History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2004 - Making Australia 1880-1930 (2005)
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’, 39% strongly agreed, 53% agreed, and 5% were neutral and 3% disagreed – a satisfaction rating of 92%, but significantly down on last 2003’s 98%. The mean of 4.27 was down on 2003’s 4.47. It’s possible that students picked up of the fact that both of us were distracted by major family crises during the semester, and both had a sense that we had dropped the ball somewhere along the way (Thanks to Laina Hall for holding things together). Or it’s possible that the changes we made in response to the last evaluation were the wrong ones to make…who knows?
Generally lectures were regarded positively, though one thought the lectures ‘too informal’ (too many ‘interesting quirks’ and not enough ‘practical and applicable information…more closely looking at the cultural development of Australia than I expected…didn’t tie themselves closely enough to govt policy and political development’), another ‘a little light of actual historical information of relevance’; on the other hand another complained they were too formal. Others commented they were ‘interesting’; ‘very good for encouraging independent thought and study’; ‘fantastic’, ‘well organised’, ‘very interesting and set out well’; ‘class participation was fun, esp. the “coo-ee”…a good vibe’; ‘interesting and clearly delivered’; ‘clear, concise and interesting’; ‘made a boring subject interesting’(?!);‘no self-indulgent rambling’; ‘very enthusiastic & engaged’; ‘felt like I learnt heaps.’ Oddly enough comments on HSTY2014 (a companion course) are that it is too political. This is partly because the course is in transition because much of its more directly political content has gone into the new first year course: the next time it is taught, its title will be ‘Popular Culture in Australia 1880-1930’ to emphasise its transformation from a general course to one with a specific focus on social and cultural history. Guest lectures were appreciated by some, but others found them a ‘distraction’ or hard to follow.
Outlines one said ‘a little vague in some ways’ but was a little vague in what ways; others ‘very descriptive’, ‘clear’, ‘detail…excellent’, ‘clear and intriguing’, ‘very full & precise…extremely good outline’. One student asked for an example of a HD essay ‘so we have something to work towards’: this is often requested, but the problem is good essays can be very variable: to identify one or two as model essays might work to discourage others capable of writing quite different, but equally insightful and well-argued work. Consider the variety of published articles by academic historians: they are your best model, and our advice would be to find a historian whose work impresses you and, without slavishly following their approach, think about what techniques of theirs attract you.
The workload was generally considered OK, ‘very fair’, though one commented expecting two articles a week was as much as we should expect (this from a student who also thought there should have been more attention to politics: many of the additional readings were designed precisely for students who wanted to develop a stronger understanding in this area). The essay came in for particular attention. Over the years, the ‘independent project’ approach has had increasingly positive response from the big majority. Perhaps we have been explaining it better, or the HSC Extension history course has prepared more students for it, or there has been a process of self-selection where students who like this style of essay have increasingly gravitated to Australian history. In future, with the course reduced to 6 credit points, we will have to monitor whether we can continue to give students this choice. But many students said they ‘really’ liked it, ‘a good move’, ‘interesting’; ‘awesome’; ‘The primary research experience was great. Developed lots of new research skills and really enjoyed it’; ‘difficult but rewarding in the end’; ‘Amazingly, this is my fifth year at university and during this class used microfilm for the first time.’ Given that overwhelmingly positive response, it would be a pity to change. One thought it ‘hard’ to choose a topic and difficult to develop an argument’; another while appreciating the ‘personal autonomy’ commented ‘it was easy to feel lost and unsure’: while we encourage students to discuss the essay with staff early on, this has been hard to maintain: we will try to push this harder.
A few mentioned wanting quicker feedback on the major essay, though the feedback itself was commended for its ‘detail’, ‘very detailed’, ‘very thoughtful’, ‘extensive & helpful’’ ‘helpful and insightful’; ‘critical feedback…much appreciated’; ‘Extensive comments, informative, constructive and useful’; ‘I was impressed with the level of feedback each assessment got’; ‘Although I received high marks, I was still provided with feedback to help me improve’. A number wanted the essay to be due later (at present timed so that we have a chance of returning essays in the last week: we will consider this) and a number felt 1000 words for the tutorial paper was too short. We would always like a quicker turn-around, but also want to ensure the assessment is careful and feedback useful, and this takes time. Some seemed to forget the feedback early on in the primary source exercise which is designed to provide early feedback; those that did found it ‘very helpful’ and others appreciated the fact that it was optional. In future we will make the ‘early feedback’ implications of doing the exercise clearer.
On generic skills: this question often elicits some puzzlement (a common response is that they already have these skills but perhaps the unit extends them). However many different students mentioned research skills, an a few, communication skills being particularly developed
On interaction some felt it was a problem where there were too many international students in a group (‘had little to offer sometimes’) but another said ‘Having a lot of Americans in this course made tutorials very interesting’. More than is usual, a number mentioned lack of enthusiasm among other students: ‘some students were interested, others weren’t’; ‘students didn’t give a firetruck’. There seemed to be a quite stark divide here: others were very enthusiastic about their fellow students (eg ‘Everyone appeared to enjoy the course and want to discuss the topics’; ‘Everyone was keen to learn’; ‘the first time I have been in a tute where everyone has done the set readings for each week and is willing and able to engage in discussion’; ‘the first course I’ve done where I felt staff & students really worked together’; ‘tutorials were exciting and stimulating’). We can only put this down to group dynamics of different tutorial groups, the luck of the draw. A number mentioned what a good tutor Laina Hall was.
As always, those who came to Melbourne thought it ‘fantastic’.
Summing up, one thought it ‘pretty standard’, some were critical (cited above), but the more common responses were ‘excellent’, ‘brilliant’, ‘enjoyed…a lot!’; ‘I feel I have learnt a lot’; ‘the most rewarding subject in my degree’; ‘enjoyable and challenging’; ‘a really great course!’; ‘probably the best history course I have done at university thus far’; ‘This is the best course I have done in 3.5 years at university. The topics were fascinating, the readings interesting…’; ‘Excellent unit of work, interesting content and presentation.’; ‘loved it’, ‘the most enjoyable subject I’ve done so far in my 3.5 years of uni’; ‘Can’t emphasise enough how POSITIVE the experience was’; (Study Abroad) ‘Excellent course! Inspired me to take more history classes…incredibly interesting…always kept me wanting to know more’; ‘interesting, informative and comprehensive’; ‘Really interesting course, the best history subject to date’; ‘my degree has changed thanks to the enthusiasm for Aust history’; ‘I only took the course for convenient credit points but I have really enjoyed it. I have a new perspective on Australian history’; ‘I loved this…Definitely one of the most enjoyable Units of Study I have done.’
We particularly appreciated the following somewhat ambiguous comment from a Study Abroad student: ‘The lectures were easy to understand despite having little knowledge of Australian history.’