Reflecting on My 7th Semester of Teaching: Spring 2022

Reflecting on My 7th Semester of Teaching Featured Image

As usual, I’m doing my semesterly reflection of my teaching. For many, this might seem repetitive, but this is a really important part of the teaching process for me. In fact, I even put together a dashboard that you can check out that shares all of this information and moreOpens in a new tab. (heads up: it might be sleeping, so it may take a minute to load). With that said, let’s get into it!

Table of Contents

Logistics

As mentioned last semester, discussing the logistics around my teaching has become somewhat repetitive. That said, this semester I had quite the development: I taught two sections of a course instead of one. As a result, I ended up working with 80 students instead of my usual 40. Needless to say, there were some challenges.

Because I had two sections, I also had two different time slots. Fortunately, the department was nice enough to give me two back-to-back sections, so I taught Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 AM to 1:25 PM. This time around, I decided to consolidate my office hours to a two-hour window on Thursdays. Looking back, I probably should have blocked out some extra time, but I had twice as many graders to support me. So, it worked out.

As always, I like to take a moment to report out grades, which I think were a little higher than usual:

GradeCount
A13
A-6
B+11
B8
B-8
C+2
C7
C-5
D+1
D2
E5
EN3
I0
W6

I attribute a part of the improvement to all the changes I’ve made to the course. At the same time, I also attribute the overall grades to a generous round-up policy I gave in exchange for completed evaluations.

Reflection

Before we get into student feedback, I like to take a little time to look inward. As usual, I like to use the “good, better, ugly” framework for discussing feedback. However, I find that it doesn’t really fit this semester. Despite everything on my plate, things went really, really well. As a result, I’m going to keep it simple: good/bad.

The Good

If I’m being completely honestly, I really enjoyed teaching more than one section. It gave me access to a diversity of students that kept me on my toes. In addition, it allowed me to make a lot more positive connections than ever before, which makes me feel like I’m having an even bigger impact.

In terms of specific details, there’s not much to say. Teaching went pretty smoothly this past semester. I had great graders and wonderful students. If I had to pick any moments that were overwhelmingly special for me they would probably be any time a student opened up to me about something not class related. Being able to have that kind of rapport with a student is really gratifying, and I enjoy being able to fill the role of a mentor.

The Bad

In terms of bad stuff, there’s also not much to say. One complaint I might make is that the extra coursework did eat up a lot of my time, but it wasn’t exactly burning me out. Likewise, I still hate exams and all of the stress it puts on students to “perform.”

Outside of that, I didn’t really have any tough students this semester. Everyone seemed to be willing to work with me. No one was trying to pull a fast one on me. That was nice.

In terms of course content, it’s getting a little stale after four iterations. When I end up teaching as a career, I’ll probably want to incorporate ways to keep the courses fresh just for myself. Otherwise, I could see how teaching could get tiring.

Other than that, I was happy with how all the previous changes worked out, so no complaints there. Overall, it was a pretty solid semester of teaching. And did I mention, I got an award for it?! Anyway, let’s talk feedback.

Feedback

Typically, the largest part of these reflection articles is the feedback, and I collect a lot of it! As usual, we’ll start by looking at my personal course evaluation survey, move into the newer assignment survey, and finish off with the university evaluations.

Course Evaluation Survey

The course evaluation survey is an assessment I put together from a Google template ages ago. Lately, I haven’t paid much attention to it, but I figured I’d share the pretty pictures anyway.

Course Demographics

At the beginning of the survey, I ask students which class they are evaluating. I only teach one class, but I wanted to keep the dated separated by course anyway.

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Class Name Pie Chart -- 78.7% CSE 2221 and 21.3% CSE 1223

As you can see, the vast majority of feedback comes from the software components course that I’ve now taught four times.

Level of Effort

After that, I ask students to tell me how hard to course was.

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Level of Effort Bar Chart [fair: 4, satisfactory: 12, very good: 36, excellent: 23]

Given that this plot (and all subsequent plots) aggregates data for every semester of teaching, it’s tough to say how hard students worked this semester. That said, it looks like most students felt that the courses were hard, and I would begrudgingly agree.

Contribution to Learning

One of my favorite sets of questions revolves around how much the course actually helped students learn the material.

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Contribution to Learning Bar Chart

As you can see, students typically lack programming experience coming into the course but feel much stronger about their abilities at the end of the course. In addition, students felt the course itself majorly contributed to that knowledge.

Skill and Responsiveness of Instructor

Naturally, the next set of questions covers all of the information related to bragging rights as an instructor.

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Skill and Responsiveness of the Instructor Bar Chart

As usual, students generally like me as an instructor. My weaknesses tend to be around organization and management. In other words, I don’t do the best job staying organized in the classroom, and I generally do a bad job of keeping my graders on task. Otherwise, I do a good job!

Course Content

As far as Likert-scale questions are concerned, the last set revolves around course content.

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Course Content Bar Chart

As you can see, some of these question rehash topics from previous questions—such as difficulty of the work and organization.

Value

In the remainder of the survey, I ask a few open ended questions. For instance, the first question I ask revolves around which aspects of the course were most valuable. Here were some of the responses:

The rubrics and the slides were most helpful, especially the parts with the practice questions. The professor was super organized with the content and made the course easier to manage, which was beneficial to my learning journey.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Discord chat to ask questions and receive feedback very quickly.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

I found lectures to be very helpful.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

I enjoyed the group portions in class

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Being able to practice and apply the coding knowledge directly in the labs twice a week.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Overall, there was a nice mix of feedback. You might recall that someone really hated the group work last semester, so it was nice to get some positive feedback about it this time around.

Improvements

Naturally, after asking about positives, I ask about negatives. Here are some of the things that students said would improve the course:

I would restructure the course to not be only based on java. I would like to see some other languages being referenced here too.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Some of the homework assignments were unnecessarily long

Anonymous, Spring 2022

This is a course thing, not an instructor thing. More practice work and ways to apply what we learn in lectures to make sure we actually can properly code it. Too many times will there be a single homework and a single lab tied to an entire component, meaning it is harder to get used to these things. I found the instructors personal articles more useful.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Using practices that aren’t 30 years old. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the homework assignments. Actually writing code for the labs was infinitely more helpful, and the homework felt sort of like busywork sometimes.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

I think the way of teaching the course is a great idea in concept, however the way of teaching heavily depends on the engagement of the student. It is of no fault of the instructor, but if students are too reserved to properly interact with each other, the potential of learning could be lost.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

weight projects more heavily–seems like a ton of effort for not much reward.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Overall, it seems like feedback is largely around grading and workload. This hardly surprises me given that we administer 22 homework assignments and 11 projects. On one hand, the literature points to multiple low stakes assignments as being good for learning. On the other hand, creating dozens of assignments for almost no grade seems to incentivize not doing them or not taking them seriously.

Testimonials

Among the remaining open ended questions, I like to ask for students to just hype me up if they’d like. These are the types of comments I look back on during a bad day.

The instructor support in this class was so helpful, as he made us feel like we were being supported and our concerns were always addressed. I struggled a lot mentally this semester and he was able to help a lot by providing extensions when I was struggling(which was a lot of the time)and just trying to get to know the students. I had a hard time transitioning from the content in CSE 1223 to CSE 2221 and he never made me feel like I couldn’t do it. I truly feel like I’ve grown a lot this semester as a student and couldn’t be more grateful.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Mr. Grifski is amazing. I really can’t think of anything negative. He does a great job of answering students questions in a thoughtful manner, and really knows what he’s talking about. His passion for coding and computer science as a whole is reflected in his teaching.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

I really liked how you created a safe atmosphere for learning and asking questions!

Anonymous, Spring 2022

I absolutely love your way of teaching. I agree with your philosophy of teaching 100%, and I greatly appreciate you trying your best to incorporate it despite being restricted and limited by the how the course is designed. Although I love how it is designed to promote self learning and interaction among students, the pitfall of it lies in the behavior of the students. If students are too reserved or non-enthusiastic to engage, the potential that lies in that way of teaching could be lost or diminished. Regretfully, I think I was one of those students this semester, and for that I apologize.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Jeremy Grifski is an excelent instructor who clearly has a passion for teaching students. He genuinely cares about students succeeding and is very open and honest about everything.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Absolutely loved the teaching style. I like the jigsaws because I felt that I wasn’t being forced to learn everything and complicated things were explained by other students. This helped because it was explained from someone who is at the same point that I am.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

This semester, I got a lot of positive feedback from students. This type of stuff makes me feel really good about what I’m doing, and it makes me feel motivated to continue improving the course.

Article Ideas

One of the more recent questions I’ve added to the survey was around article ideas. Here’s what students came up with:

How do graphics in games work? We talked about it in class and I was very interested.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Why are we still using java?

Anonymous, Spring 2022

You could write an anonymous article on how the CSE department could improve.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Do an article about how exams are dumb!

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Honestly, I find this list really interesting! It goes to show how students are less interested in “technical” content and more interested in topics related to life and learning. With that said, that’s all I have for the course survey. Let’s talk assignments next.

Assignment Survey

One newer thing I’ve been doing is asking students to fill out an assignment survey after every assignment. Obviously, I can’t pressure them to do this as they would have to fill it out 33 times over the course of a semester. That said, students still choose to help out as they know the value of making progress (i.e., improving the class for future students). As a result, I wanted to share some of the things they said.

Projects & Assignments Under Review

To give a quick overview of just how many times each assignment has been reviewed, I figured I’d share the review counts for each project. Up first, we have the project breakdown:

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Project Under Review Bar Chart [Project 1: 39 (19.1%), Project 2: 26 (12.7%), Project 3: 20 (9.8%), Project 4: 22 (10.8%), Project 5: 17 (8.3%)]

As you can see, students tend to fill out the surveys early and cost as the semester goes along. That’s pretty normal for the assignments as well. Meanwhile, here are the homework assignments:

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Homework Assignments Under Review Bar Chart

Again, most folks fill out the surveys early and not so much later. Regardless, this gives us a lot of great data to help improve future assignments.

Rubric Satisfaction

With each project, I’ve also made a rubric. The purpose of the rubrics is to align grading between me, the graders, and the students. Ideally, this limits as many disputes as possible. And as you can see, students seem to agree.

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Rubric Satisfaction Bar Chart [1: 0 (0%), 2: 5 (2.5%), 3: 18 (8.8%), 73 (35.8%), 108 (52.9%)]

As always, I think there are ways to improve the rubrics. That said, even having rubrics to begin with is a major benefit.

Checklist Satisfaction

Something new this semester were the project checklists. I designed these so students would have something to look over before submission. That way, they won’t lose as many points. And based on how grades turned out this semester, I think things worked out.

CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Checklist Satisfaction Bar Chart

Students seemed to really like them as well. If I were running my own course, I might have students make their own checklists to submit. That way, students get in the habit of planning out their work. That said, with how much work there is in this class, the checklists seem to save students a lot of time.

Project Emotions

For my master’s project, I worked a bit on emotions in programming contexts. Naturally, I thought it would be fun to ask students about the emotions they experience before, during, and after each assignment. Here’s the overall breakdown across every assignment.

Before Assignment
CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Project Emotions Before Bar Chart

It’s clear from the graph, but students tend to be pretty anxious prior to starting an assignment. That’s obviously a big concern as an educator because we want students to feel confident and hopeful. That said, a think a lot of the anxiety is born out of grading culture, and these assignments play a major role in that.

During Assignment
CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Project Emotions During Bar Chart

During assignments, it’s a mixed bag. That said, one emotion that peaks out the top is frustration, which I think is a pretty normal feeling during programming. That’s not exactly unique to the work they’re doing but to the discipline itself. Programming is a frustrating task.

The emotion that bothers me a bit more is boredom. Certainly, we can be doing a better job to make the assignments more enjoyable—even if the frustration remains.

After Assignment
CSE 2221 (Spring 2022): Project Emotions After Bar Chart

It’s perhaps no surprise that students feel a sense of joy and pride after completing an assignment. That’s been my general experience with programming. It’s like solving a puzzle. It never really feels good until it’s solved.

That said, there are some troubling emotions that slip through like shame and anger. I would have expected to see more relief, but it seems that feeling of frustration is more likely to carry through.

At any rate, that’s all I have for the assignment survey. There is a ton of open-ended feedback I could go through, but I haven’t had a chance. Maybe that’s something I can share in another article.

Student Evaluation of Instruction

As usual, we asked students to fill out SEIs every semester. Since I had two courses this semester, I have two sets of metrics. I’ll share both of them below.

11:30 Section

QuestionInstructor MeanDepartment MeanCollege MeanUniversity Mean
The subject matter of this course was well organized4.504.284.244.36
This course was intellectually stimulating4.644.224.264.30
This instructor was genuinely interested in teaching4.894.364.464.51
The instructor encouraged students to think for themselves4.754.334.434.48
The instructor was well prepared4.714.324.344.43
The instructor was genuinely interested in helping students4.894.344.434.49
I learned a great deal from this instructor4.754.164.194.26
The instructor created an atmosphere conducive to learning4.894.194.244.35
The instructor communicated the subject matter clearly4.794.174.184.31
Overall, I would rate this instructor as4.864.294.354.44

Given how much worse my 11:30 section performed against my 12:40 section, I had assumed that I was going to get worse feedback. Yet somehow, they were quite nice to me. All of my scores were well above the other three cohorts, which is nice to see. That said, I really wish I could have supported them better. Even when they had such nice things to say:

Professor Grifsky was honestly one of the best professors I have ever met. He is such an open, relatable, approachable, understanding, and caring guy. On the first day of class, I could immediately tell that he was not going to be like your average professor. He does so much and puts so much effort into making sure that he is doing what’s best for his students. I am thankful that I had the pleasure of being one of his students this semester.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

The best instructor I have ever had so far at OSU and I’m a second year. He genuinely wants to help the students in his class succeed and always goes the extra mile. Used a discord to communicate with the class which was an absolutely amazing idea as it served everyone so amazingly. Always finds a way to keep the material interesting and humorous while making sure everyone understands. I would recommend Dr. Grifski to anyone interested in taking CSE 2221.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

In my 4 years of college, I have never had an instructor like Jeremy Grifski. From the first day of class I left knowing that this course was going to be challenging but I was so thankful he was assigned to my section. I’ve never experienced a professor who I felt genuinely cared about each and every student. While I’ve been told by many professors “I care about all of you” Jeremy actually showed it. We all know he has his hands full, being in school himself while teaching 2 sections but you would never know it. Anytime you ask him for anything he makes sure he is intentional with providing specifically what you need. On top of that, he created one, if not the best learning environments I’ve ever been in. No one was afraid to speak up, give input or ask questions. He challenged and succeeded in getting us students to engage with each other, which is very hard in a world that is so socially distant. But most importantly he built a trust bond with us and we built one with him. We student really trusted that he was going to prepare us for not just the projects and tests in the class but the real world as well. After each assignment and test, we saw that this guy isn’t lying to us. He’s genuinely preparing us for everything he says he will and it makes it so much easier to listen, engage and learn from someone like that. He asked us today in class “What’s one thing in 5 years from now that you’ll take with you from this class?” While he was referring to specific material taught all I could think about was how amazing his teaching and was, how I felt like I had a teacher in my corner rooting for me and not trying to play tricks and reach for a standardized bell curve. I’m not kidding, I would take this course over again just because of how much I loved being in his class and from my conversations with others taking the same course with a different instructor, they can’t say the same. Jeremy should be a leading example to any and all college professors of how to create a positive, healthy and successful learning environment.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

That last comment is really something. I’ll be holding onto it for a while.

12:40 Section

QuestionInstructor MeanDepartment MeanCollege MeanUniversity Mean
The subject matter of this course was well organized4.174.284.244.36
This course was intellectually stimulating4.294.224.264.30
This instructor was genuinely interested in teaching4.804.364.464.51
The instructor encouraged students to think for themselves4.744.334.434.48
The instructor was well prepared4.634.324.344.43
The instructor was genuinely interested in helping students4.804.344.434.49
I learned a great deal from this instructor4.634.164.194.26
The instructor created an atmosphere conducive to learning4.764.194.244.35
The instructor communicated the subject matter clearly4.634.174.184.31
Overall, I would rate this instructor as4.944.294.354.44

My 12:30 section, on the other hand, was a bit more tough on the me. Though, I think a lot of these scores are directed at the course itself and not me. For instance, the organization score is lower than the other three cohorts, and that seems to be in line with what students have said for me historically. Otherwise, they gave me the highest overall score I’ve received to date (i.e., 4.94) on the highest response rate to date (i.e., 95%). I think that’s pretty cool!

Like the other section, they also had a bunch of kind things to say:

Jeremy is the first teacher I’ve met that I know 100% is on my side. He wants his students to succeed, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Great guy, great teacher.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

By far one the best instuctors I’ve had at Ohio State. The actual course content of CSE 2221 can be mixed at times, but Grifski still manages to make it consistently interesting. His passion for helping students both in and outside the classroom elevates his class far above what it needs to be. As someone who wishes to pursue higher level education, I’m taking Grifski’s class as a shining example of what an instructor is capable of.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

Jeremy Grifski is the best professor I’ve ever had in school. He creates the best environment for learning and is the most understanding person as well. I wish all professors were like him.

Anonymous, Spring 2022

It’s hard to overstate how kind my students are. These types of comments are the reason I teach. I’ve never really felt this valuable in the software world, and I’m happy to take the pay cut to do this.

Changes

As I think about this past semester, I’m not sure there is much I would change. Overall, I felt like the course was right where I want it to be. Obviously, there are things I can improve, but I think I’m finally at the point where I’ll only need to make small tweaks each semester.

With that said, here are some small tweaks I’d like to make heading into the fall:

  • Add feedback to checklists
  • Fix bugs in slides and homework solutions
  • Make a “how to do well in the course” document

Other than that, I’m not sure what else needs to be done. Perhaps as I sift through the assignment feedback, I’ll get a better feel for what students are thinking. In the meantime, I’m feeling great!

Looking Forward

Right now, it’s summer. I’m supposed to be grinding out my dissertation. Instead, I’m taking the time to reflect on my teaching. By this time next year, I’ll have rounded out my fourth year of teaching, and hopefully I’ll be on the market for a teaching job.

Until then, I hope you enjoyed this read. If you liked it and would like to see more like it, check out some of these related posts:

Similarly, you can show even more support by checking out my list of ways to grow the site. There, you’ll find links to my Patreon, Newsletter, and YouTube channel. Hope to see you there!

Teaching Reflections (7 Articles)—Series Navigation

As I navigate my career in tech, I’ve found my place in academia as an educator. One of the things I love about education is how introspective the field is. We’re constantly trying to reevaluate our skills, so we can improve as educators. As a result, why wouldn’t I take some time each semester to try to get better?

Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Then, he earned a master's in Computer Science and Engineering. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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