Feedback on reflections

Group feedback on the first reflection

Dear historians of China,

I’ve read through the reflections, and I have to say I am so happy, and so proud, I barely know where to start with my feedback to the group; please forgive the rambling. Individual feedback and grades will follow, but I wanted to get this out to reassure you that I am a happy bunny.

I was a bit worried because so few of you turn up to the Zoom sessions or drop-in tutorials, yet in the introductions on the Cloud Lounge many of you had expressed worries about asynchronous nature of the course. Turns out your worries have been put to bed, and thanks to your reflections, so have mine. Thank you! Common wisdom among educators is that a course needs to run about 5 times before it’s “just right”; this is only the second time I run it, and definitely the first time I run it online, so I expect a lot of things to not be “just right”. If you can think of things that I can improve, PLEASE reach out.

Maybe my approach is different from what you experienced in the past or in your other classes, but I see myself not as a “prison guard” to patrol your behavior and coerce you to do things, incentivizing and punishing you with grades (unfortunately I can’t ungrade the whole of higher education quite yet). I’d rather see myself as a tour guide, who shows you the magnificent vistas of Chinese history, and then helps you to create your own bespoke tour of its history, within a group of like-minded travelers, while we all try and stay on board of the same bus. (Does that metaphor makes sense?).

Here are some common themes from the reflections and my suggestions for you to take it to the next level:

Time management

Due dates for weekly assignments have a fixed rhythm:

  • Tuesday: feedback on previous week’s reflection and initial post
  • Thursday: discussion comments on initial post
  • Sunday: reflection post

How to keep track

  1. You can also check on Canvas, or sync/subscribe to the Canvas calendar with your calendar. Mac/iPhone Calendar users, copy that “feed” and add it to “New Calendar Subscription”.
  2. Subscribe to the Daily Course Announcements blog, in the right-hand sidebar
  3. (not entirely automatic) Go to the Canvas course home page and scroll down to the green box in the Daily Course Announcements, or look in the right-hand sidebar/calendar in the red left-hand sidebar under your “To-Dos” and “Coming up”, where Zoom check-ins and drop-in tutorials are also listed.

How to maximize ROI (Return on Investment)

Some of you worry about your initial post being not deep enough. If you find yourself rushing through the material, see if you can spend some time on Monday for a first pass: check through the slide deck, read intro and conclusion of texts, or a quick read through the option you are interested in, then carve out some dedicated reading time on the Tuesday. Equal time but spread over two visits can be more beneficial than one long session. I usually upload materials on Friday, but I understand weekends may not be an option for reading time, when you’re still working on the previous week’s reflection post. But also remember: it’s an initial post, leave some room for growth towards the end of the week 🙃  Also: tell me if I throw too much stuff at you. It’s been a while since I was an undergrad, and never one in a pandemic.

Take notes!

  • pen and paper: may be tricky/expensive if you don’t have access to a printer
  • set up a private, personal group and annote PDFs just for yourself. (These video instructions also work if you’re not downloading from Canvas)
  • annotate on the PDF, e.g. on an iPad, or with an app like PDF expert, Adobe comments, etc.
  • keep a separate Word or text document open, write down the page number and your thoughts

This will help you as you’re at a later time writing your post and trying to remember what you had to say or where you had that brilliant insight. It’s a great timesaver!

How to give feedback without sounding mean!

Some of you may worry that in giving feedback you’ll come across as rude. Maybe when you receive feedback, you feel attacked? It’s not easy to accept a critique of your work if it suggests where things are not quite perfect. But remember our Growth Mindset Cats!

Cat stares into mirror and backs off in surprise
Feedback can cause discomfort


Here are some tips that help me get in the right mindset to receive and give feedback – and let me tell you: I often dread opening the document with feedback from an editor and try to postpone it for as long as possible, it’s taken me years to understand the following:

  • The feedback is about the work, not about me/you as a person.
  • Feedback helps us to become a better scholar/student/writer; it’s a part of learning. If nobody ever points out what could be done better, we’d be forever stuck in the same place.
  • I get feedback because people care about the work I do, and want the blog post/research to be better, because they see potential.
  • I give feedback because I see the potential in the work, and I want others to succeed.
Cat looks into mirror with some curiosity, text says
Feedback is helpful: don’t fear it


How can we give feedback that leaves others feeling encouraged and inspired?

  • Use the assignment descriptions, and the guiding questions from the weekly readings to redirect the post, if you think the post missed the mark: add a link and say “I think that the professor is looking more for something like the following -” and then provide a brief description of what that would be, or maybe you can link to a post that did things well.
  • Find the points where the author has a good point, and highlight that: you can say “this is interesting, how do you think X influenced Y”, or “you can connect this to Z”, or even: “do more like this, where you are giving examples and then analyzing them”.
  • You can point out if you’re unclear about the meaning of a sentence of passage: “I’m not sure I understand what this sentence means here. Can you say this differently?” or “Do I understand correctly that according this passage [insert paraphrase]”
    • Paraphrasing somebody else’s writing is a very powerful way to show how their words come across. I know as a reader of your fellow students’ blog posts you try to understand, but sometimes we just write awkward phrases or words come out wrong, so it’s ok to say “hey, I don’t get this bit, maybe try using different words?” Often, the author already suspects that’s a weak spot.
  • Put the lack of clarity on the sentence, passage, word, not the writer: “This sentence is not clear”, not, “you’re not clear”; “this word is maybe not the best”, not “you need to expand your vocab”. It’s kinder to focus on the writing itself, not on the writer.

Where to find additional materials?

A few people wrote they look for additional materials. That’s not necessary, but maybe you feel a bit lost without them? So here is an overview of resources:

  • Me!
    • Yes, I am a resource! I love helping students with answering questions and finding additional materials to read or view (also: this is why you pay tuition). Tell me you can’t find something and I can’t stop until I get you just the right resource. This is a great reason to come to Zoom check-ins or drop-in tutorials, or ping me a message on Cloud Lounge or email.
  • Our dedicated research guide
    • The internet is a wonderful but wild place, and when it comes to Chinese history, it’s even wilder! I would highly recommend starting your search with our dedicated research guide. I had queued this up for later, but hey, you’re running ahead! Ignore the “Article Activity” for now, and begin your search with the Reference works and other resources listed, especially if you want to quote materials.
  • Credo Reference
    • It’s an encyclopedia of encyclopedias; usually just enough to give you the basics, but also longer articles, and the “mind-map” helps you explore.
  • Berkshire Encyclopedia of China (inside Credo Reference)
    • All about China and written by reputable experts, also check out the bibliography at the end.

What trends and connections are you observing?

There is some selection bias in the topics we have covered so far: because we start at the “far end” of Chinese history, much of what we look at is “stuff” that survived, simply because it  was intended to be preserved across the ages. To the Chinese, that meant burials. So you have correctly spotted that treatment of the dead, the role of ancestors, and burials and funerary culture are a constant in the history of early China.

But you’re also starting to see other big themes that will be constantly with us, even if they transform: power, class, and how that shapes the way physical objects are created, by whom they are created, and who gets to use them, to buy them, to commission or order them to be made. While we live in a world where we think about “the market” as a force, we should not forget that ultimately that market consists of humans making decisions, it is not like the Force in Star Wars.

Obi Wan Kanobi in the classic Star Wars scene "These are not the droids you're looking for"
“This is not the force you’re looking for”

Similarly, we have to keep thinking about the people behind the objects we look at in this course, and in the current course schedule we will make that shift more explicitly from week 11 onwards but you can already begin to think about it now!

What to do better/different?

  • Make sure to keep carving out dedicated time
  • Don’t rush through the instructions
    • Read the guiding questions in the readings, as they help you to find focus and make the reading easier
  • Reach out with questions

What to keep doing?

Being awesome. No really: Keep being awesome. I am so, so inordinately proud of you all doing all of this amidst “All Of This”!

From Giphy (where else?)

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