“It is clear we all have the ambition to get things right”: University of Leeds workshop

Written by Dr Christina Edgar, Director of Student Opportunity, University of Leeds.

Towards the end of last year we ran a ‘Feedback Matters’ workshop with Explorance. This followed my attendance at the Bluenotes GLOBAL conference in the summer, which was my first taste of the Explorance community, and what a valuable relationship it has proved to be.

Having met some wonderful people in Chicago, I was only too happy to progress an idea with Explorance to bring people together in a similar, albeit smaller, way at the University of Leeds. What we wanted to do was give people across the sector the opportunity to discuss challenges and opportunities, and share current practice around the issues we are all facing in relation to effectively capturing the student voice.

At the University of Leeds we put our students front and centre, with an unrelenting focus on meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations. As the UK’s fifth biggest university with 38,000 students from 170 countries, 8,700 staff from 100 countries, and seven faculties this is a complex picture. However, we are genuinely interested in learning in this space, and as the partnership between the University and Students’ Union is really special here, felt it was completely legitimate to prompt the conversation.

We welcomed colleagues from DeMontfort University, Leeds Arts University, Oxford Brookes University, University of Hull, University of Portsmouth and the University of Salford – 15 people in all – and explored five overarching areas:

  • How, when and how often do we gather student feedback? At what level – module, programme? How long do we keep surveys open? Online or paper-based surveys?
  • Do we prepare student to give feedback? With reference to a presentation by McGill University (https://www.mcgill.ca/mercury/students/feedback).
  • What mechanisms do we use at University level to learn from the feedback provided?
  • Closing the loop – how do we share responses with students?
  • What is the role of student voice in student education? How do we use it in decision-making?

What was clear from the discussions is that we all have the ambition to get things right. From the McGill University presentation on preparing students to give constructive feedback (making us all ask ‘Shouldn’t we all be doing this?’) and the perspectives shared on feeding back to students and how to make it meaningful; to our conversation on timing and the balance needed so that students do not feel bombarded and are able to give feedback in a timely and effective way: what the event showed is that a network does not readily exist for colleagues in primarily student-focused roles. There is a need for such a platform so we can share the journey we are all on.

I felt empowered by the commitment (demonstrated by all who attended) to the principles of continuous reflection and continuous improvement, whether through a classic ‘you said, we did’ or perhaps a balanced approach of ‘what we do and what you do to improve engagement in learning’. It was great to hear how colleagues across the sector are responding to this challenge within their own contexts. I also felt reassured that we are all looking to develop our approaches in this space.

So where do we go from here? From a University of Leeds perspective, the importance of student engagement and student voice are deeply rooted in our institutional strategy. As a large and multi-discipline university, there are complexities to achieving consistency, but our commitment to working in partnership with our students provides an excellent vehicle for sharing good practice.

I am pulling together a paper on the learnings from the event, the key reflections, and the opportunities to evolve our approach to module evaluation feedback (and the value of doing that). We look forward to progressing this conversation with our student education community at the University of Leeds, and also to continuing to work with colleagues across the sector (including Explorance) to share good practice.

Dr Christina Edgar is Director of Student Opportunity at the University of Leeds. The development of this blog was supported by Professor Tina Overton, Director of the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE). LITE promotes and supports innovation and excellence in teaching, and disseminates outcomes for impact on student learning


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