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POD Cases

Below are three cases from an October 2002 CFT workshop that explored how power and surveillance emerge in common types of educational development consultations.

The names, personalities, schools, and situations in the cases are entirely fictional .

Peter Felten, Deandra Little, and Allison Pingree of Vanderbilt University created the cases and workshop. Please direct any questions or comments on these cases to Peter Felten .

For further exploration of these issues, see the related article “Foucault and the Practice of Educational Development: Power and Surveillance in Individual Consultations” in To Improve the Academy vol. 22 (Anker, 2003), edited by Catherine M. Wehlburg.

Small Group Instructional Diagnosis

Preparing for the SGID

  • Janet Scloresi, Associate Professor in the Department of Education, has requested a Mid-semester SGID for her EDUC 120 course. EDUC 120 is a 3 credit-hour entry-level course required for all education majors. There are 75 students enrolled in the class and 2 Teaching Assistants.When she stops by to schedule the SGID, Janet gives Faculty Developer Darren Walker a little background information about the course, emphasizing that she is team teaching with her TAs, Jamicka Wilson and Eric Stanowski, whom she refers to as “co-teachers.” According to Janet, they are all joint colleagues; all three prepare daily lesson plans collaboratively and equally share the teaching load.
  • Administering the SGID On the afternoon of the SGID, students are divided into 10 groups of 7-8 students each and asked to come to a consensus on the major strengths of the course, on suggestions for improvement, and on any other additional comments they might want to offer. From these small groups and the subsequent large group discussion, Darren identified the following comments as those most common or significant:What aspects of this course and/or the instruction are most helping you learn?
    • Course interesting, not a “snoozer”
    • The course material seems relevant to students’ future career plans.
    • Teaching styles are varied and include lots of hands-on demonstrations of concepts
    • TAs know and can explain the material for the most part

    What aspects of this course and/or the instruction would you recommend be changed to enhance your learning?

    • Reading load and assignments too demanding for an introductory class
    • Sometimes the difference in teaching styles or delivery can be confusing.
    • Not sure which material is going to be on the test. Sample comment: “It’s hard to know what to study for the tests because different people emphasize different things.”
    • Clarify who is in charge and who sets the standards for grading: “We don’t always know what Professor Scloresi wants.” “One of the TAs grades unfairly.”
    • The lesson plans seem corny and gimmicky at times: “We got the point of the lecture about active learning without the puppet show. I thought this was a college class, not an elementary school.”

    Other Comments:

    • 2 groups complained about Eric: “He is sarcastic and harsh.” “He is a much harder grader than the other TA and I don’t think that’s fair.” “He talks fast and we can’t understand what he’s saying.
  • Preparing for the Consultation
      How should Darren approach the three person consultation for this SGID?

Teaching Evaluations

Joan Thompson is a tenure-track Assistant Professor of History just finishing her first year at Faraway State University, a comprehensive state school with 23,000 students. At the end of the spring term, Joan schedules an appointment with Carlos Baez (director of FSU’s Center for Teaching Effectiveness) to talk about her teaching evaluations. Joan and Carlos have chatted informally at a few CTE events, but never have had a substantive conversation. The consultation begins with pleasantries, then gets down to business:

Joan: I’m glad you could meet with me so quickly-I’m pretty shaken by this whole student evaluation process.

Carlos: Yes, they can get so nasty and personal, can’t they?

Joan: [with a puzzled look] Yeah, I guess so…

Carlos: Tell me some more. What exactly do the evaluations say?

Joan: Well, the ones for my big U.S. history survey are really all over the map. [She pulls out her evaluations and flips through them.] Some of my students really liked the class: “She was extremely effective in keeping my attention; she was prepared and knowledgeable.” Others hated it: “So boring. I never came to class because I would just fall asleep once she started talking.” And then there were the students who thought I was trying to indoctrinate them: “Focused primarily on bleeding-heart liberal aspects of history. I’m leaving this class wondering ‘Gee, did Americans ever do anything good?’ because we were taught only about the evils.” And others think I don’t know my stuff. But I have an advanced degree in this-that’s why they hired me!

Carlos: Hmm… OK. I can see the complexity here. But what do the numbers say? Let’s look at those. [He skims through the summary sheet.] You had about 100 students and 80 completed the evaluations, so this should be a good sample of student thinking. Hmmm…interesting. Your students rate you much higher on “effectively communicating with class” (3.62 out of 5) and “helpfulness outside of class” (3.65) than they do on “stimulating student interest in the subject” (3.12) and “how much you learned in this course” (3.26). And your scores on the key questions about the overall rating of the instructor (3.51) and of the course (3.31) are a bit under the department averages (3.92 and 3.77).

Joan: Yeah-I’m not sure exactly how to interpret all those numbers, and how to make sense of them in comparison to the comments, particularly since 80 students filled in the bubbles but only about half of those wrote any comments.

Carlos: OK. This really isn’t that bad. A lot of other junior faculty who are in your position-just starting off teaching, especially in large intro lecture courses-tend to do a lot worse.

Joan: Well, I wish you’d tell my chair that! He seems to see it quite differently.

Carlos: Really? Did you talk with him about this?

Joan: No-he just fired off a hostile letter to me. [She hands him the letter.] I can’t believe he’s treating me like this. When he and the committee were recruiting me last year, they seemed so supportive. I don’t know how to interpret the letter or the evaluations. I mean, am I in serious trouble here?
And so on….

Videotape Consultation

Sam Thompson is a 55-year-old professor of marketing at Valmont University, a research institution with a business school ranked nationally in the top 25. Sam holds an endowed chair, and has been teaching at Valmont for the past 15 years, having been recruited from a smaller, lesser-known school after becoming highly distinguished in his research area.

One afternoon late in the spring, he wanders into the Center for Teaching Effectiveness at Valmont with a thick envelope in his hand, and walks into the office of Susan Garcia, the Center’s director. He and Susan have served on a few university committees together, so they are acquainted but don’t know each other well.

After Susan and Sam greet each other, the following dialogue ensues:

Susan: What brings you by the Center today, Sam?
Sam: Well, I was hoping you could help me out with a critique. (He hands Susan the package). These are some tapes of my recent teaching, and I’d like you to look at them and write me a report on how I’m doing.
Susan: Oh, OK, well, let’s see. Why don’t you have a seat and I can explain a bit more about our videotape consults? (gestures to a chair at a small round table in her office; Sam sits) Here at the Center we typically don’t write up “reports” on people in their absence. Rather, we sit down-client and consultant-and watch a tape together. It’s more of a conversation between two teachers, considering together the various choice points that you as a teacher have, and discussing what it might feel like to be a student in the class. The discussion is strongly shaped by the issues you’re, most interested in, rather than me just watching and evaluating in a vacuum.
Sam: Oh—OK. Can we set up a time to have that consultation, then?

In the consultation

Susan: I want to make sure and remind you that this is really a conversation between two teachers-I’m not here to judge or evaluate you, but rather to help you see your teaching in new ways. I want you to feel free to stop the tape whenever you want to, so I’ll put the remote control right here on the table between us. Shall we begin?

Five minutes of watching in silence ensues.

Susan: [stopping the tape] So what have you noticed so far?
Sam: Well, I sound kind of strange. And I’m not looking at all my students. I guess that’s about it. But you’re the expert–what do you think about it?