The spring quarter ended a couple of weeks ago, and with it came the latest round of course evaluations.  I always ask students to provide me with comments since the numbers alone don’t give enough information, and this round brought an interesting one.  In response to the question “what do you suggest to improve this course?” a student wrote:

Simplify the explanations in assignment questions. Also, clarify exactly what a function should do, and not so much explaining how it should be done. Ex: This function should produce or generate this. And not, this function should take this and do this and should be structured like this.

What’s interesting is that I don’t think I typically specify how the solution to a problem should be structured.  Yes, sometimes I want them to practice a particular technique, like recursion, but most of the time I’m fine with any approach to the problem.  So the only thing I can think is that this student was referring to was the explanations I provide during class.  It did remind me though of my belief that explaining why you’re taking a certain approach to assignments or class activities is important, which is something I recently saw echoed in an article on peer instruction in programming classes.  In that article, the authors suggest:

It is important to inform students about your choice of pedagogy, and explain to them the benefits of using it.

I fundamentally believe that understanding why you’re doing something is crucial for anyone.  Not many people are happy to blindly work their way through things, whether it’s assignments or anything else, without knowing how that activity fits into the bigger picture.  It can be taken to the extreme, of course, and I’m sure that my daughter will someday complain about the amount of explanation I provide her with respect to just about anything I ask her to do.  But it appears that at least one student thinks that my assignment explanations need some work, so I’ll have to think about that when classes start again in September.

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