In November, we welcomed colleagues from Explorance to Coventry University to host a workshop on the issue of student satisfaction and student engagement. This followed our contribution to the excellent insight report, The Student Voice: How can UK universities ensure that module evaluation feedback leads to continuous improvement across their institution? which was published by Explorance in 2019.
Seventeen Coventry University staff, all with an interest and responsibility in this issue, gathered at the half-day session which explored three topics:
- How can our institutional systems and processes better capture the student voice?
- How can we utilise the student voice to improve the student experience, both inside and outside of the academic setting?
- How can we improve our insight and analysis on what the student voice is telling us, leading to institutional enhancement?
Conversation was wide-ranging, and it was especially helpful to understand from Explorance – given its wealth of experience working with UK and international universities on the link between module evaluation, student voice and the National Student Survey (NSS) – how the sector is generally approaching this issue, how modern-day students are being engaged, and the potential correlation with NSS improvement.
We discussed everything from ownership of data-gathering and timing of module evaluation surveys, to preparing students to give constructive feedback and encouraging their participation, as well as issues of confidentiality and anonymity throughout the process.
From my perspective, there were four key takeaways from our roundtable discussions:
- Objectives – the opportunity for universities to bring more clarity of purpose for capturing the student voice and moving from a ‘temperature check’ framework to one of genuine institutional enhancement. Practically this could include switching from big surveys to ‘Pulse-style’ surveys within a module. It could also involve programme level evaluation, rather than traditional module evaluation. There are clearly different practices underway throughout the sector.
- Perceptions – the opportunity for universities to overcome the fatigue and cynicism that many students have around surveys, both in terms of the process and the path to feedback. There is no doubt that it is very difficult to capture the wide-ranging student voice, but different feedback mechanisms and new approaches to staff-student dialogue and collaboration can help. On the issue of students’ willingness to give negative feedback – for some, they perceive this will harm their chances of success – it is also important for institutions to find a way to clearly decouple this so that individuals feel comfortable to feedback candidly.
- Action – the opportunity for universities to ‘close the loop’ and clearly demonstrate what they have done to respond to student feedback. These could be traditional ‘You said, we did’ approaches, but could also be framed differently in terms of ‘Together we will’ which supports the partnership message. ‘Pulse-style’ surveys on particular themes could also help demonstrate that students are being listened to and provide an opportunity to highlight the wraparound support, for example, around careers and wellbeing, away from the immediacy of a module.
- Co-ordination – the opportunity for universities to improve the speed of implementation following on from module evaluation surveys, as well as importantly ‘joining up the dots’ within institutions to get the best out of the data generated. Some of this is about the development of culture and trust with the student body and academics, but ultimately what we want is to be able to respond as effectively as possible to feedback from students who all want to succeed in their studies.
In summary, the workshop with Explorance helped us in our thoughts about future plans for student enhancement at Coventry University. It confirmed the challenges that we know generally exist in the sector and informed our aspirations and direction of travel. We will use the discussion to review and develop further our thinking in this space.
Professor Guy Daly is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and Students) at Coventry University
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