We are living in really turbulent times, with lots of uncertainties for everyone on how we approach education, and in society more generally. In terms of capturing student feedback at this time, there are a number of things to take into account.
- Your physical location – whether your institution is based in a big city with a large population, or if you are located in a more rural area.
- Local Covid-19 context – impacting on the level of face-to-face teaching, attendance of students at their lessons, and also the physical involvement of the teachers.
- The types of students you have at your institution – the different social-economic and cultural backgrounds and the different previous levels of education, which can vary hugely between universities or university colleges.
At Erasmushogeschool Brussel, one of the challenges we face is that our student feedback data is never representative, but I also think students in our institution have a very close relationship with our teachers. Every staff member is very approachable to our students and feedback therefore finds another informal way. In these times the biggest challenge in our institution, however, is to reach the students whose feedback we need the most: these are the students who have a difficult situation at home, maybe they do not have a lot of money or are living with a lot of siblings. Those types of students are really hard to reach and are maybe not so much involved in the programme or the institution.
There is no ‘one-plan-fits-all’ solution at this time, but we are willing to be responsive to issues and concerns that are raised during these early weeks of the new academic year. We stopped organising the end-of-term evaluation so are currently working on different ways to provide teachers with feedback on their own functioning. We made a decision not to do that from the institution but to make it more the responsibility of the teacher, which will hopefully help us move to a more quality-driven culture, rather than people waiting to get feedback we gather for them. We really want to activate our staff that way.
However, we do plan in the coming weeks to take a survey of our students, especially on their wellbeing. We also need information on the blended learning experience and the distance learning experience that they had last semester given that we are still continuing this semester in the hybrid form. We organise lessons on campus because our programmes are very practical so students really need to be there for laboratory or practical exercises. We want to capture their feedback on this, and find out what elements of blended learning we need to keep and what can be improved. We did the same with a similar survey with teaching staff last semester, so now we will gather feedback from the students on this topic and see how we can adjust our policy on blended learning.
Next to our surveys that we do every semester, we also organise for every one of our programmes to have a panel discussion with students each year. That is a more informal way of capturing feedback but we do it very structurally so that it is embedded in a quality assurance cycle and provides a lot of valuable feedback for all of our programmes. We have a certain amount of topics that we ask them in these panel discussions, but there is also time and space for the students to just say what is on their mind and talk about other issues as well. The one thing we avoid doing is talk about teachers in these panel discussions, so this is the most important thing we do other than surveys.
We will be experimenting with Explorance Bluepulse this year as one option of an alternative for teacher evaluation at the end of each semester. However, we really want teachers themselves to gather feedback from their students and to think what they are going to do with it, act upon it, and improve their own teaching. We would like to ask the teachers questions such as ‘OK, how did you capture your feedback?’, ‘What did you do with it?’ and ‘Did you improve something?’ It is another approach because we think that just feedback from students is not enough to evaluate your teachers.
We currently only have a ‘push’ approach to capturing student feedback, but the concept of ‘pull’ approaches, where students have an ongoing place where they can provide feedback for whatever is on their mind, is a really interesting idea. We explored this option in the past and until now always decided that the ‘pull’ approach means there is a lot of work to be done in sorting out the feedback and what you are going to do with it. For the moment we only do ‘push’ surveys but have to be really careful we do not tire our students with these things as they get overwhelmed with mails, all kinds of messages, and questions from staff/teachers.
So that is why I am leaning towards one survey and other ways to capture feedback instead of a multitude of surveys. Every time you do a survey and give students the opportunity to give feedback you create an expectation, that expectation is to get results, and they expect that all the points they have said will be resolved quickly. You have to inform them that you have to do a whole cycle and sometimes we do not do the whole cycle as there is a multitude of stuff going on and a multitude of surveys. That is something we have to be cautious about.
That said, closing the feedback loop is something that we do at a programme and department level. It is not something we do at institution level because we are just too far away from the students. We organise a service from my department on an institutional level but then we have quality assurance staff who are really embedded in our programmes and in our departments. They inform our students, for example, by making an infographic and hanging it around campus or just talking for five minutes in a class with teachers to discuss the feedback that was gathered and what we will do with their feedback.
It is really important to make a goal of what your survey is, on what level you need to gather feedback on, and on what level the survey needs to be organised – is it institutional/ programme or teacher level? Who is responsible for this? Who needs the results and who can change the situation with the results? That is why we are changing our approach to course and teacher evaluation as it is the teachers who need this information. It is not really the institution because it is the teacher who has the influence on what is going on in the classroom.
Aina Callaert is Head of Quality Assurance at Erasmushogeschool Brussel, and was a panellist on Explorance’s ‘The first 30 days: how can universities quickly capture, and act upon, student feedback?’ webinar on 30th September
Bluepulse•Educational technology•Feedback matters•Higher education•Student insight solutions•