Our Director of Taught Programmes, Dr Dan Todman, discusses some of the recent news and changes from within the School of History.
This is part one of the summer update about teaching and learning in the School of History. As usual, there is a lot to tell you about, so I have broken the email down into two parts: the first relating particularly to the National Student Survey and our focus on feedback for next year, the second to explain some key changes in coursework submission deadlines, ask for volunteers to buddy new History students, introduce you to new staff, and talk about changes in ArtsTwo. I recommend that you keep both parts and give them both a proper read – but I’ll quite understand if you don’t want to plough through it all at once.
1. NSS results
As you’ll know, every spring, students in their final year are asked to fill in the National Student Survey, which is meant to measure their experience of teaching, learning and university life. Some of you will also have filled in the UKES survey – which asks similar questions of students in their first and second years. Thanks to everyone who did so. We take all these surveys very seriously, partly because they affect how we are viewed externally, but mainly because they provide extensive information that we can use to try to assess and improve what we do.
We were therefore very pleased that despite the strike during the survey period, QMUL History received an overall satisfaction rating of 94.7%. Students were particularly satisfied with how good staff were at explaining things, the level of intellectual stimulation provided by our degrees, and how well organised and smooth running they were. The overall satisfaction level was the highest of any School of History in the Russell Group, and of all universities with an equivalent number of undergraduate historians (more than 200 in the final year), only one, the University of St Andrews, scored higher than us, with 95.1% . Our overall level of satisfaction in UKES (which a much lower proportion of students fill in) was 98%.
It is pleasing to think that history students at QMUL are some of the most satisfied in the country, but we would be poor historians if we did not criticise our sources – even when they tell us things we want to hear. The NSS is problematic, both in parts of its methodology and in the uses to which it is put - particularly the idea that minor changes in the headline rate from year to year mean anything when the cohort of undergraduates is not constant. Though I welcome the weight it has given to student experience and to the ‘student voice’ in universities’ conception of themselves, the NSS is also part of an increasingly marketized system that many see as inimical to the fundamental purpose of the university. As a historians, it makes me very glad to have been trained to deal with imperfect sources.
As Director of Taught Programmes, what is most interesting and useful is not the overall satisfaction number, but the responses to specific questions, and what they suggest about how we focus our efforts to learn together how to be better teachers and students of history. I am particularly interested in the following statements, to which you are asked to agree or disagree:
‘My course has challenged me to do my best work’
‘I have received sufficient advice and guidance in relation to my course.’
‘Good advice was available when I needed to make study choices on my course.’
‘Marking and assessment has been fair.’
‘Feedback on my work has been timely.’
‘I have received helpful comments on my work.’
One of the problems with interpreting responses to these questions is appreciating fully what they mean to students. So if you are interested in helping to make us better, I would be really grateful if you could reply to this email with any particularly good or bad experiences on any of these points – or just some off-the-top-of-your-head thoughts about what they mean to you. What have been the most helpful comments you received on your work, for example, or vice versa? All replies will be treated in strict confidence. Alternatively, when you come back to QM you could talk to one of your course reps, or attend one of the workshops on improving feedback to which all students will be invited to contribute.
As that suggests, this year a big focus for us in terms of teaching development will be improving the experience of feedback on assessed work throughout the school. Looking at responses to the NSS and listening to students, it is clear that this is an area in which we can do a lot. That will mean not just improving consistency, but also building a more effective feedback culture in which staff and students work together in a dialogue and develop their reflective skills together. We will be working on this throughout the year, but we are already putting into place some of the structural foundations. These include improved, task-specific criteria to make sure you understand how to achieve success, a new submission form, on which you will be asked to write any aspects of your work that you are trying to improve or on which you would particularly like comment, and a new feedback form to be used by all staff, with specific boxes to explain the grade and to offer advice on how to do better. All staff will be asked to refer to your submission form before completing that section. All these will be available at the start of the teaching semester on QMPlus.
To Be Continued…
3. Submission deadlines
In history we try to set all submission deadlines on the same day and time. Last year, this was Sunday at 11.30pm. We were asked to change this by the Faculty because it falls outside office and IT support hours. There were some very rare instances where students working up to the deadline were unable to submit work because of problems with QMPlus. They were understandably distressed, and unable to contact anyone to explain the problem or for reassurance until the following morning. Bearing in mind the welfare implications, we have no choice but to extend the standard submission point to 10 am on a Monday. Please note that in all cases this will mean fractionally more time to submit, but we would strongly advise against using it all! The best way to avoid stress is to submit in good time, and if you became used to either the old Sunday or the previous Friday deadline, you could still stick to these with no detriment ahead of the deadline on Monday morning.
The two exceptions to the Monday at 10 rule are special subject dissertations, which are due in on Friday 3 May 2019 by 4pm, and those instances where a public holiday falls on a Monday. In these cases, I have asked module organisers to pick an alternative day on which the College is open in such a way as to maximise the time available to students to complete their work. These exceptions will be communicated to you by the relevant module organisers.
4. Buddy scheme
The QMUL Students’ Union runs a buddy scheme, which pairs new undergraduates to second and third years in the same subject, who act as a pastoral and academic mentor. I know from experience that students are often able to offer much better and smarter advice to each other than we can hope to do as lecturers – just think how much you could now tell the ‘you’ of one or two years ago! There are a lot of first years who would like a ‘buddy’, so please do consider signing up here: https://www.qmsu.org/buddy/
5. Arrivals, research leaves and departures
The following staff are on research leave for all or part of this year:
Professor Thomas Dixon (whole year), Professor Kate Lowe (whole year), Professor Amanda Vickery (spring semester) Professor Mark White (spring semester), Dr Maurizio Isabella (autumn semester), Dr Chloe Ward (spring semester). Professor Christina von Hodenberg is starting her five year full time secondment to the German Historical Institute in London.
We are being joined by Dr Matthew Walker (Early Modern London), Dr Liesbeth Corens (Early Modern Britain), Dr Jane Freeland (Modern Germany – a five year post to cover Professor von Hodenberg’s secondment), Dr Linda Briggs (Early Modern Europe – a two year post) and Dr Stephen Brogan (Early Modern Britain). Dr Caroline Ashcroft, Dr Jessica Patterson and Dr Mark Condos, who all joined us last year on fixed term appointments, will be continuing their posts with us this year.
Unfortunately, Professor Richard Bourke, Dr Helen McCarthy, Dr Jennifer Wallis, Dr Nick Beech and Dr Aline-Florence Manent are all leaving the School of History. Dr McCarthy’s teaching will be covered by Dr David Geiringer (who taught her Special Subject last year and has remained at QMUL as a researcher in the School of Geography) and Dr Lindsay Aqui. Dr Wallis’s teaching will be covered by Dr Stef Eastoe. Dr Elena Bacchin and Dr Alice Dolan, who were with us on fixed term posts to cover leave, have also now completed their time with the School.
You will be able to find out more about all our new academic staff on the School webpage here: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/history/our-staff/academic-staff/ - but with an eye to the number of changes, please do bear with us as we update text and images from new colleagues over the next couple of weeks!
6. Changes in ArtsTwo
One of the topics brought to our attention by course reps on the Staff Student Liaison Committee last year was the need for more seating in ArtsTwo – so that commuting students in particular could have somewhere to sit and work between lectures and seminars. You will be pleased to know that work is currently under way to create such space and install chairs on the ground and third floors. We have also continued to stress the importance of this sort of provision – including seating space and lockers – to central administration of the university. Do let us know how you find the new seating areas are working out in terms of usage and availability!
Best regards and looking forward to the new semester,