Staff Responses to Student Feedback on Units of Study

At the end of each semester, students in the core unit of study are asked to complete the Unit of Study Evaluation (USE) survey designed and administered by the Institute for Teaching and Learning. Staff draw on the results of those surveys to develop and revise the unit of study. As part of that process, they write a brief response to the surveys which is made available here.

Responses to student feedback on History units that are part of the American Studies major can be found on the Department of History web site

AMST2601 American Foundations 2012

Student satisfaction with this unit increased again, with 100% of those who responded agreeing or strongly agreeing that they were satisfied with the unit, for a mean score of 4.40 out of 5. Students identified the variety of lecturers and different disciplinary approaches as the strengths of the unit, and offered high praise for the work of the tutor, Michael Thompson.

Placing more emphasis on using each essay question as the framing question for all the tutorials related to that module addressed the student confusion about learning outcomes reported in 2011: 87% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the assessment allowed them to demonstrate what they had understood, up from 59% in 2011, and student comments praised the structured nature of the modules and assessment. One commented, "Working towards an essay at the end of each module worked well. It was challenging but it created a more fulfilling assessment filled with my own ideas."

AMST2601 American Foundations 2011

Students reported a higher degree of satisfaction with the unit than in 2008, with 88% agreeing or strongly agreeing that they were satisfied with the quality of the unit, for a mean score of 4.06 out of 5. The unit also again succeeded in offering an interdisciplinary foundation for the major, with 94% agreeing or strongly agreeing that the unit encouraged thinking and helped to develop an enhanced diversity of ideas, attitudes and approaches, for a mean score of 4.13 out of 5.

However, the survey also indicated that students did not feel that the learning outcomes and expected standards were clear. In part that response reflects the inclusion of a module on Disneyland taught in collaboration with the Department of American Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which involved students completing an assignent in groups made up of a mix of Sydney and Chapel Hill students. Both the assessment task, the creation of an alternative Disneyland, and the online collaboration required to complete it, were very different from a typical University of Sydney assignment, and if we repeat this module in the future, we will devote more class, and particularly tutorial time, to supporting students as they do that assignment.

Students also expressed some confusion about what was expected in the essays required in the other two modules. The unit is designed so that the tutorials are spent discussing the same question as the essay must answer, so there is ample opportunity to clarify what is required, so long as you don't leave it to the last minute to write your essay!

The other response offered by several students was a request for a course reader in place of online readings. In 2012, there will be a reader.

AMST2601 American Foundations 2008

This was the first year for this core unit in the American Studies major, with 49 students enrolled, and six staff from History, English and Film Studies sharing the teaching. Students reported a high level of satisfaction with the unit – 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of the unit, for a mean score of 4.10 out of 5; and 89% agreed or strongly agreed that the teaching helped them learn effectively, for a mean score of 4.21 out of 5.

Most importantly, the unit succeeded in offering an interdisciplinary foundation for the major. Responding to the statement that the unit encouraged thinking and helped to develop an enhanced diversity of ideas, attitudes and approaches, 83% of students agreed or strongly agreed, for a mean score of 4.11 out of 5. Comments revealed that students enjoyed the unit’s approach:

  • I enjoyed the variety of texts, modules and subjects – it helped me to obtain a rounded understanding of America
  • The interdisciplinary approach was fantastic – it facilitated the development of a more rounded perception of cultural studies than what is available throughout any other disciplines
  • I really enjoyed it – loved that it took from a number of different areas. Liked having different lecturers and really enjoyed doing other subjects that I have been doing at uni

In 2009, we will retain the modules, each incorporating a range of disciplines and perspectives, but reduce them in number, from four to three, and focus them on core national myths.

One element of the unit that clearly did not work was the assessment, which consisted of three short essays and a presentation. Many students found 1000 words too few to allow them to grapple with the broad questions and to communicate ideas about a variety of texts. Some also felt that the presentations left too little time for discussion and participation in tutorials. Reducing the number of modules from three to four will allow for fewer assessment tasks in 2009. We also plan to use a greater variety of assignments: a 1000 word close reading paper, a 2000 word essay and a 1500 word take home exam.