History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY2901/2902 - Reading the Past/Recovering the Past (2003)
Unit Coordinator: Mr Richard White
Students were asked to rate both semesters of the course. The response was generally positive. On the statement ‘Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit’, 27% strongly agreed, 65% agreed, 3% were neutral, and 5% disagreed – a satisfaction rating of 92%.
Comments on teaching generally, feedback and the assessment tasks tended to be lower than other aspects, though a number commented on the ‘excellent discipline’ provided by the workbook structure: ‘I think the assessment was done really well. It gave me practice at being concise and made sure we were assessed on all the material covered’; ‘a fantastic method of assessment’. Others found it ‘somewhat formulaic and repetitive’. Some found the fault elsewhere: ‘if only I had kept my workbook up to date!’
The review exercise received a mixed response, some finding it useful, others not seeing its relevance. Perhaps it is not as useful in second semester, and other kinds of tasks might be considered. Feedback tends to come at the end of the semester, though a number appreciated the preliminary workbook review early in first semester, and found feedback from Semester One helpful in Semester Two.
The fact that the course exposed students to a wide range of lecturers and lecturing styles probably made clear-cut overall positive or negative comments difficult. Inevitably lectures got a mixed response:
- "Hard to follow."
- "A self-justifying exercise for an academic elitist club"
- "Some lecturers didn't have an hour's worth of material"
- "Very enjoyable."
- "Lectures did not really complement readings."
- "Sometimes a bit haphazard, however it was interesting to get a different lecturer each week – something to look forward to."
- "Some very good, some hopeless"
- "An excellent idea."
- "Compelling and scholarly."
- "Often boring, rambling, irrelevant wastes of time."
There was a clear division of opinion about the two semesters: the first concerned with general theoretical approaches, the second with empirical evidence. While some students acknowledged the relevance of both, others expressed clear preferences, but split evenly over which they preferred. Some comments:
- HSTY2902 "a let-down after the fantastic and challenging HSTY2901…felt dumbed down and overindulgent";
- First semester "probably more interesting because there was more to grapple with in the readings."
- "First semester was HEAPS better than second semester in terms of being interesting, coherent and an effective use of time."
- On the other hand: "While I disliked most of the theory I can see why it is necessary".
Some admitted to feeling stressed and out of their depth, particularly in first semester, but what was heartening was that all who did felt they coped better as time went on, and developed understanding and analytical skills – a tribute to the perseverance of the students themselves as much as to the course. As one said, ‘The satisfying thing for me with this course is the confidence and knowledge about abstract historical theory that I gained.
Many commented on how valuable the courses were not only for their other history units, but for their work in other disciplines:
- "Learnt heaps."
- "This course is one of the best I've done…for developing critical & original thinking."
- "Learnt lots and had fun doing it."
The two tutors, Ruth Balint and Caroline Ford, were particularly singled out for praise: ‘absolutely fantastic’. While some felt three or four students tended to dominate tutorial discussion, more commented on the enthusiasm and active participation of other students; one wondered if tute presentations take up too much valuable discussion time, another felt the 20% tutorial participation was fair in a course where it was hard to get a word in, issues worth considering in future. A number commented on the value of the mentoring interview towards the end of the year.