Friday 14 January 2011

Responses to Student Feeback - Resistance to Revolution (Terry Corps)

AMER30641 Resistance to Revolution: The African-American Struggle for Freedom, 1945-1974
Module Director, Dr Terry Corps

Student performance
Nearly all the responses note their own good performance in terms of attendance and participation. This is probably an accurate reflection of the almost self-selecting group who were in attendance at the final session of the module. Among them attendance was usually very good while most got well involved in the opportunities for open discussion. Although attendance was far from perfect every week, with a couple of notable exceptions it was not the same students who were missing on a regular basis. Nearly all students engaged in the two compulsory group activities assigned to them, a presentation and a debate, and those who missed usually did so for valid reasons, such as illness and problems caused by weather conditions away from Manchester towards the end of the term.

Challenges and Development of Learning
The responses under these headings (and in the suggestions for changes section of the questionnaire) seem to fall into two camps, respectively positive and negative about the delivery style of a level 3 module.

The majority responded well to the module’s largely student-centred delivery by means of presentations and group debates. They felt this challenged their deeper learning skills, forcing them to do most of the work for themselves. Most comment on the amount of reading but accept that it provided their opportunity to keep up with the subject. In particular they valued the formal debates towards the end of the term which helped them to hone their skills of constructing an argument, in part through making themselves aware of what the other side of the debate was.

A minority of 4 of the responses felt that this approach did not prepare them adequately, especially for the examination, and they said they would have preferred much more tutor input in the sessions. In part this was because they felt the presentations were not all that penetrating or informative. One response also admitted that they were forced to learn for themselves, which, I am tempted to say, is partly what any module, but especially a level 3 module, should be about. I would also add that after each presentation there were opportunities to follow up with questions and discussion and that some students made rather greater use of these than did others.

In two ways I do sympathise with some of this criticism. Because of larger than expected numbers in the group (31 instead of 23) each presenting group had one extra person compared to previous runnings of the module. While all groups were encouraged to be disciplined in meeting a time limit, I probably allowed greater leeway than normal with this so that everyone could make their contribution – and this left less time at the end of each session for discussion and tutor summing-up. Second, a couple of the presentations were of a much less high quality than the others (and than any of those in previous years) and may well not have ‘taught’ their audience that much. If it is any consolation, while the presentations themselves were not assessed, the written assignment (derived from the presentation material) obviously was and some received quite low marks for this piece of work.

I am slightly more concerned that a couple of the 4 more critical responses noted that they did not feel they had been challenged any more than they had at level 2, nor had learned that much. Without knowing their background in the topic or the nature of delivery of their level 2 modules it is hard to comment on this. However, the majority of responses report that the module did challenge them intellectually, providing different approaches to conceptualising civil rights, offering a good range of primary source materials to learn from, and making them appreciate the value of historiography more than beforehand.

Module resources
All responses were positive about the level of resources available for the module, most commenting on the usefulness of the two required primary source texts and revealing that they had made good use of the full range of library and online materials available to them. Indeed, the evidence from the written assignments is that most students researched well for their presentations and papers, going well beyond the readings recommended in the module syllabus.

A recurring feature of the questionnaires was reference to the lack of a Blackboard site for the module. While I plead ‘not guilty’ to the comment in one response that I am not keen on that kind of thing, I concede that shortage of time at the beginning of what was a hectic semester for me meant that I did not get around to activating a site. If asked to teach the module again I would certainly make use of Blackboard to provide an electronic copy of the main module syllabus at the very least. I also take on board the idea that such a site would be a good place to disseminate materials from the group presentations, with each group uploading their Powerpoint slides. It would also be a means to facilitate easier group work in preparation of the presentations and debates.

With almost no exception the questionnaires were positive about the range of feedback provided, both in writing on written assignments and orally in response to group presentations. Those that commented were similarly positive about the usefulness of email communications.

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