History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY 2062 - Atlantic World in an Age of Empire (2005)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Michael McDonnell
This was the second time I taught this unit of study at the University of Sydney, a unit designed to introduce students to the new and exciting field of historical studies that falls under the heading of “Atlantic History”. Once again, though broad in scope and transnational in coverage, students seemed to find it challenging but nevertheless stimulating. This year, we had the added benefit of having Flint Duxfield take tutorials and mark many of the papers. From students’ responses, Flint was a valuable addition to the unit this year!
The number of students who completed the feedback forms was 29, of 48, or a 60% 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 85%, with 15% (or 4 students) neutral.
In response to students’ comments the last time I taught this unit, I introduced a mid-semester tutorial paper which asked them to write a brief description of an “Atlantic World” site, and talk about their plans for the research essay. This exercise was designed to give students some practice in “writing up”, and some indication of whether they were on the right track for their essay. Students’ seem to have been very appreciative of this. On the evaluation forms, 73% of students felt that the feedback they received effectively supported their learning – up from a mere 30% the last time I taught this unit of study (see sample comments below, as well).
Students seemed to enjoy the lectures once again (helped, I think, by the fact I’ve become a bit more adept at finding interesting images for our powerpoint presentations!), and most really enjoyed the tutorial discussion and the small tutorial groups we were able to have (again, see sample comments below).
Two issues arose this year on the feedback forms that I will address next time I teach this unit. Some students wanted a little less reading for tutorials, and a bit more focus. They liked what they read, but sometimes felt overwhelmed by the material and the “coverage”. Sometimes this was inevitable, I think, because of the broad scope of the course, but I will try and focus the readings a bit more in future so that we can have a more contained discussion about specific topics.
Though many students said they liked the broad overview approach, several students wanted a little more “top down” history, and a little less “bottom up” history. They also wanted greater balance between the larger picture, and specific events in particular places (though some students wanted more specific case studies!). Some wanted more “geopolitics”, ideology, and more on larger power relationships. I approach this subject from a social history perspective, so I make no apologies for the focus on the kinds of people who are often “left out” of the story of the creation of the Atlantic World, but I completely agree that those stories need to be put into a better and broader context. The next time I teach this unit, I will aim to take a step back every now and again and talk about the bigger picture, and to try and slow down and look at the broad chronology under purview from time to time.
Sample Student Comments
- A course like this is necessary now, when we ourselves are living in an interconnected world, so a broad approach makes us ask questions of ourselves as well as the past.
- This unit was incredibly interesting and most students seemed to be engaged
- Everyone seemed keen to learn
The course, while very broad, gives a very good overview of an extremely important aspect of history.
- I have enjoyed studying this unit because of its quality and the variation of themes explored.
- Mike always encourages us to think beyond what happened and to ask why.
- Mike and Flint were fantastic. They were clear and engaging and focused on the interesting topics.
- Good teaching, good questions and discussion. Highlights connections that other courses don’t! Keep up the good work!
Lectures and Tutorials
- Michael is a strong, diverse lecturer. He has opinions without being opinionated.
- Michael is a very good lecturer. Likewise, Flint was a very competent tutor.
- Our lecturer was clear and articulate, an effective communicator which helped me to learn.
- The lecturer obviously knew what he’s talking about, and was very effective in his teaching
- Tutorial Group D was excellent! Fun, interactive, and comfortable.
- Tutorials were really great. Flint was an excellent facilitator and discussion was actually very fruitful
Essays and Feedback
- Both tutor and lecturer were responsive and engaged
- The feedback I received for my tute paper (from Flint) was the best and most useful I have ever received.
- Long typed comments displayed a caring attitude sometimes not found in other teachers
- Thorough feedback on tute paper was much appreciated.
- Excellent analysis from Flint of my tute paper
- Latitude to construct one’s own question is a bonus
- Essays were “fun” to write
- Michael is one of the most responsive lecturers I have had at University
- Strong e-mail/webct presence meant issues were regularly raised and dealt with.
- Feedback on first assessment was MASSIVE. Lots of comments and critique which were invaluable
- Incredibly committed staff
- The way this course developed research skills was excellent – I wish I had this course before my last semester.
- Michael teaches us to question and where to look for information far better than other teachers
- The tutorial on research on the internet is an invaluable skill which helped me a lot
- Learned how to use J-Stor and other resources which gave me much better research material