At the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year we implemented a new student voice policy, Valuing Students’ Views and Opinions, and this is very significant because it represents how we look at things at the University of Portsmouth. The policy, and our ethos, is about valuing students’ opinions and doing something with them.
Within this policy we emphasise our partnership with students and we highlight three important aspects of the student voice: student surveys, student participation in quality assurance and enhancement, and student representation.
It strikes me that these are also the three aspects of the student voice we are going to have to continue to focus on in the new academic year – in our ‘new normal’ – and these are the things we need to apply to what we are calling at Portsmouth the new blended and connected learning experience. Here is what we are doing:
As well as our new student voice policy, 2019 saw the implementation of a new curriculum framework and, as part of that, we have introduced new internal course and module surveys. These are completely online for the first time.
It is going to be very important, as we prepare for the next academic year, that we look at feedback coming in from students. We are also going to be looking at survey data from the Students’ Union which carried out surveys over the first initial ‘flip’ to online and therefore provide feedback on students’ current experience.
All this feeds into our learning and teaching workstream, which is driving the work to deliver a blended and connected learning experience. This is important because we need to develop teaching, learning and assessment for 2020-21.
However, it is not just about surveys – it is about other feedback mechanisms too. We do not just want to have survey data, we need other student voice data. So we are developing virtual student panels to get student input as part of the learning and teaching workstream. I am also developing a virtual version of a mechanism I created when I started at Portsmouth called ‘Haver with Harriet’, an informal drop-in session for students.
Student participation in quality assurance and enhancement
This is something that we have worked on for quite some time. We are very proud of our partnership with students, and have students on all our committees like the Quality Assurance Committee.
I also Chair the Student Experience Committee, which I have developed to function as a research group. Together we take data – both internal and external data – at the beginning of the academic year from all sources across the University and look at it together, staff and students, to decide where we are going to focus our attentions to enhance the student experience.
We also have student representatives at all levels of our university-wide programme preparing for the coming academic year: they are on the steering group, the planning group, all the workstreams, and some of the relevant work strands.
We really want to include students wherever we can, and one of the ways in which we have is, for example, on TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students Through Assessment) workshops. In TESTA workshops we look at assessment data, both formative and summative, considering things such as quantity, quality, variety and distribution, with course teams and students, and see how changes at programme level can be made for the benefit of students.
As part of developing our student voice policy we reviewed, jointly with the Students’ Union, the course representative job description and expectations. We are already working on how we will enable course reps to be elected and trained in a blended and connected environment. We are confident about how we will be able to use course reps in the new academic year and will be working with them on the virtual student panels. Overall, we are content about our readiness to continue with student representation in a blended and connected environment.
Going back to the question posed in the webinar title, ‘How can effective student feedback help universities to survive and thrive in the next academic year?’, it is clear that what we are developing for the new academic year is quite qualitatively different to what we were able to do at very short notice in the first instance when lockdown happened in the UK. We want our students to understand that. There is communication going on to new and returning students about what blended and connected learning will look like at Portsmouth – and I hope we can reach a shared understanding of that.
In terms of student feedback, the fact we are now completely online with our course and module evaluation surveys is useful, as it has given us the opportunity to do things differently, and we will be building on that. It will be more important to keep in touch with students via our VLE and to make even better use of mid-module feedback. The course and module surveys will go ahead as they always have, but will require more surrounding communication as a result of being in a blended and connected learning environment. It is absolutely key that we continue with the system we have in place, as the student voice is key, but there will be a question of finalising timings given the new context we are in.
It is also very important that we work with the Students’ Union and continue to implement other mechanisms for capturing the student voice. One of the things we have is a student charter, which we co-created with students, and this sets out very clearly the expectation of students as well as staff about what we are doing together as a joint endeavour. This is going to be important in terms of setting expectations for the new academic year – we are providing the teaching, they are doing the learning, and it is about us providing opportunities for students to do independent learning and take part in activities.
Dr Harriet Dunbar-Morris is Dean of Learning and Teaching at the University of Portsmouth, and was a panellist on Explorance’s ‘Preparing for our ‘new normal’: how can effective student feedback help universities to survive and thrive in the next academic year?’ webinar on 24th June.
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