Explorance Report: Module Evaluation in a Pandemic and Beyond – What do Students Want?

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

Female student working from home on laptop

Following on from our eBook, “Engaging the student voice in our ‘new normal’: How are universities planning to capture, and act upon, feedback from students in 2020-21?”, published in November 2020, drawing on the perspectives of university leaders, Explorance commissioned independent research amongst Students’ Union (SU) representatives around their opinions on the module evaluation and feedback process.

Aston Students’ Union, Heriot-Watt University Student Union, Open University Students Association, Reading University Students’ Union, Regent’s University London Student Union, St Mary’s University Students’ Union, University College Cork Students’ Union, University of Portsmouth Students’ Union, University of Stirling Students’ Union and Worcester Students’ Union all contributed to our research via in-depth interviews in January and February 2021.

We wanted to gauge their own experience of module evaluation surveys, how universities’ approaches to capturing student feedback via surveys shifted (including during the first semester of 2020-21) in the context of Covid-19 and national lockdown, and what institutions could do differently going forward.

We also explored issues around SU leaders’ expectations of universities in terms of responding to the student voice, how module evaluation feedback is being used to support quality assurance and quality enhancement processes, and the extent to which universities and SU teams are working together on this agenda.

There are five summary findings from our report, “Module evaluation in a pandemic and beyond”, which we launched at the Bluenotes EUROPE 2021 Virtual Experience on 24th March:

  • Covid-19, and the move from face-to-face to online learning, has forced universities to pivot their approaches to capturing the student voice. Alongside end-of-module evaluation surveys, many institutions have embraced mid-module surveys for assessment of teaching and learning as well as Pulse surveys for course evaluation and wider assessment of issues around student sentiment and wellbeing, presenting an opportunity to develop this practice further.
  • Whilst there is a clear expectation from student leaders that universities should actively listen to module evaluation feedback, at the same time, better and more open communication is required. This is to help students understand what changes are possible in follow-up and, therefore, manage their expectations. Students’ own perceptions – and lack of understanding – as to how their feedback is used (and benefits them) and is applied by their institution for quality assurance and quality enhancement purposes is a related issue.
  • Closing the feedback loop is the biggest challenge facing universities around module evaluation surveys and one that is still not addressed sufficiently despite the changes in approach brought about by Covid-19. However, student representatives insisted that this problem was not solely down to the institution to overcome and highlighted a collective responsibility to own this process. Some examples of partnership approaches between universities and SUs point to ways to address this issue in collaboration and may be adopted elsewhere.
  • All SU leaders interviewed for this research say that end-of-module evaluation surveys are here to stay. These remain a hugely valuable component of capturing student feedback, with student representatives highlighting these as robust and measurable. However, the pandemic has accelerated the shift of these online, given that in-person paper-based surveys are not possible, and there are also opportunities to encompass quantitative and qualitative insight and complementary feedback mechanisms, including mid-module or interim Pulse surveys.
  • Universities, driven by higher education policy directives, are generally congratulated by SU leaders as having stepped up their strategies on an individual basis to listening to students during the lockdown. Still, there is an opportunity to strive for greater consistency in approach across the sector.

By better understanding these issues from the perspective of student leaders, we will, in turn, apply this learning into our developmental practice at Explorance and advise universities that we work with on the opportunities for innovation.

From April and until the start of the next academic year, we will also be releasing a series of reflective issues-led articles through this blog to support HE sector-wide discussion further.

Click here to read our full report.

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

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