Empowering Student Engagement: 5 Themes from Explorance’s Student Voices Conference

Written by Explorance.


The Student Voices in Higher Education 2024 conference, which was hosted in London, provided a unique space for higher education (HE) leaders to share experiences, best practices and lessons learned from student voice initiatives that lead to more powerful solutions for teaching effectiveness, learning excellence, and student experience.

Themed ‘Amplifying Student Voices in Higher Education: The Power of Student Feedback and AI,’ the event attracted around 90 attendees. It brought together contributors and delegates responsible for strategic planning, teaching and learning, quality assurance and enhancement, student engagement and voice, and insights derived from surveys. Speakers included senior HE sector representation from Advance HE, QAA and Jisc.

At its heart, the conference aimed to address the question: How can universities leverage AI to accurately capture students’ perspectives on surveys, module evaluations, and other feedback sources? Here are five themes from Student Voices in Higher Education:

1. Authentic Student Engagement

The conference kicked off with a powerful keynote from Eve Alcock, Director of Public Affairs at QAA. Eve emphasized that students are integral partners in the academic experience, advocating for an authentic approach to engagement.  She introduced her ‘How much you mean it/How well you do it’ scale, stressing the importance of early and frequent feedback. Eve elaborated on the various roles students play in this process, from representatives to leaders, underscoring the pivotal role of Students’ Unions as “the absolute foundation for getting student engagement right across the organization.” Her presentation concluded with thought-provoking reflective questions that spurred lively discussion: Are you prepared for uncertainty? Willing to relinquish control? Clear on the roles you envision for students? How committed are you? How proficient can you become? Eve also underscored the value of “impact stories,” urging universities to share instances where student engagement has led to tangible outcomes. Top of Form

2. Student-Staff Partnerships

Throughout the conference, attendees were treated to numerous practical examples from presenting institutions, and the Student Representatives Panel, all centred around the ‘students as partners’ theme. These presentations spurred insightful questions from the audience. Professor Harriet Dunbar-Morris, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and Provost at the University of Buckingham, alongside Toluwani Osmolu, Vice President – Student Voice at the University of Buckingham Students’ Union, detailed their methodology for gathering and triangulating data, as well as their collaborative approach to interpreting and acting upon it, culminating in community-endorsed projects. Nyasha Mutembwa, President of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA), emphasized the symbiotic relationship between staff and students, highlighting the necessity of active participation for mutual success. She also stressed the significance of personalized feedback mechanisms, underlining the effective collaboration between DUSA and the University of Dundee in closing the feedback loop. Additionally, a staff-student team from the University of Edinburgh shared their innovative strategy for redefining student feedback from a student’s perspective. Their approach aimed at engaging stakeholders to contribute their perceptions and co-create mechanisms for amplifying the student voice while ensuring feedback loops are closed effectively.

3. Innovation in Student Feedback Mechanisms

While end-of-module evaluations remain a sector standard for capturing student feedback, institutions are evolving their methodologies. Kingston University, for instance, has augmented its successful online Module Evaluation Questionnaires with informal Early Module Reviews. These reviews involve module leaders facilitating in-class discussions approximately 25% into the teaching period, fostering active student participation and enabling real-time dialogue for in-module improvements. Furthermore, to combat survey fatigue among both staff and students, the university has eliminated course surveys, resulting in aggregated course-level data that inform targeted action plans. This adjustment has led to the highest response rates ever recorded in the current academic year. Meanwhile, the University of Worcester is experimenting with alternative evaluation methods, such as implementing course-level surveys instead of module-level ones and adjusting survey timing. These initiatives aim to streamline administrative efforts in survey administration and enhance survey accessibility, particularly for larger professional courses.

4. Common Challenges in Student Feedback

Throughout the two-day conference, delegates voiced a multitude of challenges in student feedback. These included:

  • Data Preparation
  • Overcoming Survey Fatigue
  • Increasing Response Rates
  • Gathering Different Student Voices
  • The Effect of Anonymity
  • Closing The Feedback Loop
  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Staff Engagement

These concerns were echoed in sessions like the Student Voice Discussion: Challenges and Opportunities. Many of these sentiments align with discussions from past events, which underscores the ongoing evolution of our sector’s continuous improvement journey. However, a common thread emerges: small internal teams are increasingly burdened with expanding responsibilities related to student voice. At Explorance, we’re committed to supporting universities in navigating these challenges. To learn more about how we’re making a difference in the UK and globally, visit the news and customer stories sections on our website.

5. “AI is not an Opportunity, it’s a Responsibility”

During the Leaders’ Panel discussion, a quote from Sara Raybould, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and Student Experience) at the University of West London, particularly stood out. The panel’s consensus on the transformative potential of AI for qualitative feedback analysis also struck a chord. Dr. Charles Knight, Assistant Director – Knowledge & Innovation at AdvanceHE, expanded on this in his keynote, emphasizing AI’s capacity to streamline workloads, enhance decision-making processes, and elevate universities’ student-centric approaches. Dr. Knight underscored the efficiency of AI for rapid analysis and real-time insights. This theme was further explored in the AI panel, where Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Westminster showcased their utilization of Explorance MLY. Notably, Westminster has emerged as one of the pioneering UK universities leveraging AI software (Explorance MLY) to analyse National Student Survey results, thereby enriching the student experience through enhanced insights.

Higher educationStudent engagementStudent feedbackStudent voices

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