Factoring surveys and evaluation into modelling sustainable practices within Higher Education

When I was asked to contribute to a panel discussion around Sustainable Citizenship at the recent AdvanceHE Island of Ireland Symposium, it really got my cogs turning.

As a human being on planet Earth, as an educator, and most importantly, as a parent, I have strong views about the importance of Sustainable Citizenship; about people taking personal responsibility for ensuring that they, their children, their children’s children and so on, take all steps necessary to ensure the place where we live not only survives but thrives.

But, I needed to approach this discussion from a professional perspective. What is the role and value of the higher education sector in modelling sustainable practices and developing competencies in sustainability? More specifically, how might the use of survey and evaluation software within institutions factor into this?

Surveys are basic democracy in action

Actually, there was a lot more to say on this topic than I originally thought. And a lot of it hinges on the student voice.

What is unique about survey automation is that it enables institutions to quickly and easily gain insights into what is bothering students, what they care about, how they might want their institutions to be more responsible.  The last few years have been dramatic, and young voices have been heard much more clearly now in relation to topics like climate emergency, black lives matter, the me too movement, gender identity, economic crises, employability and levelling up.  

At its very core, using surveys and evaluation within higher education to seek opinion from each student, be it at the modular, programme, or cohort level, is a democratic process.  Having your voice heard and, importantly, seeing action taken as a result of that voice, can set you on a path where willingly offering your opinion when asked becomes second nature.

Learning to give an opinion through early participation in surveys/evaluation at university, receiving acknowledgement of that feedback, and understanding how student voices can facilitate change across institutions, and impact those coming behind, indicates that voices matter.  And people who know their voices matter may be more inclined to use those voices more frequently throughout their lives.

Laying the groundwork for sustainable citizenship

Within the context of sustainable citizenship, the student voice is about the voice of the citizen. As students move through life, a history of providing feedback and seeing the impact of that feedback encourages future participation around issues that matter to them.  And people who participate in issues that matter to them have the makings of excellent global citizens.

The role of a university isn’t only about educating students in their chosen fields, it’s also about helping them develop personal and professional skills that have a lasting positive impact on the students, their peers and the wider world.

How does a digital survey and evaluation system feature in helping students to become successful and responsible citizens of the world? With technological, ecological, economic, cultural, and moral threats facing modern humanity, students need to learn to use their voice, to use it responsibly, and, within the context of sustainable citizenship, use it robustly to create and govern a more sustainable world. A robust, 360° process for collecting, analysing, responding to and acting on feedback helps students to see themselves as responsible agents for social change; change that positively impacts on their own cohort, and the cohorts that will follow them.

Even better, a robust evaluation process within a university views students as partners, co-creators in the feedback process, providing staff and students with an equal voice in facilitating changes needed at institution-level.  And what can be more democratic than that?

How surveys help with Sustainable Citizenship 2

Engaged students who know that their opinions are valued, and acted on, are more satisfied and also more likely to participate in future surveys. When we ignore, tokenise and neglect the voice of students then we utterly fail in preparing them to take up their roles in a democratic society. Therefore, our pedagogy must reflect democratic processes, so that students’ voices are heard, and all students feel safe, respected and cared for – and have the opportunity to learn the rights, requirements, and responsibilities of 21st century citizenship in a global context.

Every aspect of involving students in major enhancements, changes and decisions within an institution lays the groundwork for a lifetime of partnership working, providing feedback, working for the greater good and understanding that using your voice can make a real difference.

How we support Higher Education to develop sustainable citizenship

While universities have a box full of tools they can use to encourage sustainability, it is their graduates that will likely have the highest impact on sustainable development.  How can a company like evasys support the higher education sector to help graduates to become sustainable citizens?

Universities throughout the UK and Ireland are working towards success in delivering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in three key areas:

  • Teaching – supporting staff and students

  • Outreach – working with local, regional, national or international communities

  • Stewardship – considering how ways of working impact on students and staff

In the context of Stewardship, and how ways of working may impact the wellbeing of staff and students, evasys has learned through many years of working with UK and Irish institutions that:

  • Using a digital survey tool streamlines capturing the student voice – easing pressure on staff and making the process simpler for students

  • It’s good practice to use your digital evaluation process to run Pulse Surveys that measure the wellbeing of students, monitoring engagement and alerting to potential attrition or other important issues

  • Closing the student feedback loop is a critical component of capturing and acting on the student voice, and should be a built-in feature of the survey process

  • Closing the loop also helps with engagement and retention – and increased response rates

  • When lecturers use a closing the loop feature it not only speeds up the feedback process, but helps them to reflect on and refine modules, improving job satisfaction and student experience

All of the above make for a more consistent and cohesive evaluation process for students and staff. In turn, this reduces effort, friction and stress for faculty and students, whilst providing consistency of approach, reporting and analysis at institution level. 

Couple this with the culture of continual feedback and enhancement that provides a foundation for life-long engagement, and I think I’ve wrapped my head around how something as simple as a digital survey solution can be a small but key component in building a positive approach to sustainable citizenship.

For further information on how evasys can help your institution to prepare students to have a successful role within a democratic society, please get in touch.
Dr Helena Lim B

Dr Helena Lim, Head of Opportunities, evasys

For more than 25 years, I have worked in UK higher education, including senior roles at Southampton Solent University and the Higher Education Academy (now Advance HE), and founding the UK and Ireland Higher Education Institutional Research (HEIR) Network.  I’ve held Honorary Fellowships with University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University, and I have lectured at University of Bath, Southampton Solent University and the Open University

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