History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY1045 - Modern European History (2005)
Unit Coordinator: Associate Professor Robert Aldrich
Student response to this unit was overwhelmingly positive. Students realised that the course covered a long period and many themes – as one person remarked, ‘There is lots of history to learn’. However, they found that the subject achieved its aims: it provided, according to one comment, ‘a broad knowledge of modern Europe and a basis for interest in specific areas of history for further study’. Almost all of the students were experiencing their first semester of university study, and a satisfied student noted that HSTY 1045 ‘introduced me to the study of history and the workings of the university’.
A great majority of students said the aims of the course were clear: ‘All learning outcomes and expectations were expressed clearly at the beginning of the course, and helpfully re-addressed throughout’. The course outline, in one person’s words, was ‘crystal clear’. ‘I enjoyed the lecturer’s passion for this subject’, said one student. The lecturer was variously described as ‘engaging’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘motivated’, though not surprisingly some comments were less favourable! The lectures were thought clear and well structured, if sometimes a bit fast and challenging. ‘The lectures were absolutely fantastic, clear in structure and extensively in depth in content’. Everyone found the overhead lecture outlines (which were posted on a website) to be helpful. Tutors were given much credit for providing good feedback and for being available to students. The general atmosphere was thought to be ‘always open and cooperative’, and the staff had ‘a positive attitude to students’.
One of our goals in a first-year course is to help students develop a critical approach to history, and several comments suggested that many had achieved this goal. The subject was useful in ‘developing more of an understanding of the historical development of ideas, struggles and politics, it really broadened my knowledge/judgement and ability to question’. Another person commented: ‘I like that we covered not only people and events but concepts, ideas’. Yet another said that the unit ‘forced me to realise the need to read more than one person’s view on a particular period of history’. The subject was judged to be of relevance by students with a variety of interests; it ‘provides the basis to understand future units of study as well as comprehend today’s world’.
There were several forms of assessment: an article summary, an oral presentation, a course essay and an examination. The first assignment, a summary of a scholarly article or book chapter, seemed to be the least satisfying; some students thought expectations were not clear, and that the task was too hard for first-semester students. The oral presentation was well received, several remarking that it helped them to develop communication skills. On the essay, opinion was almost unanimous that a choice of topic allowed students to follow their areas of interest, and the work helped them to develop familiarity with the library and hone investigative skills: ‘Essays provided a good opportunity to develop researching skills and analytic skills’.
Most of those who responded to the survey found the workload appropriate, though heavy. However, many thought there were too many readings (but how many is ‘too’ many?). Some of them were rather difficult (including the textbook). A number also remarked that a two-hour lecture block was too long, as it was hard to maintain concentration for so long. Though comments about the tutorials were positive, some students were concerned that a few of their fellow students did not participate actively in the discussions; others felt a bit isolated in such a large course (one with over 350 students).
In response to these comments, in 2006, there will be two separate one-hour lectures rather than a two-hour block. Some of the readings (including the textbook) will be changed, with an attempt to reduce the overall amount of reading. We hope to develop a WebCT page that will encourage student interaction.
Only 7% of the students disagreed with the statement ‘Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study’ – confirmation that this is a unit that demands a commitment to reading and writing, but that provides a good introduction to modern history, a chance to develop research and communication skills, and an agreeable initiation to university study.