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Thursday, May 3, 2012

One Professor Goes Further For Feedback

Boston University professor Muhammad Zaman at Here & Now studios at WBUR in Boston. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Teacher evaluations are a hot topic in education. Students at virtually every college and university in America are asked to evaluate their professors at the end of each semester, and students often look to websites such as before choosing a class.

But critics say evaluations encourage assembly line teaching, and some professors worry that bad evaluations can be career ending.

Muhammad Zaman, a professor at Boston University has joined others in coming up with his own system of getting student feedback that evaluates instructors every two weeks, instead of once a semester.

“The evaluations are actually very simple,” Zaman told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “They ask the students how am I doing, sort of a numerical score.”

He also requests comments about what is going wrong or right.

“I ask them about the delivery of the material. If I’m spending too little or too much time on a particular topic. If I’m going too slow or too fast,” he said.

Zaman says he sometimes gets surprising feedback from students. When he taught at the University of Texas, one student wrote that he could not see the differences in color that Zaman was depicting on the board, because he was red-green color blind.

“I felt horrible. I felt disappointed in myself that I should have known and been more considerate and sensitive to these things. And nobody likes to talk about their disabilities, so these are the issues that come up,” he said.

And Zaman says he has gotten used to a certain amount of negative feedback from students.

“One of the things that I have evolved over the years is to have a pretty thick skin, and I think that’s part of the process. You do get students who think that I am either too boring or too difficult, or it’s too simplistic – you get contradictory feedback from students,” he said.


  • Muhammad Zaman, a professor at Boston University of biomedical engineering

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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