Monday, February 04, 2013

Dear students...

DarkSocial I substantially revamped my final year Virology course this year. On Friday in class I asked the students for some feedback on their feelings about the course at the end of the first week. I didn't really get any responses - they didn't want to talk. So I popped up a quick Google form for confidential responses, and got some very revealing comments.

As is now my practice, I had already positioned email as the major communications channel for this module, even though the students also have access to a range of other channels including Facebook, Google+ and blogs if they choose to use them. With a very small number of exceptions, they don't, and this is confirmed by the data I have so far from this and other modules I am currently teaching as well as the responses I received over the weekend.

In the face of increasing information overload, the rise and rise of Dark Social continues.

For information, here are my (edited) responses to the questionnaire data I have just sent back to students. Via email, obviously.

Feedback Survey Results
Many thanks to all who took the time to fill in the feedback survey I posted on Friday. Your responses were very useful in helping us design this module so that it best fits your needs. As I said on Friday we won’t be bothering you with questionnaire requests all the time, but I have now put up a “Suggestion Box” on Blackboard - a link to a web form where you can comment anonymously about anything on the module at any time.

10/24 people completed the survey. You can see all the responses attached to this email. Please note that you can see where I have edited the responses so that everyone’s anonymity is maintained.

How would you prefer me to share information with you:
5 votes: via a weekly email newsletter that you can save and never look at again
5 votes: via the box at the top of the Course Documents page as at present

After consideration, the links box at the top of the Course Documents page is gone. I will continue emailing you extra links directly relevant to specific topics which come up in lectures. In future you will also get a weekly email newsletter (usually on Friday so you have chance to look at it over the weekend if you want to - but see below) with other information which is relevant to (but not essential for) this module.
IMPORTANT: What you do with this information is up to you. As I explained in the first lecture, there is enough information in the textbook for you to pass the module (but probably not to do much more without extra reading). You may wish to read the information I am sharing with you each week and discuss it with me and/or your classmates as we go through the course. You may want to file it away somewhere and keep it for revision. Or you can simply delete it - it’s up to you.

What is your overall rating for the first week (1 = rubbish, 5 = brilliant)
Average = 4.3

What is the thing(s) you enjoyed most about the first week?
Thanks for all the comments here. As I said above, there is now a [Google form-powered]  Suggestion Box on Blackboard for confidential comments on the module at any time.

What is the thing(s) you enjoyed least about the first week?
This was the most useful part of the survey for me.

"I have found all the extra information really overwhelming. The accumulation of the end of powerpoint paper links, the links on blackboard, the things that have been sent out in emails, the critical appraisals and the test yourself questions has been quite scary in terms of volume. I understand that a lot of these are voluntary, but I want to do as well as I can, and the expectation that we should do as much of this as possible on top of our own reading is beginning to be a bit stressful. I already feel like I hardly have time for my other module."
"The amount of work seems quite daunting. In other modules, you can get away with relying on the lecture slides and some speaker notes for exams. Virology seems to rely on lecture notes, lots of speaker notes, textbook reading, research paper reading, learning all of those virus families... However it may turn out to not be as difficult as it seems, only time will tell."
Please remember that you don’t have to read everything, and you certainly don’t have to “learn” everything about virology in 10 weeks. The information in the textbook is sufficient to pass this module. Extra reading is required to get higher grades specified by the School of Biological Sciences assessment criteria. The PowerPoint lecture slides and the textbook are not extra reading. Everything else is. How much you do is up to you, but you need to balance the time you spend on this module with all the other things you have to do. Do you keep a study diary or planner which allows you to work out the best way of spending your study time? Unlike at A level, in higher education the curriculum is open ended - the more you know, the better you do - but more importantly, how you are able to process and analyze information from a range of sources is crucial.

"There are too many papers you ask us to read. It will be ideal if we can read them all + understanding + memorise it but in reality it seems impossible to do that (at least to me)"
The word memorise scares me. That’s not what the shared links are about - I don’t expect students to memorise everything any more than I expect them to memorize what they read in the newspaper or saw on the TV last night. Reading the shared content is about awareness of the subject, not about memorising facts. No-one expects any student to “learn everything”. It’s about adding extra dimensions and depth to the book chapters and to the PowerPoint slides.

“There appears to be a lot of extra information outside of lectures that we are required to know in comparison to other modules. I presume this is to greater expand our knowledge so we can achieve the highest possible grade.“
Yes, exactly. For what it’s worth, most years the average score on this module is higher than the average final year module score, but of course this varies considerably from person to person.

Any other comments?
It was good to read that some people don’t hate virology :-)
Please remember that you can email me at any time if you have a question about the module. Or even if you just want to shoot the breeze about virology ;-)
Thanks for helping us improve the module.

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