Prof’s note on course evaluations goes viral

“Please help honour the legacy of my lost tooth”

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When University of British Columbia instructor Nathan Vadeboncoeur lost a front tooth while eating a burrito earlier this month (an old one that had required a root canal a decade earlier), his first thought wasn’t about the $1,500 dentist bill he would end up with. It was more like, “this is perfect,” he says, “I”ll send a note out to my students.” That e-mail, copied below, caught the eye of a student who posted it on the social news website Reddit and it has been viewed more than 1,100 times.

Vadeboncoeur had been thinking about how to entice more students into filling out an evaluation for his third-year course on the sociology of natural resources. The previous year he had joked in an e-mail that a marshmallow candy that had sat in the same place all semester would be “pretty upset if [he] didn’t get the right amount of evaluations” and it seemed to boost the number of responses.

Why does he care? “Course evaluations are a really good tool [for] making a course improve,” he says. “The feedback is almost always positive, but it’s anonymous. Sometimes you get some good feedback that you might not have got face to face.”

In the end, 56 per cent of students took the time to fill one out. Here’s the note.

Dear Class,

First, thank you for a great semester! It was a pleasure to work with you all.

As you get ready for the final push in your exam prep, please remember to take a few minutes to complete your course evaluation for SOCI 360. 52% of you have submitted so far, below the threshold of 60% I’m looking for. Each one of you is roughly 2.5% of the class, so if you haven’t filled it out yet your evaluation can make a real difference in getting closer to that goal!

For those of you who weren’t there on the last day of class you will have missed that I lost a front tooth to a burrito the day before. Although you may have missed out on the chance to hear me struggle to pronounce “f” and “th” you can still be a part of the lost-tooth saga. You see, as it was falling out, my tooth told me that its last wish was that 60% of people complete the student evaluations of teaching for SOCI 360. An unusual request, to be sure, but that’s nonetheless what it told me. Please help honour the legacy of my lost tooth. Although it may never again have the satisfaction of biting into a fresh apple I’m sure my other teeth would appreciate it if you granted its request.

I wish you all the very best. Have a great summer,