History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2014 - Australian Social History 1919-2000 (2004)
Unit Coordinators: Mr Richard White and Dr Kirsten McKenzie
This is a large course, with two lecturers, four tutors and a mix of students, with about 10% international students (a good mix) and a wide range of degrees. Comment generally was positive. On the statement ‘Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit’, 39% strongly agreed, 52% agreed, 6% were neutral, 3% disagreed and one strongly disagreed – a satisfaction rating of 91%. This is similar to the last results for this course (in 2002): 93%. The mean was marginally higher, 4.27 compared with 4.26. Clearly we have to do much better for a minority of students, and while the majority are satisfied we would like to see more enthusiasm.
Given that we had sought to address some of the points made by the last evaluation, it is interesting that there was little real change in overall satisfaction rates. However there might have been unique circumstances affecting the course in 2004.
Interestingly only 5% thought the workload was too high (compared to 14% in 2002). While the workload was not changed, we spelt out more clearly at the outset what the expectations of a senior history course were.
On other questions where the mean score was under 4 (out of 5)
- two were the same as 2002 (assessment, feedback)
- two had not appeared in 2002 (clarity of learning outcomes, interaction with other learners)
- three had scored under 4 in 2002 but now scored over 4 (generic attributes, integration with other units, and group commitment to learning)
We made more effort to spell out what generic attributes were and so it was gratifying to see this score improved. The big disappointment is that despite a huge effort to get major essays returned to students by the lecture in which the evaluation took place – so that students whose essays were handed in on the due date, and those who had extensions of up to a week, should have received their essays at that lecture – there was no significant improvement on this particular question. Many still had not received the major essay back – they would have received it in their next tutorial. It might have been a comment on the quality of feedback itself: while this is extremely difficult to coordinate – in such a large course we have to rely on tutors and some outside markers – to the extent that it could be monitored we were satisfied that most students (not all) were receiving high quality feedback. We will give more guidance to markers on this point. Anecdotal data suggests that students receiving results before an evaluation can have a negative effect on overall assessment though!!
Of the 248 students who did the course, there was one who was thoroughly disgruntled, spectacularly so. He/she said the course outline was clear but wasn’t followed, ‘poorly organised…the most patronizing course yet…condescending’, and promised ‘never to take anything run by this guy again’; ‘how arrogant are you to constantly complain of how many students there are and how long it takes to mark’ (I don’t think we were complaining about this, just explaining why it took three weeks to get essays back: we do take a lot of care with the process); ‘spoon-feeding – when I did include an original thought – it was chastised!!’ (we can only suggest when you do feel dissatisfied with a mark or comment, come and discuss it); ‘The course has been absolutely useless for my degree – a waste of units. A waste of time. And disappointing!’; ‘My tutor had no room; no scheduled times’ and only received tutor’s email address in week 4 (unfortunately lack of funding means the university cannot afford to pay for what I agree should be essentials; it should be noted that queries etc about the course could/should be directed to the course coordinators whose email addresses were on the front of the course guide – tutors are not paid to deal with such issues; this should be made clearer at the outset); there was no(?) interaction with other learners; ‘even reissued lecture programme mid-way through. Disorganised’ (there were some unavoidable changes because of a student demonstration and a guest lecturer’s last minute unavailablity, and this necessitated minor rearrangements in the lecture programme, which has to be written months before semester starts to have it printed in time); ‘Hotch-potch delivery, off topic ramblings – wastes of time with elongated viewings of audio-visuals’; ‘the god complex is run amok here’; ‘As for the constant referral to ‘you should do the formal exam’ WHY OFFER a takehome exam if you stand there & tell everyone not to do it????? Again – patronizing. WHY DO YOU OFFER IT???’ (some students do perform better on takehome exams than on formals, but as we tried to explain, when results are compared, on average students do better on formal exams; that would seem to be a reasonable basis on which to offer both, but to advise students to do the formal. Providing a choice also helps reduce exam timetable clashes. As it is, the split is about 50:50 takehome: formal. At least on this point, we have been able to accommodate this student: under the new 6 credit point structure students will no longer offer a takehome option; instead students will have the choice of doing either a tutorial paper or a formal exam.)
Others were more restrained and in fact the vast majority of comments were positive on all aspects of the course. Lectures were generally considered ‘interesting’ and ‘well organised’; ‘excellent’ and ‘passionate’ (both several times), ‘very clear and concise’, ‘particularly wonderful’, ‘fascinating’, ‘experienced, professional and very enjoyable’; ‘brilliant…very enthusiastic and interesting’, ‘particularly interesting and clear-cut’, ‘all lectures were really good’; ‘best lecturers ever’, ‘got us thinking about our own place in history’; (from a student who needs to get out more) ‘the most entertaining things I’ve been to in ages’; ‘a real insight into how to communicate ideas’; ‘most helpful’; ‘exceptional…vibrancy and depth’; ‘drew a picture in my mind in every lecture. I felt like I was seeing what he was talking about’; ‘stories and examples were good and memorable’; ‘crazy antics made class fun’; ‘informative and animated’; ‘entertaining and highly knowledgeable’. But not everyone agreed: one thought lectures ‘boring’ and another ‘a bit vague’, another ‘not structured logically’, another ‘often very “wafty”’.
A couple (one of whom admitted missing the first few lectures) felt the course ‘theme’ was not made clear: we will ensure some of those core elements get continuing attention throughout the course, not just in the first and last lectures (and the exam!).
Guest lectures (Tom Uren, Jack Mundey) were seen by some as disruptions but most appreciated the variety, and some specifically mentioned them as ‘a real highlight’ and ‘fantastic’. One asked for more ‘conservative’ guests for ‘balance’: we have tried.
Tutorials came in for particular praise from most (not all), as generating ‘some great discussions’: thanks due to the tutors, James Drown, Maya Le, Zora Simic and Cameron White. The staff generally were seen as helpful, accessible and responsive, ‘passionate’, ‘marvellous’, ‘awesome’ even, ‘outstanding, clear, knowledgeable and interesting’; ‘loved the teaching’. Responses to questions were generally helpful: ‘I emailed Richard White and he responded quite promptly so that was good. After about 3 emails he kind of stopped though.’ Despite the overall result on feedback, most who mentioned feedback found it helpful and detailed.
The course structure was clear and the course outline helpful and comprehensive.
A number praised the course for challenging them: ‘I was forced to try things that I might not have done on my own’; ‘I feel this unit taught me how to “do history”’.
A few found the workload/reading high, but most thought it ‘appropriate’, ‘reasonable’, ‘just right’ or ‘fairly standard’, ‘spot on’, ‘fair’, ‘demanding but not overly’, and many said they appreciated the flexibility. A few ‘didn’t really like’ the essay choice, but most mentioned major essay positively: ‘enjoyable’, ‘a good challenge’, ‘Loved the fact that we had to devise own topic for research essay – hard work but great for the “intellectual autonomy”’; ‘room for initiative and thought most helpful’; ‘challenging but a good assessment’; ‘I learnt research skills in the long essay I had never before used’; ‘particularly useful in terms of developing research and inquiry skills’; ‘I really got into my essay which developed the research & enquiry skills’; ‘the first uni assignment I enjoyed writing’, ‘assessments enjoyable’, ‘particularly interesting’, ‘daunting at first, but I felt accomplished when I finished’; ‘while difficult…a great opportunity to express an interest’. The ‘difficult but rewarding’ comment was a common one, as in other years, and this year there seemed to be far fewer students not enjoying the essay.
A number felt there was more politics in the course than they wanted, and one complained about the amount of economics. This is a tricky balance because while the emphasis is social history, we cannot treat the social in isolation from other strands.
We offered a new form of exam – in response to student comment, reducing the number of essay from three to two, but one student (before doing it) said they preferred the old format: of course we don’t get formal feedback from students after they have taken the exam, but informal comments suggest most were happy with it. We think the new structure has worked well so far but will continue to take student advice.
There were a number of gratifying overall assessments: ‘ The best course I’ve done in 5 years at Sydney University’; ‘an interesting and informative course – very amusing at times!’; ‘very rewarding’; ‘always entertaining – I learnt a lot’; ‘really fantastic course. It has firmly convinced me to carry on with Australian history’; ‘I really learnt a lot and enjoyed doing it’; ‘always a pleasure to go to lectures and tutorials’, ‘even better than I had imagined…one of the most enjoyable and worthwhile units of study I have so far completed’; ‘probably the class I learnt the most in this semester’; ‘one of my best subjects to date’; ‘I learnt some really excellent things’; ‘the most interesting class I took this semester’; ‘my favourite history course so far’; ‘I would recommend this course to all students of history. I thoroughly enjoyed it.’ ‘It’s definitely going to help me, not only in my degree but in life.’ ‘very relevant, really good for both general knowledge and analytical skills’; ‘Everyone around me seemed to be loving the subject, and that’s a rare find’; ‘I really enjoyed this history course as it was one of the first Aust. history courses I’ve done. The topics covered were interesting and insightful. I’ve leant a lot from this course, thank you!’ Two students even thought it should be ‘compulsory’. From an Arts/Law student: ‘I really enjoyed this course. Stimulating, challenging.’ From a BEd/BA student ‘The lecturers & tutors were excellent, as was the content of the course. Top stuff!’ From an international student ‘Bonza. Interesting, Critical…stimulating and worth my semester.’
As always, those who were able to be part of the annual trip to Melbourne saw it as a highlight, ‘the best thing I’ve participated in at uni.’