History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2679 - Advanced Australia (2008)
Unit Coordinator: Associate Professor Penny Russell
Offered for the first time in 2008, on offer again in Semester 1 2009, this unit scored an ‘Overall Satisfaction’ rating of 100% from students who completed the Unit of Study Evaluation (approximately half of those enrolled). This unit is unique among senior history units in that the learning content is almost entirely self-directed. It is based around a single individual primary-source-based research essay, with assessed work including the submission of an essay proposal, an initial draft and a final version. Students were expected to discuss their essays with a mentor. This unconventional structure appealed strongly to students, who particularly appreciated the small tutorial groups, the opportunities for individual mentoring, the prompt and helpful feedback on every stage of their research and the opportunity to develop higher-level research and writing skills. Above all, they valued the opportunity to develop an original and independent research project from the ground up and pursue it to completion across the semester, with structured guidance and support. The unit scored exceptionally highly (100% agreement) on the categories of ‘clear outcomes’, the development of ‘graduate attributes’, motivation, relevance, staff responsiveness, timely and constructive feedback and stimulation of thinking.
The evaluations included some valuable suggestions about the range of readings and timing of lectures. Most students enjoyed the fact that the readings encouraged them to focus on the processes of research and writing, but some found them a bit too ‘philosophical’ and would have preferred more concrete examples. Students generally found the tutorials enjoyable, but some noted the challenges of keeping group discussion focused and relevant when each individual is engaged on a separate project. Some adjustments will be made to the reading lists and tutorial design in 2009 in response to these observations, so that the focus and purpose of each class discussion is clear. Many students noted that this unit provides an excellent jumping off point for honours research; a couple commented that it is perhaps best suited too students who are already well grounded in historical method and theory, particularly third year students.
Specific comments included:
- ‘This was probably the most ‘relevant’ unit I have ever done.’
- ‘I had the freedom to choose a topic but the guidance given by mentors really helped me talk out my ideas until they made a whole lot more sense’.
- ‘I’ve never done any Australian history before and until now never realised how much there is to research and how exciting and interesting it can be. … I enjoyed looking at the actual writing of history in such a practical way.’
- ‘This, I think, is the subject in which I have done the most actual scholarship so far during my university experience. Penny Russell is a fantastic person to run this course!’
- ‘This course has got me thinking about new ways of writing history which have been invaluable!’
- ‘A refreshing change from more traditional history courses, and a good introduction to higher-level history research and writing’.
- ‘I really REALLY enjoyed the freedom and intellectual nature of this unit.