Are Business Schools Considering ‘the Art of the Possible’ in Student Surveys?

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

Students working together

Reading time: Less than 4 min.

Synopsis: A blog from John Atherton, GM, Europe & Africa at Explorance, discussing recent conference attendances and championing the student voice. This blog post also explores how the Newcastle Business School at the University of Newcastle has embarked upon a cultural shift around how it uses course and teacher evaluations to drive excellence – with Explorance’s Blue and the student voice at the heart of it all.

Earlier this month I attended the AMBA and BGA Global Conference 2022 in Lisbon and took the opportunity to discuss our Feedback Matters: Business and Management Education Focus Report with Business School leaders present.

The conference itself covered a wide range of issues: future-proofing for a ‘new normal’; diversity, inclusion, social mobility, and equity; the climate emergency and the response needed from Business Schools; lifelong learning and stackable qualifications; Business Schools’ impact on communities and societies; economic and geopolitical disruption and their effects on management education; evolving programmes to reflect the needs of industry; and globalisation and building worldwide partnerships.

However, in all of this, I was struck by the commitment from Business School leaders to enhancing teaching effectiveness and student experience – and how ‘listening’ to the student voice as part of that process was uppermost in their thoughts. It was timely, therefore, that our Principal Consultant Stephanie Klein, PhD, led a session which challenged delegates to consider the ‘art of the possible’ as they learned how Business Schools gather and use student feedback to improve teaching and learning. It included strategies underpinning student insight, approaches to capturing and responding to insights, and how this feedback can support the evolution of business and management education.

The Student Voice at the University of Newcastle

In our report, there are several examples of Business Schools which have delivered change through student voice policy and practice. One which stands out to me is Newcastle Business School at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and how that is part of a wider institutional strategy. At the beginning of 2021, the University embarked upon a cultural shift around how it uses course and teacher evaluations to drive excellence and measure its impact. By increasing the reliance on the student voice, the University has created a successful performance development process that encourages, nurtures and rewards individuals for their impact on their students and the wider community.

Teaching was previously viewed as something separate and largely unmeasurable. Simplistic feedback scales left academics feeling judged by a blunt measure and largely unreliable model of success. Many viewed course and teacher evaluations as potentially career limiting, which stifled engagement with feedback processes, as well as innovation and creativity in the teaching space. Even after implementing a blended-learning model of teaching across all courses in Newcastle Business School, the impact of this innovative teaching style was rarely featured in regular performance evaluation processes; and best practices ultimately remained siloed rather than proliferating across disciplines.

In response, we heard how the University developed the Foundations for Inspiring People framework that looks to capture quantitative and qualitative indicators of impact across the three domains of academic work: research, teaching and engagement. The framework was an exercise to reorient its ‘performance review’ culture from a ‘one size fits all’ measurement and evaluation framework to a personalised development model that aligns academic achievements against institutional priorities and values.

“In the teaching domain, the redevelopment of our performance culture works hand-in-hand with our realignment of feedback culture, and student voice has been reframed from a ‘consumer satisfaction’ model to a participatory model of teaching quality improvement. We have been able to use the advanced personalisation features of Blue (Explorance’s People Insights Platform) to gain more nuanced data about courses that offer unique delivery and work-integrated learning, as well as to gather feedback on innovative teaching labs.

A key challenge we have encountered is managing bias in feedback. In the past we have taken a rather costly, yet effective, approach of trying to mitigate this issue by reading every student comment and removing destructive or offensive phrases. We look now to Blue’s new powerful machine learning tool to help us immediately categorise unstructured data and detect deviations from trends in feedback requiring further investigation. This will allow us to provide balanced, normalised scores with a reduced negative influence of bias related to gender, LGBTIQ identification, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status and ethnicity. This partnership will enable us to support our teachers better, to identify more accurately our outstanding teachers, and to track themes in student voice.

We look forward to creating an environment where our academic staff are more independently engaged in the feedback process, see the impact they have on their students, and are supported to achieve the University’s vision for the future.”

Professor Jennifer Milam, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Excellence), and an Explorance customer.

If you have not yet read the full report, please take the opportunity to download it (it’s free and packed with insights from Business Schools and university-based business and management faculties around the world).

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

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


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