Apéro and Universités

Friday night at an apéro chez des amis, we somehow got on the subject of universities. David mentioned that his mom’s cousin teaches French in Boston, and at the end of each semester, she had to let her students fill out evaluation forms. Everyone but me was surprised and thought it was a bad idea. I said that was normal in American universities and I didn’t really understand why it wasn’t done in France. They were also stunned that websites for rating teachers and professors had been around for 10 years in the US, whereas the only site like that in France had been shut down last year by the courts.

Personally, I think teacher evaluations are a good thing because the students should have a say in the quality of their education – especially in the US where they pay a small fortune each semester for the privilege of going to college. If they have horrible professors that don’t really care about teaching, the students have a right to complain. Professors grade students, so why shouldn’t students grade the professors too?

But I guess the main difference here in France is that students only pay a few hundred euros a year to go to university so they don’t seem as motivated or invested in their education. If they fail a final exam, they can always retake it the next month. If they fail a class, they can always retake it the next year. So even if the professors are bad, it doesn’t really matter since the students get so many chances to “succeed” in the end.

However, I have a problem with the traditional “more money = better education” line of thinking. Just because France subsidizes university education doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Just because the students don’t pay much doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn. The opposite is true for American universities. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. And just because the students (or their parents) pay a lot doesn’t mean they actually want to be there and want to learn.

So why are the American and French ideas about universities and higher education different? Is it the role of the professor that differs so much? Or the role of the student?

Anyway, Corinne did such a good job preparing the apéro, I wanted to show off pictures of her hard work:

And something that I hadn’t come across before in France: an elevator that only stops on odd-numbered floors. Of course, the other elevator stops at the even-numbered floors, but there are no signs indicating this, so I guess you’re just supposed to know?

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  • http://eileen.likeafrog.org/ Eileen

    I think it might also have to do with their love of the hierarchy. In other words, students are so far below professors and have so little expertise that it doesn’t seem right that they should rate them.

    Eileens last blog post..I got my hair did.

  • http://eileen.likeafrog.org Eileen

    I think it might also have to do with their love of the hierarchy. In other words, students are so far below professors and have so little expertise that it doesn’t seem right that they should rate them.

    Eileens last blog post..I got my hair did.

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com/ David

    The main difference in education in both countries (regarding money) is not the quality of education, but the means and overall what is an university in both countries.
    In France a university is a place where you go study and that’s pretty much it. Even physically, a university is a few (ugly) classrooms, a library or two and that’s pretty much it.
    In the US, as you must know it’s pretty different.

    Also, keep in mind that research is not done in Universities in France (but in CNRS among other places), which creates a big difference.

    Concerning the quality of education, I think it goes this way:
    -much much much better in France for high schools.
    -somewhat better in France for undergraduate studies.
    -much better in the US for graduate studies.

    (of course this will vary from major to major and university to university)

    Concerning teacher evaluations, I think that it’s a good idea gone wrong.
    Because yeah, it’s a good idea to evaluate teachers. But more often than not students rate their teachers depending on whether they like them or not, not whether they’re good teachers or not.

    And if the very idea of evaluating a teacher in France sounds sacrilegious, it’s because I think that teachers have kept some of their “sacred” aura in France. Just see how elementary and high school teachers are disrespected in the US, whereas university professors just live in their academic bubble more or less oblivious of the rest of the world.
    In France, matters are very different.

    It also comes from teaching philosophies.
    In the US, the Socratic method not only allows, but pushes the student to give their input, so telling what they think of the class in the end just seems like a logical conclusion.
    In France, the teacher is “all knowing” he dispenses knowledge to ignorant students, so how would they dare have an opinion on something that is the teacher’s field of expertise and not theirs?

    Davids last blog post..Picture of the Day

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com David

    The main difference in education in both countries (regarding money) is not the quality of education, but the means and overall what is an university in both countries.
    In France a university is a place where you go study and that’s pretty much it. Even physically, a university is a few (ugly) classrooms, a library or two and that’s pretty much it.
    In the US, as you must know it’s pretty different.

    Also, keep in mind that research is not done in Universities in France (but in CNRS among other places), which creates a big difference.

    Concerning the quality of education, I think it goes this way:
    -much much much better in France for high schools.
    -somewhat better in France for undergraduate studies.
    -much better in the US for graduate studies.

    (of course this will vary from major to major and university to university)

    Concerning teacher evaluations, I think that it’s a good idea gone wrong.
    Because yeah, it’s a good idea to evaluate teachers. But more often than not students rate their teachers depending on whether they like them or not, not whether they’re good teachers or not.

    And if the very idea of evaluating a teacher in France sounds sacrilegious, it’s because I think that teachers have kept some of their “sacred” aura in France. Just see how elementary and high school teachers are disrespected in the US, whereas university professors just live in their academic bubble more or less oblivious of the rest of the world.
    In France, matters are very different.

    It also comes from teaching philosophies.
    In the US, the Socratic method not only allows, but pushes the student to give their input, so telling what they think of the class in the end just seems like a logical conclusion.
    In France, the teacher is “all knowing” he dispenses knowledge to ignorant students, so how would they dare have an opinion on something that is the teacher’s field of expertise and not theirs?

    Davids last blog post..Picture of the Day

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Thanks for that explanation, David!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    Thanks for that explanation, David!

  • http://islandgirl4ever2.blogspot.com/ Leesa

    Hi Jennie,

    When I was attending Uni. at UCSD, we had annual books called CAPE- Course and Prof. Evalutations.. This book was like by bible, no joke! It was very candid and gave some very KEEN insight about which profs were good and not good… etc.. Courses.. I used this to CHOOSE which prof/course I would take every quarter… It was very, very practical. For the required, general classes- there wasn’t always much choice… but when you got into your major classes, the CAPE was very helpful in finding a good class or a good prof… I wish I had saved a copy or too.. The evaluations were sometimes very comical… I think it’s actually a great system because when the profs read their own evals, they can use the info to improve their teaching skills/styles and improve their classes!!!

    Leesas last blog post..Both of my Presidents!!!

  • http://islandgirl4ever2.blogspot.com Leesa

    Hi Jennie,

    When I was attending Uni. at UCSD, we had annual books called CAPE- Course and Prof. Evalutations.. This book was like by bible, no joke! It was very candid and gave some very KEEN insight about which profs were good and not good… etc.. Courses.. I used this to CHOOSE which prof/course I would take every quarter… It was very, very practical. For the required, general classes- there wasn’t always much choice… but when you got into your major classes, the CAPE was very helpful in finding a good class or a good prof… I wish I had saved a copy or too.. The evaluations were sometimes very comical… I think it’s actually a great system because when the profs read their own evals, they can use the info to improve their teaching skills/styles and improve their classes!!!

    Leesas last blog post..Both of my Presidents!!!

  • Dee

    The elevator in my building in Paris is even more bizarre, it only goes to the 4th floor. It doesn’t stop on 1,2,3, or 5! Also, you need a key to use the elevator. My landlord owns the 4th floor and he asked the other owners if they wanted to put in an elevator in the building, they all said yes, but we don’t want to pay for it, thinking that if he built it they’d just use it anyway. Well he showed them, he put it in and told them if they want a key or want it to stop on their floor then they need to pay their share for the cost. Thank goodness I live on 4 ;-).

  • Dee

    The elevator in my building in Paris is even more bizarre, it only goes to the 4th floor. It doesn’t stop on 1,2,3, or 5! Also, you need a key to use the elevator. My landlord owns the 4th floor and he asked the other owners if they wanted to put in an elevator in the building, they all said yes, but we don’t want to pay for it, thinking that if he built it they’d just use it anyway. Well he showed them, he put it in and told them if they want a key or want it to stop on their floor then they need to pay their share for the cost. Thank goodness I live on 4 ;-).

  • Katie

    The hierarchy thing is definitely a huge part of the reason for no evaluations, though I think it would be a great idea here. As for French high schools being “much much much” better than their American counterparts, American (public) high schools vary hugely from district to district, (funding, curriculum, very different cultural values and cultural composition from one region to another and differing standards and qualifying exams from state to state). I went to a public high school that was one of the top in the US and could easily compete with a highly-ranked French lycée. I do agree that French lycee students overall come out better informed and better disciplined than their American counterparts, and that France educates its citizens much more equitably.

    As for the elevators- I’ve definitely seen that here, and I’ve actually seen it twice in the US- once was in a dorm I lived in in university, and the elevators actually stopped at every three floors. It was a strange building. The ones in the US were marked with signs :) I miss signs.

    Katies last blog post..WordPress 2.7: Coming Soon

  • http://maladroite@wordpress.com Katie

    The hierarchy thing is definitely a huge part of the reason for no evaluations, though I think it would be a great idea here. As for French high schools being “much much much” better than their American counterparts, American (public) high schools vary hugely from district to district, (funding, curriculum, very different cultural values and cultural composition from one region to another and differing standards and qualifying exams from state to state). I went to a public high school that was one of the top in the US and could easily compete with a highly-ranked French lycée. I do agree that French lycee students overall come out better informed and better disciplined than their American counterparts, and that France educates its citizens much more equitably.

    As for the elevators- I’ve definitely seen that here, and I’ve actually seen it twice in the US- once was in a dorm I lived in in university, and the elevators actually stopped at every three floors. It was a strange building. The ones in the US were marked with signs :) I miss signs.

    Katies last blog post..WordPress 2.7: Coming Soon

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In January 2010, I started focusing more on teaching and learning languages in general. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at the university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling (though now my trips are usually in Australia) and being an American abroad.

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