HSTY2670 Student Feedback

2011:

Only 88 of 322 students completed the survey, but their responses indicated that the unit remained as successful as when last taught: 98% of students agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of the unit, with a mean score of 4.56 out of 5; and 89% agreed or strongly agreed that that teaching in the unit helped them learn effectively, with a mean score of 4.51.

Students identified the strengths of the course as the lectures, the use of visual sources and the focus on place. Below is a sample of comments:

  • “Really loved this course. Baffled by how Stephen can present so much information in an engaging way”
  • “The lectures were so engaging, so nice to listen to a passionate teacher”
  • “The lectures were amazing – informative, clear, ordered and entertaining”
  • “Clear course structure, good readings, interesting assessment tasks”
  • “This was the best history unit I’ve done. Very well organized and interesting for the entire semester!!!!”

A small number of students expressed some confusion about what was expected in the first essay. I was also concerned about the number of essays submitted that did not focus on place as the question required. The next time the unit is taught I will redesign this task, incorporating additional conceptual material on place and a different question.

A larger group of students expressed concern about the large size of the tutorials. I cannot reduce the size, but I will continue to work with the tutors on ways to work with large groups.

2008:

This unit again proved to be very successful: 94% 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 4.50 out of 5; and 92% 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.

Student comments explaining those scores singled out the lectures in particular as a strength of the unit, together with the unit web site, the use of online sources, and the focus on a particular place and on space. Below is a sample of the comments:

  • I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures – the mix of historical fact, colourful stories, visuals and music was great. It was a rare subject in that I hated missing a lecture
  • As an American studying abroad, I really enjoyed hearing your perspective on NYC history. It is clear that the lecturer is engaged and enthusiastic about the topic and that was contagious
  • Passionate, interesting – great ‘story’ telling – what history should be!
  • Thinking about ‘place’ was different and interesting
  • The class was challenging but interesting and well designed to engage students. Great class!
  • This course was one of the best, if not the best courses I have done – everyone I spoke to felt the same way as well. I’m a little sad its finished, to be honest.

In response to student feedback in 2006, I used different assessment in 2008 – 2 short essays and a take-home exam, each weighted the same, rather than a single major essay. Students responded positively to that change, with 88% agreeing or strongly agreeing that the assessment allowed them to demonstrate what they had understood, up from 63% in 2006. I’ll retain this assessment the next time the unit is taught.

The changes students suggested were logistical: more copies of the books used in the assessments and smaller tutorials. Unfortunately, tutorials are out of my control, but I will arrange for more than one copy of the essay readings to be placed on reserve.

2006:

In answer to the question, “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this unit of study,” 95% agreed or strongly agreed, producing an average score of of 4.59 out of 5, while 98% agreed or strongly agreed that “The teaching in this unit of study helped me to learn effectively,” an average score of 4.63. These very high scores were extremely pleasing given that this was the first time that this unit was taught (but only a small proportion of the class completed the evaluation; others did respond with comments by e-mail).

Student comments reinforced those numbers:

  • “After three years of courses at Sydney university this was the most organized, enjoyable and worthwhile”
  • “The most interesting and well taught subject I’ve done”
  • “New York, New York, it’s a hell of a course”

Students also appreciated the unit’s focus on place, even as many struggled to get their heads around what this meant. One typical comment noted, “The approach taken in this unit was very different to the other history units I have done – made me think about some things in different ways.”

Nonetheless, some clear issues did arise. This was an extremely large class, over 350 at its peak, the largest class in the History department this semester, and far more than anyone expected. That large enrollment produced two problems – larger than usual tutorials and heavy demands on library books. With the knowledge that this course draws such numbers, I will order additional books and plan for additional tutorials in future years.

In response to the shift to 6 credit point units of study and the drop in the amount of assessment that can be set for a senior unit from 6000 words to 4500 words, the unit required a major research paper of 3500 words and no exam. Students almost uniformly reported a desire for an exam. The assessment meant that the major essay was worth 65% of the final result, a weighting that many students found worrisome. Many also reported a desire for an exam to allow them to examine the broad themes of the course. The absence of an exam also caused attendance at lectures to drop off, even though students reported that the lectures were some the best they had had at Sydney.

It is clear then that I need to add an exam: the next time the course is taught it will include a take-home examination and a research essay of 2500 words worth only 40% of the total mark.

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