HSTY1076 Feedback

2011:

Students again responded positively to this unit of study. This year 139 students (of a total of 338) filled out the evaluation. 90% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study,” for a mean score of 4.20 out of 5. 91% of students agreed or strongly agreed that “The teaching in this unit of study helped me to learn effectively,” for a mean score of 4.31.

The most frequently given explanation for those scores continued to be the lecturing:

  • “Stephen’s lectures were my favorite of all my classes this semester. He spoke with clarity and passion and with cast subject knowledge.”
  • “Every single lecture was extremely engaging and interesting”
  • “The lecturers showed genuine enthusiasm for the topic, therefore inspiring enthusiasm in the students”

Students repeatedly praised the outlines used in each lecture and made available online, and the music that Rebecca Sheehan used in the lectures that she gave.

For the first time, students consistently praised the choices available for the major essay, a positive response to the six additional essay topics I added for 2011, making a total of 30 options. The additional options also seem to have reduced difficulties accessing the required readings, as no complaints about this appeared in the responses.

Students varied significantly in their responses to the tutorials. Some of the difficulties related to the size of the groups and of the teaching rooms, which unfortunately I cannot control. In other cases, the group dynamics do not appear to have worked. I will spend more time working with the tutors on what they can do to encourage discussion. And some students struggled to connect the tutorial readings to the lecture content, an indication that I need to place greater emphasis on those connections, as I have done in past years.

2009:

This year the 151 students (of a total of 303) who filled out the evaluation gave this unit its highest ever scores, with the mean for every question up from when I last taught it. 99% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study,” for a mean score of 4.67 out of 5. 95% of students agreed or strongly agreed that “The teaching in this unit of study helped me to learn effectively,” for a mean score of 4.47.

The most frequently given explanation for those scores was the lecturing, which students described as “enthusiastic,” “dynamic,” “engaging”, “brilliant” – and “very fast.” Fortunately, many students also indicated that they took advantage of the recordings to catch anything they missed in the lectures. And I will continue to try to slow down. A new element also drew comment this year – my shirts, which one student said helped grab her attention. It was particularly pleasing to have one student comment. “My second year and the first time I have felt taught not talked to.” The lectures and organization also helped make the unit accessible to mature age students: one wrote, “I was concerned that I would not fit in but have found that everything was well-explained and straightforward. I have been encouraged to continue.”

Students also praised the web site, which they found easier to use than WebCT. I’ll continue to use my own site when I teach the course.

One of the great successes of this course was that 87% of students agreed or strongly agreed that they received constructive and timely feedback, a mean score of 4.27, up from 3.98 in 2007. In their comments, students praised the constructive and motivating nature of the feedback, and its length and detail. These responses reflect the outstanding work of Ivan Coates, and the tutors – Karol Florek, Conor Hannon, and Anna Lebovic. All also drew numerous positive comments for their work in the tutorials, being praised as knowledgeable and helpful. Ivan also did outstanding work in coordinating the unit, drawing frequent comments about his helpfulness and organization.

Concerns about the assessment expressed for the first time in 2008 were not evident this year: 82% agreed or strongly agreed that it allowed them to demonstrate what they had understood, for a mean score of 4.08 out of 5. The one issue students did raise, and the only thing they wanted changed, was having to wait until Stuvac for the essay to be returned. In the past, the essays have been returned in the last lecture, but that deadline puts a lot of pressure on the tutors – as it is, they only had 4 ½ weeks to complete the marking – and makes it difficult to provide the quality feedback that students appreciated. If the workload of the tutors allows it, I will try to return the essays earlier next time I coordinate the unit.

2007:

This unit of study proved even more successful in 2007 than the last time I taught it, in 2005. 95% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study,” for a mean score of 4.57 out of 5. 93% of students agreed or strongly agreed that “The teaching in this unit of study helped me to learn effectively,” for a mean score of 4.41. Those scores reflect the outstanding work of the tutors for this unit – Ivan Coates, Nick Irving and Michael Thompson – all of whom were singled out for praise in the evaluations.

In addition, student comments reveal that those scores were based on the lecture outlines and mp3 recordings I provided, the unit web site, the organization of course, and in particular, the lecturing. Below is a sample of the comments:

  • “The course was great in teaching me how to approach history in university as opposed to in high school”
  • “Focus on primary sources helped me to be a historian – helped broaden my perception of what studying history is all about”
  • “Great lecturer and tutor. Thoroughly enjoyed the positive, enthusiastic learning environment”
  • “This is my second year at uni and this subject was the most professional, most organized experience I’ve had. The lectures were the best lectures I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t be surprised if they remained the best.”
  • “Lectures were excellent; clearly mapped out and coherently communicated”
  • “Really enjoyed the unit. Lectures were in-depth and informative, tutorials further developed ideas from lectures”
  • “Learning materials were so convenient and helpful. I never had a professor put so much extra effort into supplementing the lectures”
  • “The best of my courses so far. Don’t change anything”

Several students did ask for more time to be devoted to recent history. This year, due to a lecture lost to the ANZAC Day holiday, that period received less attention than usual. But it is also the case that the historiography of this era is expanding, with post-1945 political history in particular one of the most vibrant fields in American history. When I next teach the unit, in 2009, I plan to devote more time to that material.

A handful of students also wanted me to slow down when lecturing. I’ll keep trying – and keep providing the mp3 recordings so you can listen again if you miss something.

2005:

As in 2004, this was a very successful unit of study. The vast majority of students, 90%, agreed with the proposition “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study.” Slightly more students, 91%, agreed that “The teaching in this unit of study helped me to learn effectively.”

The changes made in order to address the difficulties last year’s students had determing what was expected of them, particularly in the assignments, proved very successful.

I provided a more detailed description of the assignments and discussed in class the differences between what had been expected of them in high school history and what was expected of them at university. The evaluations reveal that these changes helped: 88% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the learning outcomes and expected standards were clear, up from 74% in 2004; and 90% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the outline accurately described the unit, up from 84% in 2004. Numerous students singled out the web site as being particularly helpful to them.

Even more significantly, more students reported receiving useful feedback on their assignments: 76% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the feedback effectively supported their learning, up from 64% in 2004, with the proportion who strongly agreed nearly doubling. Student comments reinforced those numbers:

  • “Absolutely fantastic feedback”
  • “Feedback was extensive and valuable”
  • “There was detailed feedback on my assessments which was always constructive and useful”
  • “Tutorial papers contained a lot of feedback and definitely helped with the week 10 essay”
  • “Feedback helped improve work and understand issues better”
  • “[Feedback] allowed me to understand mistakes I made, which improved essay writing in general over all subjects”

Those comments are testimony to the outstanding work of the tutors for this unit, Roozi Araghi, Ivan Coates and Diana Covell.

Students also found the new essay writing tutorial useful. So did I. Teaching it highlighted exactly what students find difficult and I will continue to refine what is done in this tutorial to try to make it more concrete.

Another innovation this year also drew positive comments. I switched to using an iPod to record the lectures and placed mp3 files of those recordings on the course web site. Students overwhelmingly found this more useful than tapes of the lectures placed in Special Reserve.

The evaluations also indicate that these changes were made without detracting from the already successful elements of the unit. Students again identifed the lectures as the highlight of the course, with the enthusiasm of the lecturer, the clear structure of the lectures, the use of visual and audio resources, and the availability of lecture outlines, all drawing repeated praise. It was also good to see that links between the tutorials and the lectures, which several students found difficult to see in 2004, did not attract comment this year.

2004:

Most students (92%) agreed with the proposition “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study.” Only one student strongly disagreed. Almost as many (91%), students agreed that “The teaching in this unit of study helped me to learn effectively” and again only one student strongly disagreed.

The evaluations are peppered with very positive comments about the course, especially the strength of the lecturing. Students mentioned frequently the enthusiasm of the lecturer, as well as complimenting him on the well-organised structures of the lectures and the interesting material, including visual and audio (one even described the lectures as “gripping”). Many students wrote that they also found the group presentations a fun and valuable way to learn.

The most common difficulty students had during the course was in evaluating what was expected of them, especially in the assessments. This is a common problem among first year students. The explanations of the assessment provided in lectures and tutorials were obviously not sufficient to provide direction to all students. We plan to address this next year by:

  • providing an even more detailed explanation of the assessment tasks in the course outline
  • devoting a tutorial to essay writing, with the essay writing guide as the required reading. The tutorial will take place after students have signed up for essays, so they can focus on the question they are answering.

A number of students were unclear as to how the lectures and tutorials related to one another. Their response appears to be based on a misapprehension about the purpose of tutorials; they wanted tutorials to repeat the material from the lectures.

The purpose of the tutorials is not to deliver more information, but to have students undertake historical analysis themselves. All the tutorials focused on primary sources that provided evidence regarding the issues discussed in a particular lecture.

Analysing that material provides a means for students to develop their own understanding of those issues, and gives them a basis on which to make judgments about the competing interpretations discussed in lectures. The tutorial format provides an opportunity for students to express and discuss their views, to be active learners.

A small number of students expressed a desire for a textbook, to provide them with the facts and statistics mentioned in the lectures, and to back up the lectures generally. So, next year we will make additional efforts to make students are aware of the resources that we provide to help them and provide:

  • a textbook in the Library’s special reserve for students who wanted to clarify details about the material covered in lectures; and
  • a list of readings related to each lecture topic was placed on the course website to allow students to explore particular topics in detail. (Only a few students mentioned explicitly the course website, but those who did stressed that they found it extremely informative and helpful. Next year we will emphasise to students the usefulness of the website and encourage them to visit it more often).

However, we have no plans to assign a textbook in this course. One of our major concerns is to help students make the transition to university study, to the analysis of sources rather than textbooks, to doing history rather than simply reading history.

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