History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY6991 - Terror in Historical Perspective (2007)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Dirk Moses
This unit was taken by masters students alone. Those from the CPACS (Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies) - the majority - were unfamiliar with the seminar style of teaching - in which we read and discuss 4-6 articles/book chapters per week - preferring a lecture format in which the lecturer teaches for 30 minutes or so.
Virtually none had any background in history, and often came from non-European countries, so topics like the French Revolution were covered for the first time. Many of the students found reading about unfamiliar topics a particular challenge. Although they understood the rationale of the seminar style, they said they preferred not to participate verbally in the seminar. They were unaccustomed to the reading workload and took many weeks to understand that the point of seminars as not for the lecturer to 'give' them knowledge but for them to come to conclusions about the readings themselves and for us to further our understanding of the text and issues through discussion. The pedagogical approach of the seminar is set out in the UoS outline and explained in detail in the first meeting.
Even so, 82% of participants were satisfied with the unit. Some conceded advantages to the seminar (i.e., reading and discussion) approach:
- “The seminar style is probing and allows many views to be expressed.”
- “Because of the discussions in class, it was definitely stimulated my thinking and desire to learn more!”
Students liked the essay plan on which they received extensive feedback before embarking on the 4,000 word research paper.
Here are some more comments from the students:
- “In order to properly apply analytical analysis to my final paper, I needed to seriously push myself beyond my own comfort zones when it came to intellectual enquiry and analysis. I enjoyed the challenge.”
- “Lots of reading, but this is a history unit. I can’t imagine how else it could be different. Fortunately, most (not all) of the readings were interesting.
- “Because this is a history unit and a different discipline to CPACS, arguing my point was not always easy. And again, I enjoyed the challenge.”
I change the readings each time the unit is offered, so I am reading them for the first time, too. I shall persist with this practice when it is offered next.