History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2679 - Advanced Australia (2009)
Unit Coordinator: Associate Professor Penny Russell
This unit was taken by 30 students in 2009, of whom just one third completed the USE. All of these students expressed their overall satisfaction with the unit (‘Agreed ‘or ‘Strongly agreed’). They also expressed 100% agreement on clear learning outcomes, student motivation and staff responsiveness to student feedback. There was a high level of agreement (90%, or all but one student) that the unit helped develop valuable graduate attributes, that the assessment was appropriate and the group discussions valuable.
The open-ended comments in the evaluation indicate what, in particular, students value about this unit. They commented on the independence and authority that came with undertaking a self-directed research project, the gruelling but effective process of concentrating on improving a single piece of work and allowing others to criticise it, the value of continuous and extensive feedback, the support and assistance offered by essay mentors, the pride they took in the finished essay. Some students commented, however, that the unit lacked structure – which is perhaps an inevitable problem in a unit like this, which is built up around individual student projects. Some suggested that the first draft of the essay should have been due a bit earlier in the semester – ‘to get us moving faster’, as one student put it. This is a tricky issue: it’s great to get past the first draft stage and on to editing, but can be counter-productive if the first draft itself is therefore rushed or scrappy, or the student is still chasing down a viable topic.
A number of students commented on how much they enjoyed the smaller class sizes, especially the tutorials, which allowed for intense discussion in which all could take part. This was indeed one of the great pleasures of teaching the unit. Unfortunately it was also symptomatic of the low enrolments overall, which are a problem for the department. In an attempt to remedy this, the unit is being replaced next year by a new unit called ‘Australia’s Underworld’ – which will include all the intense focus on independent research and writing skills that characterised ‘Advanced Australia’, but will also offer a lot more information, structure and guidance in the initial stages of choosing an essay topic within a specifically defined field. In that new unit I will also revisit the question of submission dates for the various stages of assessment, and attend to the plea from several students for a reader or more online readings (there were some delays in getting essential readings online this year, which caused some problems especially early in the semester).
Some noteworthy comments:
- ‘It was nice to have a history subject that was a bit harder than what I did last year, as there is otherwise no difference between 2nd and 3rd year history, and it gets a bit boring when there are no new challenges.’
- ‘I really liked the fact that the scope of the course was broad so as to allow independent research in an area that I was interested in. American history should consider offering something similar.’
- ‘I particularly liked the way in which this course taught about history in a constructive “applied” way - i.e. actually looking at examples of good history rather than just having an abstract discussion about it, and working on writing history to that standard myself.’
- ‘More research than I have ever done. … I really liked the independent study of this course.’
- ‘The teaching was careful and passionate and caring.’
- ‘On all counts this course achieved what no other courses have. Independent research! … I loved this unit. … By far the most challenging and rewarding course I have done this year.’
- ‘I was challenged on so many levels and I feel more prepared for future studies in history.’
- ‘It was an interesting and engaging unit, but I think it could be improved by adding some structure – perhaps Australia’s Underworld will do that!’
- And my favourite response – from a student ‘strongly agreeing’ that he/she had received timely, constructive feedback’: ‘Thank you thank you thank you’.