History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY1043 - Modern European Politics and Culture (2002)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Cindy McCreery
First of all, I want to thank the many students who completed the Unit of Study Survey forms during the last lecture session of HSTY 1043 this semester. Student feedback is extremely important for the individual tutors, the History Department as well as for me, the course co-ordinator. All of us are keen to improve our performance and to deliver the best HSTY 1043 course possible. Student satisfaction with the course is clearly important to achieving this goal, although other factors, such as maintaining academic standards and logistical constraints (e.g. timetabling conflicts) must also be kept in mind.
Overall, student satisfaction with HSTY 1043 seems to have been very high. While the statistical analysis shows that most students enjoyed the course and felt that they had learned a great deal, the individual comments provide more precise feedback on which aspects students liked, and which they felt needed improvement. I will focus on the latter here (i.e. the complaints) and give my own responses. Please keep in mind that other lecturers may teach HSTY 1043 in the future, and that they will have their own ideas about how best to teach this course. Therefore my comments may or may not result in changes to the way HSTY 1043 is taught in the future.
There were many comments on course content, but little consensus. Some students felt that the course tried to cover too much material in too little time, while others felt that the course should have gone further and, for example, covered the period of the Cold War, the Vietnam conflict and even up to the present day!
Such a wide variety of responses reflect the challenge faced by the course co-ordinator. While some students come to the course with prior knowledge of European history (and thus want more in depth coverage of topics they are already familiar with, e.g. World War Two), others have no prior knowledge, and want more background information. As a first-year course, HSTY 1043 has to assume no prior knowledge of European history, and to provide an introductory survey of a fairly large topic in one semester. The majority of students seem to agree that the course achieved this, but there will always be some students who naturally want more or less, or different information.
Another complaint (although there were divided views on this subject) was that there were no clear guidelines about what students could expect to learn in this course. The course guide will be revamped for next year and (along with all History courses) will include a clear statement of course expectations. If I teach this course next year I will also include more explicit information about bibliography and footnotes so that students have a particular model to follow when preparing their tutorial paper and essay.
Tutorial Size, Schedule and Rooms
Some students felt that tutorials were too large, that they were inconveniently scheduled and that the rooms were less than ideal. This is largely beyond the lecturer’s control - the university decides the size of tutorials and the schedule and rooms are subject to availability. With over 430 students, large courses such as HSTY 1043 need to schedule some tutorials before the weekly lectures. I realize this is not ideal, but there is little I can do about this.
By far the most common complaint was that there was too much reading, and specifically too much reading for the weekly tutorials. History requires heavy reading, and it is not surprising that many students found that there was more reading required in HSTY 1043 than in other first-year Arts subjects. I accept, however, that some students felt discouraged by the amount of reading, and that tutorial discussions would improve if everyone had done all of the reading. So in future I would reduce the amount of weekly reading somewhat (from say three articles per week to two). I would also replace some of the longest readings (e.g. Kumar) with shorter articles and chapters.
Several students suggested that tutorial participation count for more of the overall mark. I think this is an excellent idea that would further encourage students to do all of the tutorial reading and to participate in the tutorial discussion. Another suggestion was that there should be more opportunities for teamwork. I agree, and I think that team presentations (i.e. where say four students do a joint presentation on the tutorial reading) would strengthen students’ teamwork skills. Team presentations would also mean fewer presentations (i.e. presentations every other week rather than every week), which would allow for a more varied tutorial format.
Most students felt that the system of guest lecturers worked well. Many students liked listening to experts discuss their field of expertise (e.g. Judith Keene on the Spanish Civil War). Some students, however, wanted more uniformity in lecture style and visual aids. This is difficult to achieve. More importantly, I think that it is valuable for students to be exposed to a variety (within reason) of lecturing styles and types of visual aids.
Students hadn’t sat the exam when they completed their course surveys, but a few expressed concern about having a formal exam that was worth so much (40%) of their overall mark. I think that an exam is an important element of the course, which motivates students to think about the ‘Big Picture’ issues raised in the course. Indeed, the third section of the exam, the ‘Big Picture’ section, was the most successful section of the exam. I accept, though, that having questions beforehand allows students to prepare more detailed and thorough responses. In future I would adapt the exam format to include two sections with ‘seen’ questions and one section with ‘unseen’ questions. This should allay much student anxiety, and help those students who feel that nerves undermine their exam performance.