation system is the most obvious outlet for student opinion. However, reviews are often vague, focused purely on criticism rather than how to improve, or focused on giving advice to peers who will take the class in the future. Instead, students should try to include tangible ideas that give professors and lecturers a clearer idea of how to improve — and all students should take this process as a unique privilege to potentially impact the way an instructor approaches their class.
Another option is to actually capitalize on the opportunity to engage with professors via Student Association committees and advisory boards and town halls that exist within some departments and can be organized in others. Getting involved through standing committees such as the teaching committee or the undergraduate curriculum committee is an excellent opportunity to bring to light concerns of fellow students and work with active faculty toward achievable goals.
We should also consider simple avenues for additional feedback, such as adding an exit survey for those who choose to drop a course. In the near future, proposing simple methods to incite further participation can add up to making a difference in undergraduate teaching.
A new dean of undergraduates will soon take on the role of overseeing undergraduate academics by working with the faculty on teaching and curriculum. With this in mind, we encourage the search committee and applicants to prioritize teaching as one of the most pressing issues facing the undergraduate community.