Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2051 - Spanish Civil War (2002)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Judith Keene
1) Of the 70 students who completed the student assessment all were satisfied with the course though 3 students had comments about the need for more introductory overviews.
Among the typical comments were : "very good course"; "liked lecturer’s passion"; "liked it because it was different in approach and content compared with other courses in History"; "fabulous course; "JK should take more courses in history"; "her passion for history somewhat catching and found myself doing more work and reading than usual"; "very interesting and insightful course I must admit I ended up enjoying it more than I had expected."; JK enthusiasm good; "she firm but fair’. Three students felt they needed more introductory overview: "Found the course a little confusing/overwhelming because I had no prior background"; "lectures should be more chronological and simplistic/explanatory of general details"; "it seemed as though a lot of knowledge was assumed."
JK's response: This semester I will provide more over view at the start and I will schedule Kenneth Loach’s movie earlier in the course since there was an overwhelming response to the 2 films whereby students felt that the films took a viewer who had no sense of the terrain and the issues, into the landscape of the civil war.
2) To the question, "Did you know much about Spanish history when you enrolled in this course" all of the 70 respondents said they did not.
Among the comments were: "I came with a clean slate"; "hardly anything’; " no but now have an understanding of 20th century Spain"; "knew nothing except heard of Franco as a leader"; "although I had traveled to Spain did not know much about the civil war"; "absolutely zero". "Nothing, nada, I had a vague idea that there had been a Spanish civil war but I thought it was 200 years ago." Four respondents said they had heard of the Spanish civil war in First year in European Politics and Culture in 20th century ; and presumably from Spanish majors, "nada" and "solo un poco".
JK's response: There is no prior knowledge assumed in this course. That it was a new field for all the student may be a large part of the reason for the positive response to the course as it is extremely enjoyable learning new histories, especially about an event which is a critical in 20th century European history.
3) Students unanimously liked the mix of approaches, lectures, films and visitor and the extensive use made of visual material in the course.
One student suggested that popular music from the era should be included as well. There was also a unanimously positive response to the 2 films shown. Comments on the films included "wonderful" "pulled course together"; and on visuals "fascinating to look at old pictures and posters".
4) To the question "Which seminar/theme did you find most interesting", the most frequently mentioned was memory and exile.
25 respondents mentioned John Garcia’s lecture and presentation on exile and living with Francoism after the war. A typical comment was " "John Garc'a was fantastic" "liked memory and exile, especially John Garc'a". Other topics students cited were Women, though one student stated that "Women should appear in all weeks not just in one dedicated week because it makes it appear more relevant to people who don’t think "feminism’ is a valid approach." The military, anarchism, anticlericalism, and international brigades all had their devotees, though several students separately listed the last three topics as those they felt could be dropped from tutorial discussion.
JK’s reply: I think the mix of topics is good and I read these responses as an affirmation of my own belief in the importance of a visual understanding of the past. There was in fact reading on women in almost all the tutorial topics, as well as the 2 times set aside specifically. John Garc'a’s talk about growing up in exile as a Spanish republican was moving and wonderful, as were the albums of photographs and the objects he brought, such as the Republican flag and his uncle’s Spanish Republican army uniform. He transported his audience from the History Room on the Quad at Sydney University to Republican Spain, and the camps in Southern France and eventually to the Republican exile community in the Illawarra.
5) Paul Preston was the most cited historian when students were asked to identify which reading they had found most interesting. Half the students mentioned Preston’s "Discreet Charm of the Dictator", and as well other listed his memory piece and the writing on the Spanish Revolution. One student probably summed up these respondents when s/he stated, "anything by Paul Preston is worth reading." Other historians listed were Enders, Keene, Lincoln, Payne, Monteath and Ben Ami.
JK’s reply: The readings in the course are based on the newest analytical writing on the Spanish civil war and the students’ positive response is entirely appropriate.
6) Several questions asked students to comment on the way in which the due dates for work had been structured: that is that every student either turned in an essay or a tutorial paper after the mid term break. Because Easter was so early, a week’s recess in tutorial meetings was introduced and JK had office hours every day all that week so students could discuss their written work. Overwhelmingly, 70 out of the 70 students were in favour of the break in tutorials for writing. Most also liked having one piece of work due in mid semester. One student who was in favour of the break, observed that it had "not helped enough as [s/he] had too many other essays due at the same time". 1 student felt it was "unfair for those students whose research essay was at the end of the semester" because there was not a break at the end of the semester as well. 1 student found the research ‘too hard" because s/he ‘had to start from scratch and find a person to work on."
JK’s reply: The essay writing recess was set up because Easter came so early in 2002 that it seemed rather unreasonable to expect those students who were turning in their research essays to be ready to do so in so few weeks. The response to the break though was so overwhelmingly positive, and in that week I spoke to a tremendous number of students not just about their essays but also about their tute papers, that it is possible that the writing recess should be made a permanent feature. In 2003 I have not scheduled such a tutorial break because the mid semester break itself is much later. I will ask students in 2003 to comment on the mechanics of their due work. I think the need for a writing break is in fact tied to the reality that many students work many hours a week. On the question in the student assessment ‘Do you have a job and how many hours do you work", only 5 students indicated that they did not have a job. Others worked from 4 to 30 hours a week.
7) Only 1 of 70 respondents had not had contact with the lecturer outside tutes or lectures. This student stated that s/he worked full time and "had no contact because was too busy." Other students made contact by email, office hours, after tutes or "simply dropped in" as 2 respondents described it. Other comments were: "JK extremely approachable never felt intimidate when seeking her for help"; and "lecturer very supportive of all students in tutes".
JK’s reply: I am totally committed to one on one discussions with students about their research planning before essays and am gratified that despite so many students with jobs they recognized the importance of talking with me about their essay work and their general progress in the course.
8) Two students remarked on 2 hour lectures together: one liked it and another student said s/he prefer 2 separately timetables lectures.
JK’s reply: In order to show commercial cinema it is necessary to have 2 lectures together.
9) 5 students mentioned the course reader when asked how they would improve the course.
One described the reader as "a mess" because there were missing pages in her/his. Another felt that the reader should be arranged by weeks not alphabetically. 2 students felt that all the reading should be in the reader. 2 students felt that there was too much to read in the course and the reader was too large.
JK's reply: Apologies for missing pages in those readers that faced that problem. In general, there is always a tension between the cost of the reader if everything is put in it and the inconvenience to students who come to campus just for their lectures and tutorials, if there is reading material set which is not in the reader. The History Department has a policy against making readers so thick that students cannot afford to buy them. As well, in Fisher almost all the reading material, required and additional, is available on the Net and can be down loaded at home from the Fisher catalogue by students who are on the Net. It is simply not possible to master a new course in a new field without buckling down to solid reading. As to the arrangement of the reader, as a reference tool, which is what the course readers become after the course is over, it is much more useful to look up articles alphabetically, than to have to search through week by week. To use the syllabus in conjunction with the reading pack does not seem to me to be too difficult to do.
OVERALL. I taught the Spanish Civil War in history at Sydney in 2002 for the first time and enjoyed it very much. Thanks to the students who conscientiously completed this assessment in 2002 I hope to make the course even better in 2003.