Expanding on The Four Cs, let’s dive into the insights and experiences discussed by our expert panel.
Build a culture of student participation and staff engagement
When we talk about significant cultural change and stakeholder engagement being required to increase NSS scores, we often focus on the numbers. However, it’s also important to consider the relationships between students and staff that enable the high-quality culture needed to boost those NSS results for the longer term.
It is generally understood that the engagement of staff is linked to engagement of students – in that students need to know that are being heard and responded to. But less acknowledged is the understanding that students are the eyes and ears within universities, and it’s crucial that staff listen to and understand the points made by student representatives before jumping to respond (or, sometimes, defend).
And that can be tricky. In processes that are centrally managed, it is easy for staff to feel divorced from the process, with no say in the questions that are being asked of the students.
Therefore, it’s even easier for staff to not be engaged in providing feedback. To remedy this, there needs to be a focus on training, development and support for module leaders so that they become engaged – and have the chance to input – throughout the whole process.
Conor from London Met summarised the key problem with disengaged staff rather neatly: “If academic staff do not buy into the value of surveys, then high response rates aren’t achieved.”
And that’s the truth. With staff bought in and encouraging students to respond – often, in fact, setting time aside in lectures to allow students to complete surveys – survey response rates go up.
All of our Cs are, in some way, about engaging students in the process, so do read on. Culturally, however, the very process of closing that feedback loop consistently – acknowledging the feedback and communicating the outcomes, whether action will be taken or not, is key to engaging students in the ongoing process of providing feedback.
Facilitate open communication between staff and students
Often, students wonder what the point to giving feedback is, when they perceive that nothing gets done.
The critical components here are communication and opening up a dialogue. By moving away from the transactional “you said we did” to a dialogic approach, you can begin to see the whole process as a genuine partnership between staff and students.
During the webinar, Harriet noted: “Students were saying so strongly last year (2021), that they weren’t very happy with some of the online elements of the blended learning, but we couldn’t do anything to change that – because the government wouldn’t allow us to do a lot of the face to face teaching. Students felt like they weren’t being listened to but we had to do it that particular way”
Tina noted that often there is a misinterpretation of “feedback”, where there is an expectation that action will be taken, but this can’t always happen – and it’s important to respond to that too.
As a baseline, all feedback must be considered and there needs to be communication about whether action can or can’t be taken and what the reasons are. And if action can be taken, what that the next steps are.
Tina explained: “For me, the key for success in terms of helping students understand that their voices are being heard is staff ownership of the feedback process. It’s important that staff have control and ownership of not just what they’re hearing, but then the actions and the communication that they can take in response to that.”
Involve students as co-creators
Getting students involved, leveraging student representatives and providing staff ownership of the feedback started, for all four universities, with the idea of students and staff as co-creators in the feedback process.
With co-leadership and communication, the institutions facilitated the cultural shift required to get to the point where staff and students have an equal voice in creating the changes needed at institution-level.
For example, Portsmouth University developed a new Student Voice Policy that highlighted the value placed on student views and provided options on how the institution would work with students to make a difference on learning and teaching delivery, based on their feedback.
Harriet explains: “As part of that Student Voice Policy, there is a real expectation that students are absolute partners with us on everything around quality assurance, and how we actually deliver learning and teaching.”
Similarly, at Middlesex University, Sean explains:
“I started meeting regularly with all of the student representatives and I found that incredibly helpful. Such insightful, mature comments and feedback from students. It was very constructive, very mutually supportive, but also understanding of the staff context. I don’t think I could have done what I was doing without working alongside students. I think that their feedback was absolutely invaluable and actually reinforced my commitment to a partnership approach.”
Focus on continual enhancement as an intrinsic part of the feedback process
Some changes in universities take longer to implement than others, but it’s so important for students to be involved in enhancement processes and quality reviews. By bringing together staff, students, quantitative data and qualitative data, it’s possible to get a full picture and understand “the unknown unknowns” of where enhancement is needed.
Harriet explains: “We used focus groups to better understand the data we got from surveys. And then we gauged from that what we needed to change in our learning and teaching, so that we could make changes for the current academic year and then for the academic year to follow. We’re asking our students about their learning and teaching to inform the future, and I think it’s really important to keep on with that continual enhancement on an ongoing basis. It’s very important, again, for students to be involved in enhancement processes and quality reviews at all times.”