11 of the 16 students enrolled in the unit completed the survey. 73% agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisifed with the quality of the unit, for an average score of 4.00 out of 5. That score is slightly higher than the unusually low score in 2011, and is mirrored by similar increases in scores for whether the teaching helped them learn (average score of 4.09), that group discussion added to understanding (4.40) and that the course stimulated their thinking (4.27).
Departing from this pattern, the survey produced the lowest scores of any class who have taken this unit in regards to the whether the learning outcomes were clear (3.55) and whether the assessment allowed students to demonstrate what they understood (3.64). Those scores reflected the fact that four students in this group struggled with the journal, and in particular with the idea that they need to critically reflect on the readings, not summarize them or respond to them by offering unsubstantiated assertions. By contrast, five other students singled out the journal as being successful in helping them consolidate their knowledge, make connections between topics and remain engaged with the unit. Assigning marks to individual entries made little difference to students’ response to the journal; nonetheless, I will retain the marking rubric for at least one more iteration of the unit. In 2013, I will also spend additional time at the beginning of the unit explaining the journal and establishing if there are students unfamiliar with this kind of task who need additional guidance.
Focusing the second half of the session on examples from contemporary culture seemed to work well, and I will retain it in 2013, with a renewed emphasis on seeking input from students.
24 of the 30 students enrolled in the unit completed the survey. 75% agreed or strongly agreed they they were satisfied with the quality of the unit, for an average score of 3.83 out of 5. That score is lower than in either of the previous years that I have taught the unit, which was also the case with scores for whether the teaching helped them learn (average score of 3.74), that group discussion added to understanding (3.75) and that the course stimulated their thinking (4.25).
Some of the responses seem to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what postgraduate coursework involves — several students expressed a desire for lectures, which are simply not appropriate at this level of study. However, sustaining discussion over a 3-hour seminar, even with the time spent in group discussions, is undoubtedly a challenge, and I was aware that this group often struggled in the last hour. I will try a new approach to managing the time and varying the teaching in 2012. In the second half of each session I will play or display current media related to that week’s topic — video clips of tv shows, news reporting, advertising or sports events, music videos, podcasts of radio shows, blogs, news stories — which we will discuss in light of the ideas and concepts that have come up in the readings and the discussions in the first half of the class.
The journal again produced a positive response, although students still wanted more feedback. I had planned to assign marks to individual entries, but in the end did not do so as I wanted to put an emphasis on the development of the ideas and writing. However, it is clear that a mark is important to how many students interpret feedback. In 2012 I will therefore assign marks to individual entries, using a rubric contained in the course outline.
All 17 students completed the survey, and all agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the overall quality of the unit, for an average score of 4.69 out of 5, up from 4.33 in 2008. Scores for all the other questions were also higher than in 2008, with all the students agreeing or strongly agreeing that the teaching helped them learn (score of 4.71), that group discussions added to their understanding (score of 4.88) and that the course stimulated their thinking (score of 4.82).
Some of this response reflected changes I made to the course. In 2009, I opened each class with a small group discussion, put the results of that discussion on the board, and then we used them as the starting point of the class discussion, tracking the links and additions we made on the board. The students uniformly endorsed the group discussions as a way to begin the class. In a way I had not expected, the notes I added to the ideas from the groups that I had placed on the board became a mind map of our discussion, which students started to photograph at the end of class to add to their notes.
This group of students also responded much more positively to my approach of probing them to think through their ideas than the 2008 class did; in fact, that approach was the most often praised element of the class:
- “One of the best courses I have ever taken in helping critical thinking skills – really made me consider issues in depth/critically”
- Robertson is generous, open and dynamic in his teaching. He encourages discussion and debate, and rewards students for their contributions.”
- “Stephen is an awesome teacher! Really encouraged me to push my thinking further and encouraged me to respond in class.”
- “The discussions and Stephen’s enthusiasm really brought the class together.”
The reflective journal again worked well, drawing praise as a means of assessing work throughout the semester, as preparation for class, and as a way of “working through ideas.” Students appreciated the regular feedback I offered this year on journal entries, but wanted more, specifically a mark for each entry. That was not how I planned to assess the journal, but it became clear that the lack of marks caused students some concern, so I’ll incorporate marks into the feedback the next time I teach the course. The longer focus paper worked far better than the two short papers used in 2008.
Overall, this was a great class to teach, and I look forward to teaching it again in 2011.
13 of 16 students completed the survey. 92% (11 of 12) agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of the unit, for an average score of 4.33 out of 5. All agreed or strongly agreed that the unit stimulated their thinking, and commented that the course was “interesting,” “engaging” and “well taught.”
The students were a particularly diverse group both in terms of the degrees in which they were enrolled and their background. Two students found it difficult to contribute to discussions involving the whole group, so after two weeks I added several small group discussions to each class. This helped the students who had been struggling, but several others expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the discussion in small groups. The next time I teach the unit I’ll try to strike a balance by retaining the group work, but limiting it to one discussion in each class.
It became clear during the course that students had little familiarity with core cultural texts, so the next time I teach the unit I will assign some of these as readings, to compliment the analyses we read.
The reflective journal generated positive feedback that showed that they achieved what I had intended; in a typical comment, a student wrote, “The weekly reflective journals helped me to constantly engage with the readings. I learned a lot by going back to my own thoughts [to] reassess previous assumptions.” Several students did want more feedback on their journal entries during the course of the semester, and I will do that in future. The two focus papers were less well received, with the major concern being that 1000 words were too few to allow a sustained analysis. I agree, and the next time I teach I’ll ask for a single paper of 2000 words.