Tuesday 18 January 2011

Responses to Student Feedback - Chaucer (David Matthews)

ENGL 30081 Medieval Romance

This course has now run several times, with some slight adjustments each time. One relatively large change this year was the introduction of comprehensive student presentations in the four weeks after reading week. The make-up of the course was then: six weeks of regular seminars on canonical texts; four weeks of student presentations on less-well known texts; one week in the John Rylands library looking at manuscripts and early printed books; one week of exam revision.

The students were told that their presentations were to be revised, then used as the basis for the second of two essays in their exams. This was also an innovation this year, introduced following feedback from the previous year's cohort.

It is clear from feedback that in the main, the balance of sessions presented above was appreciated. The sessions in the first half of the course were led by me, and focused on a small number of texts for several weeks. This seems to have been successful, with one student remarking, "The tutor was very helpful, always speaking clearly and carefully."

Some students - a minority - felt that the weeks of student presentations put the burden back on them when they would have liked to have seen more direction from me. Some felt that individual presentations went on too long; I think that in future some more explicit direction might work, but I also feel that the students will appreciate the work they have done in the presentations rather more, when they have done the exam and re-used their presentations. At the same time, some students recorded their appreciation of the independence allowed them in this regard: "it was helpful to produce something individually to develop independent learning skills." As another said, "normally I'd be pretty afraid of doing a presentation, but the atmosphere was both encouraging and positive, and made me much more confident about giving information."

Otherwise, feedback suggests that the balance of the canonical and the unfamiliar in the course is about right, and that it works well as an introduction to a major genre of medieval writing. Several students record appreciation of an introduction to "texts I hadn't previously experienced," and of which they were able "to gain a greater understanding." The texts are unfamiliar to most students when they start, but for the majority, this is a strength: "It was fun to explore the Middle English conventions of Romance and how certain texts played with and twisted these conventions. The seminars were really useful when exploring these." Another wrote, "I have always found working with primary texts in Middle English difficult[,] however this course has given me a lot more confidence and skill in this area."

I use an on-line text resource, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages). This enables me to teach texts that are not otherwise easily available. Many of the students recorded their impression of the usefulness of this website.

This course will not run again in the immediate future, but I feel that I have the essentials of it right here, ready for when it does run again.

- David Matthews
Course Unit Director

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