History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2060 - Violence in Italy (2004)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Nicholas Eckstein
HSTY 2060, Violence in History, was run for the first time in first semester, 2004. Student response to the unit was overwhelmingly positive, with 91% of students surveyed expressing satisfaction with the overall quality of the unit. A typical comment was that made by a student who described the lecturers as "always enthusiastic [a factor] which made the two-hour lecture go relatively quickly." Others described the lectures as "great", while still another wrote, gratifyingly: "This was the most interesting unit I've done."
One of the reasons for the positive response was the content and structure of lectures and tutorials. 86% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the teaching of the unit aided effective learning. 83% agreed or strongly agreed that the unit helped to develop generic attributes that would be useful in other situations. Students reported that "The topics were clear, easy to understand and extremely interesting." Overall the opinion was that that lectures were "relevant", that they were "taught very well and used various forms of media to communicate ... points to us." Students were particularly keen about the use of different media, especially "by the use of contemporary films like The Sopranos [which was shown] to emphasise certain prevailing themes." One student wrote: "I thought the readings were engaging", and appreciated the balance of primary and secondary sources that were offered in the reader. "Essay and tutorial questions were structured in such a way that would encourage discussions," said another student.
Feedback indicated that students valued very highly the staff's commitment, not only to the material being taught, but to their pedagogy and their relationship with all enrolled in the unit of study. One student reported that "I have taken one of [the lecturer's] subjects before, and I always feel that he wants us to do the best we can." Another expressed the opinion that "The staff in this unit were the most helpful I have encountered at uni." Still another wrote that "All staff, especially the lecturer, were very approachable." Lecturer and tutors were seen as "excellent, helpful and very open to student ideas"; as "very open to queries, very keen to be helpful, very keen to hear students' opinions of [the] course, very understanding of difficulties." Another wrote: "I know I can also ask my tutor if I need more feedback." Staff "often e-mailed and were in regular contact - [were] always helpful", and were "highly committed and interested in the course", "responsive and respectful to the students."
Staff feedback on oral and written contributions was seen as "very specific", "really good", and as "useful and detailed". Comments on written work, meanwhile, "allowed me to see where I went wrong, and what I did right so that I'll know what to discard and what to keep for next time."
There was a consensus that the most important forum for exploration of important themes was the tutorials, in which the tutors "led sophisticated and provocative tutorial discussions centred around the primary course themes".
Assessment comprised a tutorial paper, a substantial research essay, and an exam. One or two students said that they would have preferred more on-going assessment rather than the research essay. However, opinion was divided on this issue, with just as many indicating their preference for a substantial research essay that allowed them to develop their independent knowledge of a particular topic. The coordinator's preference is to maintain the research component, as one of the department's primary objectives is to train students to develop their critical skills, research skills and the ability to make a sophisticated, independent argument.
When Violence in Italy runs again, there will, however, be one modification which will respond to the clear interest in on-going assessment The research essay will be retained, but a tutorial workbook component will be introduced, which will substitute for the tutorial paper. In addition to helping to meet students' concerns, the workbook will also emphasise attendance at and contribution to tutorials.
A number of students expressed annoyance at the perception of leniency towards people who handed work in late without having first gained a formal extension. The coordinator agrees with the reason for this frustration, which stemmed in part from the history department's lack at the time of a consistent policy regarding extensions. The department has since agreed on such a policy, which is in force (as of 2006). This problem will not recur.
One of the most popular topics, covered near the end of the unit, was the Italian Mafia, and some students expressed the wish that more time be devoted to this. It is not possible to do every relevant topic in a single semester, and while some adjustment may be possible here, this would mean necessarily sacrificing other important material from earlier in the unit. The coordinator will, nevertheless, attempt to respond to this clear indication of student interest. On the basis of this first incarnation of Violence in Italy the coordinator does have plans for a minor adjustment to the overall emphasis of the course, which at present has a notionally tripartite structure (Ancient, Medieval/Early Modern, Modern/Contemporary). The planned change will probably mean that some additional attention is given to Ancient Rome and at the other end of the course, to Mafia and the culture of organised crime, while the Medieval/Early-Modern section of the unit will shrink by one week.