Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2634: American History from Columbus to Lincoln (2009)
Unit Coordinators: Dr Frances Clarke & Dr Michael McDonnell
The lecturers in this unit made a very detailed response to the last set of evaluations, held in 2008 (please see our 2008 response). In light of our previous evaluations, we changed the unit in numerous ways for 2009: altering our tutorial participation methods, our lecture content, and the nature of our assessments.
These changes met with a very positive response. We were pleased to see that 96% of respondents felt that the teaching in the unit helped them learn effectively. The same number of agreed that the unit helped them develop “valuable graduate attributes.” And, again, fully 94% of respondents felt “motivated to engage with the learning activities in the unit of study.” A very gratifying 96% of respondents were satisfied overall with the quality of the unit, with 4% “neutral.” And we received the same response to the question of whether the unit “stimulated thinking and helped develop an enhanced diversity of ideas, attitudes and approaches to and beyond the subject matter.” In short, we feel that students recognized and appreciated the many changes we made in 2008.
Students very warmly praised our responsiveness to their queries and the well-organized and interesting nature of our lecture content, in particular. There was some frustration over the size of the tutorials, which we will try to remedy in future. And a number of students felt that certain topics were skimmed over rather quickly (we agree – it’s hard to squeeze in 400 years, so we aimed for a limited number of themes, rather than comprehensiveness). By far the most popular aspect of the unit was the research assignment, which allowed students to create their own projects based on a single primary source. But we received our lowest response to the question of whether the assessment in the unit allowed students to “demonstrate what they’d understood” (8% strongly disagreed; while 29% were neutral; and 63% agreed). This result is somewhat mystifying. There is a short paper in the unit, followed by a research paper, and a final exam. From the comments on the evaluations, it appears that many students felt hemmed in by the word length on the research paper (a mere 2,000 words). Having completed a tremendous amount and depth of research, they felt incapable of fully delving into the complexities of their topic in such a brief way. We’ll attempt to think of some innovative ways to remedy this situation for next year: perhaps a voluntary poster session where students could display their research projects and discuss them with each other and with us (as was done to great effect this year in another history unit).