History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY 2062 - Atlantic World in an Age of Empire (2004)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Michael McDonnell
As a new lecturer at the University of Sydney, I taught this unit of study in semester one of 2004 as a way of introducing students to the new and exciting field of historical studies that falls under the heading of “Atlantic History”.
Trans-national in scope, and covering a broad chronological era (1400-1800), it seemed at times a rather daunting task, but the students who enrolled in it, while finding it challenging, experienced fewer problems than I thought in thinking “beyond the nation” and I was encouraged by the results.
The number of students who completed the feedback forms was 30, of 41, or a 73% response rate. This is, of course, a statistically small sample, so the statistics below must be read in that light.
The overall satisfaction rate for the unit of study, wherein students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they were satisfied with the quality of the unit of study, was 86%, with 11% (or 3 students) neutral, and 3% (or 1 student), who disagreed.
Students seemed quite happy with the clarity of learning outcomes and expected standards in the unit, with over 82% agreeing or strongly agreeing.
Most students seemed to enjoy the broad scope of the course, and felt they learned a great deal about a new field of studies. Most also seemed to enjoy the lectures and tutorials, and there was a good group dynamic, especially in some of the tutorials.
Significantly, over 80% of the students in the class felt that they were part of a group of students and staff committed to learning, with only 2 students dissenting, and that interaction with others was important in the unit (83%).
One student thought that “all involved seemed dedicated to the aims of the course.” We also used WebCT for the course, which most students seemed to find useful and helpful. Many found it useful for “easy communication and accessibility to notes, etc.,” and some students wished there was more discussion on WebCT.
Most students seemed to agree that staff in the course were very responsive to student feedback, with about 93.3% agreement, and almost 90% of students believed they could see the relevance of the unit of study to the rest of their degree.
Learning and Teaching Issues:
The tutorials, in which we often worked in smaller groups before opening up discussion, seemed to provoke the most comments. Many students felt the tutorials were “linked well” with the lectures, and found the “tutorials and readings helpful.”
Small group discussions were “very interactive,” “encouraged mutual participation,” were “conducive to learning,” helped some students feel “more confident,” were a “good part of the course,” and “facilitated good understanding of concentrated areas.” Though one or two students “hated” the group work and felt it “hampered learning” most students seemed to think the tutorials were “one of the best aspects of the course.” Some wanted to go further and have more student-led discussions like we did one week, though most agreed that they were happy there were no formal student presentations in the tutorials.
Students were quite mixed about the workload: about 12 students (or 43%) said the workload was too high; about 10 students (or 35.7%) said it was not too high; and about 6 students (or 21%) thought it was just right.
All of this suggests that the workload was probably just about right! A few students thought that while there was lots to read, the readings were also “valuable.” Some students loved the course text, others preferred the selected readings in the course reader. In future, because of the problems we had getting the text, and the expense, we’ll stick with the reader alone.
The class also seemed divided about the longer, 4,000 word essay – some enjoyed the chance to do extra research in a senior course, others said they would have preferred a shorter essay and another assignment. Because there was no mid-term paper or tutorial paper, there was no mid-term feedback on assessment, thus only 30% of students felt that feedback on assessment effectively supported their learning in the unit, while 53.3% were neutral and 16% disagreed.
In future, I think I will impose either a voluntary or compulsory shorter essay or tutorial paper to provide some feedback mid-way through the unit of study. Certainly, most students enjoyed creating their own essay question, and delving into independent research on issues that were relevant to the course and interesting to them. Students also swapped draft essays with each other to get feedback, which some people really enjoyed, finding it “useful” “invaluable” and “of great benefit,” while others did not quite see the benefit of doing so. We could all agree, I think, that we needed more library resources. Because I was a new staff member, some resources that would have been handy and that I had ordered had not yet arrived, but this will change for future years.
- “I really enjoyed this course. The lectures were interesting and thought-provoking.”
- “It was quite a new approach to history, focusing on a wide geographical area rather than the usual confines of national borders.”
- “Great course, very different and interesting!”
- “Unique topics. Informative lectures.”
- “Tutorial discussions were brilliant.”
- “Good course on the whole. The tutorials, in particular, were better than in most 2nd year history courses.”
- “Excellent lecturer and very enthusiastic about teaching.”
- “Lecturer was very knowledgeable about subject matter, and very easy to approach.”
- “The capacity to focus upon certain aspects of the topic in our essays was an integral part of the unit, and the openness of the lecturer was a positive influence on a topic which was very large but well-handled.”
- “Overall a superb class.”
- “I intend to do my PhD on Atlantic history, eventually making it my specialised field.”
- “One of the best (if not the best) History units I’ve done! Do not change it, it was perfect, fun, interesting and important to humanity!”
- “An excellent unit of study that satisfied its ambitious aims and managed to communicate effectively the notion of an Atlantic World.”