At the University of Strathclyde, we have been working with Explorance since the start of the 2019-20 academic year.
Throughout our journey toward an institutional approach to module evaluation, we have kept enhancement at the fore, recognising the importance of the student voice and how feedback on the wider student experience can drive this.
Collaborative working is embedded in the Scottish Higher Education sector – it is core to our success – therefore hosting a ‘Feedback Matters’ workshop with Explorance was a welcome opportunity to meet with peers from across Scotland who are all at different stages in their journey. As a community of practice, we were able to identify and explore a number of questions and themes relating to module evaluation.
From a Strathclyde perspective, we were especially interested in logistics, such as timing of module evaluation; development and curation of question banks; design and use of aggregate reporting to maximise the benefit from the data gathered, and also had a key interest in development of related policy and guidance.
Another particular focus of our work is closing the feedback loop with our students, which aligns with our priority to encourage student engagement and empower our students to use their voice to drive enhancement.
The workshop was a wonderful forum with participants from the universities of Abertay, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Stirling, the Highlands and Islands, and the West of Scotland. All gave experiences of various systems, including Explorance Blue; and a range of approaches, some used in discrete subject areas and others implemented consistently across institutions. The University of Edinburgh, for example, shared a graphic showing a variety of student feedback mechanisms available at their institution and when it would be appropriate to use each: https://www.ed.ac.uk/students/academic-life/student-voice
Regardless of approach or stage of journey, there was a clear focus on enhancement from all participants and a desire to use our collective experience to benefit student learning and teaching across the sector.
Here are three general learnings from the event:
- Encouraging initial participation
It was agreed that if students feel their voice is heard they are more likely to participate in module evaluation feedback. However, whilst students who are ‘in class’ completing a survey are generally actively engaged, the challenge remains around engaging the rest of the population who are out of class or just generally less involved, including those less vocal, or those with lower confidence. Module/programme reps and Students’ Unions were seen to have a key role in student participation.
- Preparing students to feed back
The importance of working with students ahead of surveys, to highlight the role and importance of participation and to show what ‘good’ feedback looks like, including how to provide constructive criticism, was identified as a gap in the process and an opportunity for development. This video was a particularly useful resource: https://www.mcgill.ca/mercury/students/feedback. The importance of student feedback being anonymous was emphasised, as well as the value of a collaborative approach – working with students in partnership is found to be more effective.
- Making a difference to everyone
There is a challenge around ensuring that feeding back does indeed benefit existing and future cohorts, with timing being a key factor, including when and how feedback takes place within any given semester. Staff having a more continuous dialogue with students, not only at the very end of a module, allows the ‘closing the loop’ process to happen before assessments, increasing the benefits to students. For staff, combining module evaluation data with other feedback provides a more complete picture of the student experience.
It was clear from the workshop that institutions are building a large and useful data resource and wish to focus on ‘getting it right’ in relation to module evaluation in order to make use of this resource both effectively and responsibly. Successful module evaluation enables true enhancement of learning and teaching, and real engagement where students are assured that their input is having an impact and making a difference.
Brian Green is Deputy Associate Principal (Learning & Teaching) and Caroline Breslin is Learning Enhancement Manager at the University of Strathclyde, Times Higher Education University of the Year 2019 and Sunday Times Good University Guide Scottish University of the Year 2020.
Blue•Course evaluations•Higher education•