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Response to end of module feedback

May 2019

Dear all,

Many thanks for taking the time to complete the end of module feedback exercise; your thoughts are vital for ensuring the module is the best it can be going forward.

It was very gratifying to see such positive comments about our seminars, with several of you noting that you found these sessions both engaging and enjoyable. There was also a lot of enthusiasm for the lectures, with respondents noting that these helped you to comprehend the texts. Several students also commented that they appreciated the quality and timeliness of feedback – again, this is very heartening, as it’s something I’ve put quite a lot of time and thought into getting right! One student also noted that they enjoyed the informal class presentations; I will pass this on to the tutor for next year.

The less positive comments mainly centred around the quantity and complexity of the texts. As you know, I did reduce the length of the seminar readings following the mid-module feedback, but there are clearly still issues in this area. There are limits to how far some of these texts can be abridged while retaining comprehensibility; my own feeling is that one solution would be to cover fewer texts in more depth and I will suggest this to the new convener. There were also some students who wanted a greater emphasis on themes. I had hoped the lectures did some of this work, but it clearly needs building into the classes more explicitly; again, I will discuss how this might be achieved with the new convenor (any suggestions you may have are very welcome! Was the ‘theme table’ any help here?).

Some students also asked for more exam practice during the year. To an extent, I think all the exercises we do in class are a form of ‘exam practice’, as we discuss the kinds of questions and themes that will be on the exam paper. My feeling is that more exam practice might be quite dry, but perhaps the option should be there for those who would like it.

Finally, there was one comment from a history/philosophy student who questioned why this module is compulsory and the quantity of work expected. The ‘10 hours per credit’ figure is a university guideline – over an academic year this is about 8-10 hours per week in term-time (though I accept that it may be less per week if a student also reads and works in the holidays – it’s a guideline not a hard rule!). As for why this module is compulsory for history/philosophy, given that students may not be interested in combining the two disciplines, I think the expectation is that students on joint honour programmes should reflect on how their two subject areas converge and that this ability is one of the real USPs of joint honours students. However, I will flag that some history/philosophy students would like the choice.

It has been a real pleasure working with you all this year. Our class discussions have prompted me to look at some familiar texts in new ways – one of the real joys of teaching is to be reminded that to be a historian is also to be an eternal student! I wish you all the best of luck with the rest of your studies here at Warwick.

All very best wishes,


Response to mid-module feedback

January 2019

Dear all,

Thank you all for completing mid-module feedback for Individual, Polis, and Society. I am delighted to see that, by and large, you are all enjoying the course. Many of you commented that you have found the seminars productive and engaging spaces for the exchange of ideas and that you appreciated the balance between whole class discussion and group work activities. I have very much enjoyed participating in these discussions, too! Some of you commented on the detailed guidance and feedback on essays. It’s great to hear you are finding the feedback helpful; do remember that you are always welcome to come and discuss your essay feedback in person, if you wish. There was also a lot of enthusiasm for the lectures, which many of you said helped to put the reading in its historical and philosophical context. There was one comment about the use of notes in lectures; this is, I think, a matter of personal preference for lecturers, many of whom give multiple lectures every week, and as most of you are finding the lectures interesting, comprehensible, and thought-provoking I am likely to retain this approach.

There was some disagreement on the use of presentations that need to be prepared before class: some of you said that you appreciated the opportunity to research a topic without worrying about marks and deadlines, while others felt this was an extra burden in times of assessment. The best solution there, I think, is to retain some presentations, but to schedule these for weeks when there are no essay deadlines for other modules.

The main concern, which was pretty consistent across the feedback, was that the module requires a lot of reading. To some extent, this is the nature of a module that focuses on reading complex – and often lengthy! – philosophical texts. In terms of independent study and reading, 10 hours per module credit is a good guideline for the time that should be spent on reading and other seminar preparation. However, I appreciate that some of you feel that the quantity of reading is preventing you from really getting a handle on the texts. Taking this into consideration as we move forwards, I have pulled out a key chapter or sections(s) from each text for you to focus on. If you have time, I would still encourage you to read as much of the texts as you can; but these shorter extracts should enable you to come to seminars feeling more confident that you have had the time to read and consider at least one key section.

Some of you also noted that you would like more guidance on the key themes and ideas to pay attention to when you are reading. To help with this, I will supply a list of ‘questions to consider’ alongside the set reading: these should help guide your reading, and will be form the basis of the questions we will discuss in class.

As we move into the second term of the course I hope that the connections between the texts we are studying will start to become clear, and I will try to make some of these links explicit in both the lectures and seminars. We will also be returning to some texts we have already studied, to look at them from a different angle or alongside other texts and debates, which should help those students who feel that they can’t always see the connections between the texts and themes we are studying.

Finally, one of you commented on the need for help writing about philosophy ‘historically’. I would like to emphasise that you are welcome to come and see me in my office hours (11am-12pm Mondays, 12pm-1pm Fridays) to discuss your writing, and any questions you have about your essays or feedback (or indeed the module more generally). I will be dedicating lecture time this term to approaching the long essay (including how to write a ‘good’ question), so I will make sure this is something I will touch on then.

I hope that these changes will help to enhance your learning experience going forward. As always, if you’d like to discuss anything relating to the module further please do get in touch, either via email or in my office hours.

All very best wishes,

January 2018

Thanks for your responses.
In general people seem to enjoy the module and find it stimulating. As I said at the beginning, my sense is that it can be hard to see above the detail in the first term – but the material we are now getting into – perhaps especially Hegel and the Scottish Enlightenment, should help people feel more confident about the earlier work and should also help them connect this course with the other courses they are taking.
A couple of people raised issues - about the relevance of particular texts – and I’ll make sure that’s clear; and about the expectations for the essay. Again, I can amplify that – I don’t want to restrict people’s choice and some of you clearly felt it an advantage to be able to come up with a title and work with that. But I can work out how to enable both sorts of students.

Mark Philp

January 2017

Thanks for the feedback on the first term of the course - I should emphasise how useful this is, given that it is the first year that the course is running, and that it is rather experimental in content. And while there were lots of positive things people said (which is good) I focus here on difficulties you identified
My apologies for the timing issues relating to the lecture – the computer clock in the lecture theatre seems to be at odds with the time outside the lecture theatre. But, thanks to Xmas, I now have a watch and I’ll make sure we don’t over-run. I should also say that, as in any new course, getting the material to fit exactly into 50 minutes is always a bit of a challenge – not least because over-scripting makes things boring. But I’ll work on this.
On the relationships between the weeks. I think this is something that evolves over the whole of the course and that a lot of what we are doing in the first term is providing foundations for a fuller understanding of the inter-relationships later in the course, but, again, I’ll do my best to underscore connections.
On the assumption of a certain level of knowledge – again, this is something that will build, but I will also work to make sure that you have the basic knowledge that you need. In many respects, familiarity with these texts reaches a critical mass and you should find reading them and grasping what it is that they are doing gets easier at the course progresses.
Finally, someone mentioned it would be handy to have the powerpoint presentations. These are in fact on the website – the number of the teaching week is connected to the slides for that week.
And let’s talk about how to make the discussions work a bit better and to give people an opportunity for raising difficulties.