5 Reasons Why Surveys are Here to Stay in Higher Education

Written by John Atherton, General Manager (Europe and Africa), Explorance.

A Higher Education student filling out an online assessment from home

Last month, Explorance published a timely new report, ‘Module evaluation in a pandemic and beyond: What is student leaders ‘ask’ of universities gathering their views on teaching and learning?’ The research detailed in that report found that there is a very clear expectation among numerous Students’ Union (SU) representatives, spanning the UK and Ireland, that universities should more actively listen to module evaluation feedback from students.

Another insight from this report was that better and more open communication is urgently required to help students understand what changes are possible in follow-up and to manage their expectations.

One of the most practical takeaways for Higher Education leaders who are responsible for teaching and learning, as well as related initiatives around student engagement, student satisfaction and better managing the student experience, is that module evaluation surveys are here to stay.

While Covid-19 and the move from face-to-face to online learning has forced universities to pivot their approaches to listening more directly  to student communities, all Student Unions interviewed were unanimous that module evaluation surveys remain a hugely valuable component of the overall drive to capture student feedback. Here we look, through the eye of SU leaders, at why they appreciate module evaluation surveys and why these surveys are here to stay.

  1. Robust and Measurable Data

    Student Unions are supportive of the role that module evaluation feedback plays in ensuring that teaching and learning is delivering value to students, and its wider role in empowering the student voice. “Module evaluation surveys, and quantitative data generally, are extremely robust in terms of looking at things, and are more easily measurable,” Reading University Students’ Union Education Officer George Ingram told us. “(Module evaluations) are especially useful for narrowing down the focus to specific issues and then providing a platform to act on (those issues)” Tim Hewes-Belton, Student Engagement Manager at Worcester Students’ Union, added: “Module evaluation surveys are not going anywhere and will remain an important aspect of student voice.”

  2. A Quick Route to Student Opinion

    With universities made up of tens of thousands of students based on and off campus, and with wide-ranging demographics, SUs recognise that there is no better way to practically canvass student opinion en masse than digital surveys. Lexi Ehresmann, Vice President Education at University of Stirling Students’ Union, summarised: “Whilst I am personally an advocate of focus groups and other in-person ways to collect feedback which allow the opportunity for follow-up questions, there is no doubt that module evaluation surveys will remain dominant as they are a quick and effective way to reach students.”

  3. Great Approach to Ensuring Confidentiality

    The ability to provide honest, direct feedback via course assessment was also firmly indicated by those student leaders who were consulted in this recent report. “Online module evaluation surveys are here to stay, and we work in partnership with the University to promote these as well as the National Student Survey and our own SU survey – the (confidentiality), especially, means that more students can speak their mind”, explained Anya Nikolaeva, Vice President Academic Affairs at Regent’s University London Student Union. SUs know they need to ensure that student voices are heard and HEIs generally need to build students’ confidence that their voice is utilised. They also know that not all students will give their feedback unless it is done so in a secure, confidential fashion.

  4. Complementing Other Feedback Mechanisms

    Alongside end-of-module evaluation surveys, many institutions have embraced mid-module surveys for assessing teaching and learning, as well as real-time pulse surveys with question types that cover course evaluation and the wider assessment of issues around student sentiment and wellbeing. This represents a better platform to develop unified feedback gathering going forward. Angel Layer, former Vice President (Education and Democracy) and Research and Insights Assistant at University of Portsmouth Students’ Union, outlined an opportunity to “better triangulate data – (via) pulse surveys, module evaluation surveys and other feedback mechanisms – to provide truly (a) representative, and more in-depth, student voice.”

  5. A Necessary Part of Monitoring

    Importantly, the representatives of students feel that module evaluation surveys are an important aspect of quality assurance and quality enhancement – all part of the push for great student success. “Course evaluation surveys have to exist and we need to recognise they are a necessary part of universities’ annual monitoring processes, (feeding) into institutional subject reviews alongside a host of data,” insisted Alex Hedlund, Vice President Education at Heriot-Watt University Student Union. “This is an iterative process and measuring year-on-year progress is important.”

Click here to download the full ‘Pandemic Perspectives…’ report.

John Atherton, General Manager (Europe and Africa), Explorance
John Atherton, General Manager (Europe and Africa), Explorance


Higher educationStudent Experience ManagementStudent feedback

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