How Can We Effectively Engage Students and Staff in Module Evaluation?

Written by John Atherton, Higher Education Director, Explorance.

One of the big challenges facing UK universities – in fact, all universities – is engaging students, and indeed faculty members, in module evaluation.

Ensuring that the ‘process’ contributes to a dialogue between students and staff, and enabling prompt action to address students’ issues and concerns before end-of-semester evaluations are among the headaches facing university leadership teams. However, given deeper institutional drivers around student satisfaction, student engagement and the student experience, overcoming these challenges is a must.

Our insight report, The Student Voice, How can UK universities ensure that module evaluation feedback leads to continuous improvement across their institution?, finds that many universities are embedding module evaluation within their wider student-facing strategies – and this is perceived to impact on student retention.

Institutions are taking more holistic approaches to student engagement and the student experience, which in turn have the potential to support responses to module evaluation surveys. Increasing emphasis on the principles of co-creation and co-production means that students now have greater ownership of the process.

Professor Liz Mossop, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Student Development and Engagement at the University of Lincoln, explained that student feedback was “an essential component of how we deliver teaching and assessment.” “I have always worked to ensure students are at the heart of everything,” she said. “We involve the Students’ Union in the evaluation of teaching and processes around teaching and learning.”

Student feedback is also part of the bigger picture at Bath Spa University. “Each area of the University is developing a student experience action plan because different parts of the institution have a role to play,” said Dr Becky Schaaf, Vice-Provost for Student Experience. “Anything that provides insight into what the student experience is, and what can be done to enhance it, is captured and includes module evaluation.”

students in lecture hall engaged

Elsewhere, the University of Dundee works with its Students’ Association to develop an annual Student Partnership Agreement to enhance the experience of its students further, including module evaluation. At the University of Nottingham, Students’ Union officers are part of the University’s surveys working group, students were consulted on changes to the institutional bank of questions, and student representatives were asked when evaluation should be conducted and how many times a module is evaluated. Closing the feedback loop, more than any other issue, was highlighted by students here.

From this, we can point to several examples of good practice around student engagement in module evaluation activity, both in its planning and in follow-up. Faculty engagement is also generally recognised as being important with many universities taking a proactive approach to engaging staff and promoting best practice.

“We conduct annual reviews of teaching in which departments reflect on a range of data including module evaluations, NSS and Destination of Leavers from HE survey,” said Professor Sharon Huttly, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Lancaster University. “It is all about identifying key data to work with. To support this, we have developed teaching data packs which give departments’ relevant data.”

At Nottingham, there is now an institutional requirement to publish module evaluation results on its Virtual Learning Environment, which all students and staff can see. “Our academic community supported the strategic decision to tie survey questions to NSS consciously, and they are supportive of the publication of module evaluation results,” Professor Sarah Speight, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. “They use the data to support applications for promotion, teaching excellence awards or other career development activities, but always as part of a range of evidence.”

“With Faculty, it is all about communication,” said Lincoln’s Professor Mossop. “Communication is the biggest challenge for any institution – you can never do enough – but we are always looking to improve, and at Lincoln, we have Faculty sharing best practice and Faculty being supported if they need help.”

In summary, module evaluation surveys provide a valuable opportunity for individuals, departments, faculties and universities as a whole to reflect on their teaching practice, and also their contribution to broader student engagement and student experience initiatives.

There are, however, issues with the consistency of approach to feedback and evaluation within institutions and across the sector more widely. When undertaken well, surveys can be used to ensure that decision-making is guided by evidence and can support staff in being recognised and rewarded for their good practice.

John Atherton is Higher Education Director (UK & Ireland) at Explorance

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