History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2034: A History of the United States to 1865 (2004)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Frances Clarke
I’m happy to say that this course received an overall satisfaction rating of 99% (with 1 neutral vote). An enormous number of the students commented warmly about the value of the lectures and tutorials, the comprehensive website and the interesting readings and assignments.
Before I handed out the evaluations, I begged for as many specific suggestions for improvement as students could think of and I wasn’t disappointed. Along with hefty doses of praise (and several suggestions that I receive a pay rise!) students had the following critiques:
- Difficulties of downloading readings from the internet.
Response: The majority of our weekly readings were contained in the course reader but some weeks students had to go online. I’m not able to include journal articles in the course reader any more due to copyright restrictions. But I’ll put as much as I’m legally allowed to into the reader next time.
- Broader essay questions.
Response: I think it’s much more useful for students to answer a question that’s more narrowly focused and then built their argument outward, rather than answering a broad-based question and potentially making a series of generalizations. But next time I teach this class I’ll make it clearer to students that focusing on a narrow question doesn’t preclude them from relating that question to larger issues.
- Tutorial readings being too long or too focused on primary sources.
Response: Most students didn’t see the length of the weekly readings as a problem. I’ve cut back from the last time I taught and there are a couple of weeks that could legitimately be reduced. But in general I don’t consider the readings too long. Students should be able to manage 50-70 pages of reading per week, and many weeks are even less than this. Moreover, as numerous students pointed out, I specifically made sure that readings were minimal around the time when assignments were due. In terms of the question of finding a balance between primary and secondary sources, I’ll take that into consideration next time I teach the course. I try to include an article or chapter and related primary sources each week and students were overwhelmingly in favour of this method. But there were one or two weeks with only primary sources and I’ll include a secondary source next time for these weeks.
- Placing lecture notes on the web or taping lectures
Response: The course website included powerpoint presentations, lecture outlines and timelines. I don’t include my actual lectures because this is a lecture course and you should be attending the lectures. This is also why I don’t tape the lectures. If you have a clash or can’t be bothered making it to the lectures then you should choose another course.
- Tutors and arrangement of tutorials.
Response: There were many complaints about tutorial sizes and the type of rooms that tutes were held in (cold, too small, etc.) I agree with you all. In a perfect world there would be 15 students or less in every tute. Large tutorials make it really difficult for all students to stand out (or even get a word in). I tried to mitigate the tute sizes by breaking into small groups, which many students liked. One student also suggested that I organize group presentations – a fantastic idea that I’ll take up next time. Ultimately I have no control over tutorial sizes or the rooms I’m given. Several students asked if tutorial topics could coincide better with lectures. Yes, they could and I’ll make sure that happens in future. And there were some complaints about tutors not having a comprehensive knowledge of American history. The fact is that tutors are not experts in the field and their role is to facilitate discussion rather than to provide all the answers.
- Essay topics & Exam
A number of students asked if I could make the expectations in relation to the second essay clearer. I’ll do that next time. Two students didn’t like the take-home exam format. Next time I’ll be offering the option of either a sit down or a take-home exam.