History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY 2063 – Natives & Newcomers in an Atlantic World (2004)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Michael McDonnell
This was the second unit of study I taught at Sydney to introduce students to the new and exciting field of historical studies that falls under the heading of “Atlantic History”, but also and more specifically to introduce them to the varied historical experiences of the indigenous peoples of the Americas during the “Age of Empire”. Like HSTY 2062, the Atlantic World in the Age of Empire, this course was also transnational in scope, and covered a broad chronological era (1400-1800), but here we took an “east” facing perspective, and stayed firmly focused on the Native peoples throughout North, South, and Central America, as well as in the Caribbean.
The number of students who completed the feedback forms was 28 of 47 students in total, for 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 93%, with 7% (or 2 students) neutral. Students seemed quite happy with the clarity of learning outcomes and expected standards in the unit, with over 81% agreeing or strongly agreeing.
Most students seemed to enjoy the broad scope of the course, and felt they learned a great deal about a topic that they rarely get a chance to study. Most also seemed to enjoy the lectures and tutorials, and there was a good group dynamic, especially in some of the tutorials. Significantly, over 85% of the students in the class felt that they were part of a group of students and staff committed to learning, with only 4 students neutral. Most students seemed to agree that staff in the course were very responsive to student feedback, with about 96% agreement (and only 1 other person neutral), and almost 85% of students believed they could see the relevance of the unit of study to the rest of their degree, with only 4 students neutral on this question.
We also used WebCT for this course, which most students seemed to find useful and helpful and appreciated in general. As in HSTY 2062, many students found it useful for communication and to follow the contours of the unit of study and again, some students wished there was more discussion on WebCT.
Learning and Teaching Issues
The tutorials, in which we often worked in smaller groups before opening up discussion, seemed to provoke the most comments. I also handed out separate tutorial feedback forms, and overall satisfaction with the tutorials was as high as 97% and 100% in the tutorials. Most students seemed to really enjoy the tutorials, and most students were very happy to do smaller group work before making the discussion more general. They enjoyed interaction with each other and learning what other people thought about the readings. Some students, of course, did not like doing this, or wanted to spend a little less time doing so, but on the whole students seemed to think discussions worked well, and many enjoyed the various “debates” we had. Many students commented on the friendly, informal, and constructive atmosphere in the tutorials. Many students wanted to have more primary sources included in the reading. Though I was trying to cover a lot of material, and the primary sources are scarce, I agree that we need to include as many as possible in future and will make appropriate changes to the reader.
Students were quite mixed about the workload: about 6 students (or 21%) said the workload was too high; about 14 students (or 50%) said it was not too high; and about 8 students (or 29%) thought it was just right. All of this suggests that the workload was probably just about right, or even on the light side! Many students thought the readings were overly long and could have been shortened. I agree, and will substitute some of the longer readings with shorter primary source selections as noted above.
Because of feedback from my course in the previous semester, HSTY 2062, I ensured that there was a tutorial paper half-way through the semester, to give students more feedback on their progress. The tutorial paper consisted of a brief description of a group of Native Americans of the students’ choice, plus a research statement that was designed to help students construct their own essay question. This gave me a chance to give them individual feedback on their progress with their essays, which most students seemed to appreciate. Over 96% of students thought that feedback on their assessment effectively supported their learning.
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. Most students felt that their research skills were “strongly enhanced” with this assignment. Library resources were in short supply, especially on some subjects and regions, but this should change for future years as I order more and more books.
- "Lecturer was interested in material, easy to understand, and willing to break material down into simple and fun language."
- "Good direction in lectures and strong links given to tutorial materials."
- "Lectures were excellent – informative, concise, not too fast. Content was interesting and well presented."
- "The use of powerpoint also just adds to the quality of the lectures."
- "Tutorials were excellent in terms of discussion."
- "Good tutorial participation by many."
- "Everyone was eager to learn."
- "I thought the tutorials were excellent! I wouldn’t change anything!"
- "The tutorial paper was a great idea."
- "I really enjoyed the essay – it gave me a chance to explore topics that I was really interested in."
- "WebCT was also a really good element of the course."
- "Feedback was comprehensive and legible. Excellent!"
- "Feedback was fantastic and very helpful."
- "Always willing to reply to e-mails quickly and take time out to answer questions."
- “Looking east” was great; it was very interesting to learn history through the eyes of 'the other'."
- "Fun learning environment. Interesting topics."
- "It has been a fantastic course and very worthwhile and interesting."
- "Neat and concise unit of study given by an obviously dedicated lecturer who is extremely well read and knowledgeable. His level of enthusiasm for the course was infectious."