I’m just back from my last “family weekend” ever at my daughter’s college. I can’t recall my parents ever attending one of these weekends while I was in college — nor can I remember wanting them to — but my husband and I have alternated trips up to my daughter’s campus every year. Part of the reason is that we simply like Boston; part of it is that she’s in an a cappella group that always performs that weekend; part of it is of course our pleasure in seeing her in her other context.
Another part of it, I realized this weekend, is the access to what college students—at least some college students—think. I’ve written here and there about the pleasure—and the value!—of having a real live college student around to test some ideas on. “Do students really do x?” I can ask, “or are they really so invested in y?” and she’ll give me her best sense. Last semester, of course, when she was actually on my campus, taking classes with students I was also teaching, and with professors who are my colleagues, I tried not to abuse her trust but I did appreciate her insights.
This weekend I got even a little more than I bargained for. She and I talked about how her classes were going, of course, and as always her insights into her professors’ pedagogy help me think about what I’m doing as well. But it was Sunday night that was particularly helpful to me. Mariah lives in an apartment with four other students, and I was chatting with some of them in their kitchen. I had spent part of the afternoon working on some emails to students, providing feedback on their participation to date in my class. It was slow work, and as I prepared to return to it before retiring for the evening I asked — rhetorically, mostly — “do students really even care about this kind of feedback?” The response was immediate: “Yes, absolutely,” her housemates assured me.
So there it was: real live feedback from real live college students. Of course my own students could have provided me the same feedback, but it could always be tainted by the grading relationship: they know well enough that they should want my feedback, so if I ever offer it they will always say they want it. But here were students who are themselves not going to benefit from my feedback, and may actually not be getting such feedback from their own professors (I know my daughter isn’t, because I’ve asked her before).
I went back to my computer and completed four more emails before finally giving in for the night. (Note to any of my students who may find their way to this blog: you should have received them by now…)
I’ll miss my fall weekends in Boston. They’ve been fun for all kinds of reasons. Presumably in a few years I’ll get a new opportunity like this, when my son finds his own way into higher education. For now, I’m glad I’ve had this chance.