History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2004 - Making Australia 1880-1930 (2003)
Unit Coordinators: Mr Richard White and Dr Maggie Mackellar
The overall response to the course was very positive. On the statement ‘Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit’, 49% strongly agreed, 49% agreed, and 2% were neutral – a satisfaction rating of 98%. Scores on most questions were satisfactory, though assessment and feedback were lower than they could be.
Lectures, tutorials, reading selection, course guide, approachability of staff, and the development of specific skills all received praise. Modesty forbids detailed analysis of the more personal evaluations, but overall comments along these lines were common:
- ‘A wonderful course which I enjoyed immensely.’
- ‘Two of the best lecturers I’ve come across’
- ‘This is the best history unit I ever did. The staff were perfect. The readings were great…I even looked forward to them! The assignments were fun. 10/10!!!’
- [From a study abroad student] ‘It’s a shame I could only be here for one semester, would have loved to take a similar class. Thankyou! One of the most enjoyable classes in my Uni career so far!’
- ‘The teaching by both lecturers was great!’
- ‘The lecturer was excellent and the tutorial conducted in a laid back manor [though it should be noted most other tutorials were conducted in rather boring tutorial rooms!]'
- ‘Each lecture is packed with interesting ideas & info; tute topics take up huge questions & many issues; tute readings were often debates which really helped in thinking about the issues.’
- ‘I really enjoyed this course…an extremely helpful course for my journalist degree/career. Thanks.’
- ‘History department seems to be unique in its excellent staff.’
The usual mantra was the course was interesting, relevant, brilliant, informative, lively, provocative, clear, helpful, ‘enjoyed it thoroughly’; the staff enthusiastic, friendly, approachable and knowledgeable. Some commented how the course ‘helped place events in their social; contexts for other courses’. But one student ‘found the lectures were often vague and structured in a way that made it difficult to understand the lecture as a whole.’
A particularly heartening result was the number of students who had come into the course out of a sense of duty, convinced (often by school they said) that Australian history just couldn’t be interesting or intellectually challenging, and changed their minds:
- ‘I have really enjoyed learning about Australian history this year…more than I expected.’
- ‘Best course I have sat so far at uni. It was really interesting with many events & themes taken from an angle that I had never considered. Thank you.’
- ‘The content of the course was very interesting as Australian history is normally taught in relation to the gold rush & convicts or the Australian home front during WWI. I would definitely recommend this course.
‘Good course – very interesting content…I never thought Australian history could be interesting!’
- ‘I actually did the course not because I really wanted to, but because as an Aust. I felt morally obligated. It has in fact been one of the most satisfying history courses I’ve done. Thanks.’
An issue for one or two students was the emphasis given to undertaking original primary research and developing your own question in the major essay. The great majority however found it an interesting and/or worthwhile challenge:
- ‘The fact of having to come up with own question & research, although often difficult, has allowed me to develop research skills unknown before.’
- ‘Very demanding…[but] my research skills are much more finely tuned as a result.’
- ‘An excellent way to allow us to apply what we had learnt.’
- ‘An excellent way of displaying an interest in a topic and pursuing it.’
- ‘long essays are good – allow you to really get into a topic’
- ‘Although the essay wasn’t the most enjoyable I’ve ever had to write, the primary source skills I picked up were invaluable’
The voluntary primary source exercise was seen by many as valuable (‘helped heaps’) though others preferred the model used in HSTY2019.
Comment on feedback provided on essays was overwhelmingly positive – helpful, balanced, thorough, comprehensive (‘extensive, thorough & fair feedback [which also helped me in my other classes!]’; ‘the feedback for my first essay helped me improve on my second essay’). On the basis of detailed comments, the somewhat negative statistic on the feedback question comes from not having received feedback. Tutorial paper feedback depends on the student’s individual choice – we tried as far as possible to return tutorial papers within a fortnight of receiving them, but inevitably papers handed in late in the semester got caught up with the essay marking. Essay feedback is more problematic. We guaranteed essays handed in on time would be returned within three weeks. This is difficult but we managed it: many needed to be read by more than one member of staff to ensure comparability. Essays handed in after the due date were mostly returned in the final week, ie in the tutorial following the lecture in which evaluations were completed. To return essays any earlier would require pushing the due date back even earlier, or marking them less thoroughly. One view is that in history, students should see feedback from one unit leading into improvements in the next. As it was some students thought the essay due too soon; others thought the timing ‘particularly helpful’.
An interesting comment from one student was that three exam answers in two hours was excessive. We will pursue this to see whether that is a general feeling. But given the exam aims to assess the course ‘as a whole’, reducing the number of questions would necessitate the abandonment of questions on individual tutorial topics: all questions would have to draw on more than one week’s reading (Section A type questions). But it is certainly a model we are will to try, if it reflects a broader view.
Apart from a widespread feeling that tutorial class sizes were just too big(!), tutorials got a very positive response, one student commending their ‘formal informality’; another ‘Maybe it was just my tutorial, but it was the only class where people did reading, participated in discussion, were avid & energetic, etc’; another ‘great fun and very friendly’.
We enjoyed the course too, and would like to take this opportunity to thank you the students for your enthusiasm, perseverance, openness and forbearance.