Student feedback and action
It is argued that the ubiquitous end-of-module student questionnaire can come too late to trigger constructive action, and so fail to offer the responsiveness that is the hallmark of effective quality assurance and quality enhancement. Mid-semester min-questionnaires or mechanisms to strengthen and coordinate informal and incidental feedback from tutors and lab demonstrators may be more effective.
Furthermore, it is important to be more sophisticated in the analysis of questionnaires, by monitoring student backgrounds and prior knowledge of the subject. It could be that 50% of students are 'satisfied with pace of lectures', but what if 40% of those who were not, were from non English speaking backgrounds? Similarly, what of the performances of those with different qualifications in the subject? Measuring their results may reveal important lessons for the future.
For more details see assessment in classes with large and diverse student intakes.
Whatever the case, it is crucial to evaluate any changes that are introduced.
Evaluation is the key to monitoring changing needs and experiences of students and as such will influence decision making and support annual planning.
Source: Student evaluation and feedback toolkit
In the booklet First Year Experience: personalisation of the first year, Case study 3 deals with a new module offered by Napier University's School of Computing. Student feedback was used not only to design the module itself, but once it was running, feedback resulted in the creation of a new elective module that was put on immediately, thus demonstrating the value of feedback in a tangible form for present students as well as those in the future.
An analysis of opportunities provided for and the use of feedback on the first-year experience by institutions was detailed in the Student expectations, experiences and reflections on the first year practice focused project, part of the First Year experience Enhancement Theme. From the evidence collected, it is clear that Scottish HEIs are actively involved in improving the feedback mechanisms and actions loops at their institutions.
Several indicated that they were undertaking initiatives to improve generic skills and IT training for first-year students and introducing Personal Development Planning. Similarly a number are looking at the student advising/personal tutoring systems, assessment, and the shape of the academic year, improved induction, and 'buddy' /mentoring schemes to see whether these might improve the student experience.
What follows gives a flavour of some of the strategic initiatives undertaken across the sector in the last five years.
- In 2005-06, the University of Strathclyde instituted a university-wide review of the first year to follow up earlier work on retention. A questionnaire on departmental views and practice in relation to the first year was issued to each Head of Department and a team from the Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement and the Academic Office then met with each Head of Department and/or nominee to discuss the issues raised. A report was produced for the University Senate, which approved an action plan for the first year for implementation across the institution by 2009. As part of this ongoing work, the Learning Enhancement Network at the University of Strathclyde held two full-day workshops on the first year and also a number of shorter sessions on specific aspects of the student experience. In 2007-08, the university set up an Education Excellence Fund to provide an investment resource to assist faculties and departments, and centres within them, to engage fully with the university's excellence agenda. Many of the proposals funded to date focus on the first year and transition experiences that enable success.
- Also in 2005-06, The Robert Gordon University constituted a First Year Experience Working Group, with the aim of building on the work undertaken by the Student Induction Working Group. The First Year Experience Working Group sought to develop an institution-wide understanding of the nature and purposes of the First Year at The Robert Gordon University. The Working Group is now seeking to engender greater institutional discussion on the first year and, in support of this, organised a conference which brought together academic and support staff and students to share practice relating to the first year. Subsequently, seven teams of staff have been provided with first-year awards, with a value of up to £500 each, to support small-scale enhancement activity, and a network of First Year Practitioners is being created.
- In 2006-07, the University of St Andrews conducted a survey of staff views on how better to 'engage students' and the University of Edinburgh Students' Association organised a forum on the first-year experience. The forum looked at freshers' week, WebCT (a virtual learning environment used in several institutions which has since been taken over by Blackboard), workload and engagement in the curriculum.
- Napier University's staff development programme includes workshops on induction, the student experience, developing scholarship skills, and students as effective learners to assist staff in enhancing the first-year experience of its students. The university has also established a Teaching Fellowship scheme to demonstrate the value it places on teaching.
- The then University of Paisley set up a Welcome/Welcome Back Working Group to look at induction issues for the first year and beyond, and also has a number of initiatives to support direct entrants to second and subsequent years of study.
- Queen Margaret University has introduced QMConnect to match new students (mentees) with trained students (mentors), who are there to help them settle in to the university, student life and study routines. The project is designed to help new entrants to orientate themselves around the university; to learn what services and facilities are available for students; to receive tips on study skills from experienced students to help them cope with the transition from school or college; and to juggle study, work and family responsibilities. All new students can apply to be matched with a mentor and the scheme operates across the university with undergraduate students from all schools and departments taking part.
- The University of Aberdeen provides an online support guide/HE toolkit and is seeking to improve pre-entry advice on study and life on campus to provide applicants with a better quality of information to help them make more informed curricula choices.
In addition to the above there is considerable activity at the level of the department and faculty/school within institutions, either as pilots for activity intended to be rolled out across the institution or as stand-alone projects.
For more detail, including the role of student associations, see analysis of university-wide initiatives to gather feedback from students.