History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY 2647 Renaissance Italy (2008)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Nick Eckstein
This unit received an extremely positive response, with 94% of students surveyed agreeing or strongly agreeing that “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study.” One of the most pleasing aspects of the comments was the student perception of the level of engagement, interest and empathy that staff members invested in tutorials and one-to-one contact. Students felt that both the coordinator and the tutor (Dr Karen McCluskey) showed a personal and genuine interest in each individual student: questions 7, 8 and 9, which deal with the interface between sttudents and staff, therefore elicited the following kinds of responses: “...the history department is the best dept. for this [i.e. effective feedback]. You always get good critical feedback”; “Emails always responded to. Lecturer and tutor always willing to talk between lectures and after tutorials.”; “Nick seemed genuinely interested in students’ contributions and guided the discussion according to those contributions.”; “I have experienced some of the best discussions over this course, and this is my third year.”
Students also gained additional insight from the integration of text and image in this unit, with students commenting on the use of Powerpoint presentations to relate maps, plans, painting, architecture and urban space to tdocuments in the course reader.
The use of WebCT attracted a good deal of positive comment: all lectures are recorded as mp3 files and are uploaded to the web where they are available for the remainder of the unit. Powerpoint presentations are all made available in the same way, and additional resources posted from time to time as need arises (copies of the course outline, essay questions and all written assessment are also loaded on to WebCT).
The type of document test that the students were required to do in 2008 was a new challenge which most seemed genuinely to enjoy. Instead of analysing the standard ‘chunk’ of primary text, students were presented with a series of brief quotations and sayings from a wide range of Renaissance men and women, and were asked to write “what kind of society” might have produced them. These were very enjoyable to assess, because the exercise generated such diverse and original responses. From their point of view, students seemed to relish the freedom to think creatively (always on the basis of evidence!) that the exercise provided.
In addition to the 2500-word research essay, the unit incorporated a 1000-word journal exercise, which required students to think critically about a selection of their secondary reading. Students are used to being told that they must consider the motives, biases, intended audience and a range of other critiria in assessing primary materials. The same applies to secondary reading, though this necessity sometimes goes ‘under the radar’. The journal exercise brings this to the fore in a way that students also found useful.
Some final general reactions:
- "Beautiful period in history - fascinating"
- "I loved this unit....I’m particularly happy about my tute. I always looked forward to it because the whole class was great - full of ideas and stimulating conversation that was fun and informative. I’m really pleased with it all"
- "About the only improvement would be if it was held in Italy"