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Synopsis: Student leaders have provided us with valuable insight on how feedback efforts are perceived by Higher Ed students throughout the pandemic. In this blog post, John Atherton, GM Europe & Africa with Explorance, examines some of the reactions and attitudes that have been revealed.
Explorance’s recent report, ‘Module evaluation in a pandemic and beyond: What is student leaders ‘ask’ of universities gathering their views on teaching and learning?’ brought together some interesting perspectives from student leaders on their personal experiences of module evaluation surveys.
The Students’ Union representatives featured in this insightful report pinpointed common issues around survey administration, poor understanding of questions, low response rates, lack of communication regarding how feedback was being used, and students’ perception of not personally benefitting from feedback.
The perception gap between how universities approached module evaluation surveys during the respondants’ studies, and how surveys are currently administered (and the strategic value derived from them) strikes me as a challenge that needs to be overcome.
For example, Angel Layer, former Vice President (Education and Democracy) and Research and Insights Assistant at University of Portsmouth Students’ Union, who is now working as a Policy and Projects Coordinator at the University of Roehampton, recalled:
“In my first term studying, in 2015, our module evaluation surveys were undertaken on paper, with the forms passed around in the lecture to over 100 students. I remember thinking that if we were to complete these over five minutes at the start of a lecture, then students would be likely to fill them out better. If they were done in five minutes at the end of the lecture then students would generally rush, or not complete these. I would frantically circle numbers related to each question and not say what I really wanted to say.”
Angel continued, “For the second term, module evaluation surveys moved from lecture to seminar, and with the tutor present we definitely took more time to complete these. For students not in the lecture/seminar, I assumed they would not complete surveys at all. I do not remember seeing this process change any further until my final year in 2019, by which point surveys moved online.”
“No impact on current students” was a particular criticism aimed at module evaluation surveys in the report. Regent’s University London Student Union Vice President Academic Affairs Anya Nikolaeva said that, in her experience as a student, peers would not go out of their way to complete these if they were not in class. The self-motivation to give feedback that would only benefit the next cohort was not there. This sentiment was shared by others.
Lexi Ehresmann, Vice President Education at University of Stirling Students’ Union also stressed timing as an issue. “During my studies we undertook a module evaluation survey in the final week or two of each semester, meaning we had completed almost the entire module, which was helpful for staff and informing the following year but not for the current cohort,” Lexi told us. Aston Students’ Union Vice President (Education) Jawad Ahmad, agreed: “I remember a time when only 1% of the whole year group completed their module evaluation survey. These surveys were always undertaken at the end of term when students would generally not feel the benefits themselves.” Not great recollections.
The other criticism was a lack of clarity on how feedback is used. “I can remember thinking at the time that I do not know quite what happens to the feedback I am giving,” said Reading University Students’ Union Education Officer George Ingram. Other student leaders highlighted inconsistencies in practice, including lecturer preference for inviting feedback in first place as well as what is actually done with the information. Fanni Zombor, Vice President Engagement at Open University Students Association, suggested that ‘unheard voices’ were an issue. “We only really get to hear the extremes: so really happy students or really upset students, and the happy medium voices get lost,” she explained.
We cannot, and should not, hide from these criticisms of module evaluation surveys while pushing for better management of the Student Experience. They are, after all, based on student leaders’ own personal experiences and are therefore authentic. However, whilst practices in some institutions have not changed significantly over the years, and challenges remain, other universities have been engineering success based on innovations which began well before the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is our responsibility as experts to change perceptions of what module evaluation surveys are today, to share best practices, showing universities what is possible in terms of quality assurance and quality enhancement purposes.
John Atherton, General Manager (Europe and Africa), Explorance
Higher education•Student Experience Management•Student feedback•