It is important that consideration of student feedback is integrated into the regular cycles of module review, annual programme review and the educational enhancement process. Apart from embedding the practice, this ensures survey findings are not be treated in isolation but considered alongside statistics such as retention rates and graduate employment rates, and other kinds of feedback. Ideally, named individuals should be responsible for ensuring both that student feedback is properly considered and that an action plan is developed and implemented. Beyond this, for student feedback to be effective in enhancing quality, the information collected needs to be examined and understood, and the key messages emerging from the data identified.
Listen and be open to change
Student feedback can sometimes be perceived as challenging or negative. But it offers a unique perspective on teaching and the University’s services, and needs to be seen as a key element in routine professional self-reflection. Ask the question, “What can we learn from finding out how students experience learning and teaching, or the university experience?
Recognise the diversity of student views
Different students can experience learning and teaching, and the University facilities differently. For example, some students may enjoy group projects while others may find them challenging. This will be reflected in their feedback and can make responses seem inconsistent. Recognising that this diversity of opinion exists gives an insight into the diverse needs of students, which if acted upon can improve the experience of the student body as a whole.
Survey data should be used to help identify areas where action be need to be take in order to improve the student experience. It can be tempting to pay more attention to those student comments that stand out from the rest. It is important, however, to see if there are any common themes and how these relate to the wider context. The more unique comments can then be understood in this context.
Where improvements have been introduced, survey data can be used to evidence both the processes involved and the outcomes associated with the interventions. In short survey results can be used to underpin decision-making within a subject area.
Respond to Student Feedback
When students take time to give feedback it is important that this is acknowledged by responding to that feedback. Equally, it is important to show future cohorts of students what changes that have been made as a result of comments offered by their predecessors. Responding to student feedback does not simply mean fulfilling student requests: it is considering how to align student expectations with institutional learning and teaching goals. In some cases, the appropriate response by be accepting and implementing student recommendations, but in other cases it might be helping students see the value or purpose of something that they have identified as useless or unhelpful. Whatever the case, it is important to communicate to students how the issues they have raised will be addressed.
Dispelling concerns about student feedback
Perception: Very few students participate in surveys or give feedback on their experience
Reality: The University’s FYE and SYE have consistently achieved response rates of 30% or more. The response rate for the NSS is around 60% for Queen’s. These response rates equate to over 1000 students participating in each of the FYE and SYE, and over 1500 in the NSS. These are significant cohorts. An over emphasis on response rates risks making the student feedback process mechanical as opposed to thoughtful and reflective.
Perception: Only students who have had negative experiences give feedback
Reality: If only disgruntled students participated in surveys then scores in all areas would be consistently low and feedback comments would be consistently negative. The reality is that students at Queen’s offer carefully thought out and deliberate feedback on their experiences. Using the NSS as an example, scores have been consistently above 4.0 in all areas with the exception assessment and feedback, academic support, and organisation and management. The fact that students give high scores in some areas and lower scores in others indicates that they have taken a measured approach to offering feedback.
Perception: Students don’t understand the questions in student feedback surveys
Reality: The questionnaire used in the FYE, SYE and NSS consists of attitudinal statements. The statements are clear and easy to read and understand, and require students to express their degree of agreement on a scale ranging from “definitely agree” to “definitely disagree” The statements are clearly grouped into sections, for example, “the teaching on my course” or “assessment and feedback”; this promotes coherence, decreases error variance and increases reliability. In addition to the statements, there are opportunities for students to comment freely. The carefully considered and often detailed nature of the overwhelming majority of these comments is evidence that students understand the questions and welcome the opportunity to reflect upon and rate their student experience.
Perception: The questions used in student feedback surveys do not relate to my subject area
Reality: The questionnaire used in the FYE, SYE and NSS is relevant to all degree programmes and provides data on the generalities of the student experience. There may be some specialised aspects of individual programmes which may not be covered. This re-inforces the point that survey results should not be considered in isolation but alongside other indicators of student satisfaction, for example, information gathered through module and teacher evaluations and Student Staff Consultative Committees.
Perception: Student feedback is used to assess staff rather than change the student experience
Reality: Student feedback data provides important diagnostic evidence which teaching staff can reflect upon and use to understand and improve their performance. It gives indications of teaching effectiveness which is vital to ensuring teaching quality.