Capturing student feedback early in their first year at TU Dublin

TU Dublin helps new students to settle in and thrive with evasys

As part of TU Dublin’s strategy for student success and retention, the institution’s Student Success team were keen to gather feedback from first-year students early in the academic year to understand their experiences before joining and in the early weeks of beginning their courses.

Dave Kilmartin, Senior Manager, Student Success at TU Dublin led the process of designing, implementing and issuing the survey, supported by evasys and his wider team. The survey merged a previous question set around pre-arrival with new questions centred on orientation, engagement, connection, belonging and wellbeing. Additionally, the UK’s pilot Being, Belonging, Becoming survey was reviewed, with a range of questions from that selected for inclusion.

“The focus of this survey is on actual lived experience of the students. We’re looking through different lenses to understand the experiences of enrolling, starting and then settling into university. We want to know how students are really feeling, and how they are engaging with the university experience. This helps us to plan enhancements and strategies to make sure that students are successful at TU Dublin.”

TUD roundDave Kilmartin, Senior Manager, Student Success

This new first-year survey provides more granular and richer information on how students are settling in and orienting to their new surroundings. Data harvested from the survey is recorded on a course by course basis, and then aggregated by school, which helps to pinpoint required interventions. In addition to supporting student success, the survey set up is helpful for academic colleagues to identify any challenges by course or school for new students.

evasys Customers

Process and results

Launching the first-year survey with evasys provided a host of additional functionality that was not available via the tool used for the previous pre-arrival survey – SurveyMonkey.

In addition to harnessing the experience of the evasys team in supporting a range of pre-arrival and student belonging surveys across the UK and Irish HE sectors, the evasys platform itself delivers  existing integrations with other institutional systems and channels for student access, as well as providing insightful reports for institution-wide, school or course results.

The survey was created, implemented and issued to all first-year students within a very short timescale, and still achieved an almost 30% response rate from 1,600 students. TU Dublin used a range of initiatives to encourage participation, including emails, alerts, QR codes, incentives and student ambassadors. The most fruitful method of achieving student participation was to brief academic colleagues to communicate the survey in class, and provide a short timeslot for students to complete the survey on their mobile phones.

“The classroom initiative was by far and away the most successful route for achieving survey response rates. This was helped by the support we got from Bruce and the evasys team in terms of QA for the survey, to make sure it was fit for purpose and easily navigated. We really benefitted from the experience that evasys have in administering these kinds of surveys across their client base. It’s been very helpful.”

TUD roundDave Kilmartin, Senior Manager, Student Success

The evasys survey set up used allowed students to see up-front the number of questions to answer and the consistent use of Likert scales made it faster and easier to answer for students, and provided at-a-glance, actionable insights for the TU Dublin team.  The Student Success team have created a Community of Practice to review and analyse the survey results, leading to the creation of an action plan that will be fed back to students – closing the feedback loop.

The team at TU Dublin are delighted to have achieved an almost 30% response rate for this first iteration of the survey, particularly as the national – now paused for 2024 – only achieved a 21% completion rate when it was last run.  And with that pause on the national student survey in Ireland, it’s more important than ever for institutions to actively listen to the student voice from within their own campuses.

“In terms of the survey results, the feedback has been amazing. We’ve presented it right up to the University Executive Team, student experience teams and various student services teams. Everybody wants the data and the fact that we can break it down from faculty right down to each course is brilliant.” 

TUD roundJohn O’Carroll, Student Success Manager

Actions and interventions

Overall, the results of TU Dublin’s first-year student survey were very positive and the team there found that evasys was a great system to use. In particular, the Likert Scales provided an instant view of which way student sentiment was leaning, and the free-text section at the end of the survey allowed for sentiment analysis and identification of trends.

The Student Success team set up a Community of Practice to review survey results and create strategies to support first year students. Focus groups have been set up with students to focus on trending areas such as student belonging and the transition to college to enable key points to be fleshed out further with students and appropriate actions planned and taken. With five different campuses, it’s critical that TU Dublin understands the specifics of how students feel about their individual locations and the focus groups are helping to hone in on that.

Other trends identified from the survey results cover topics ranging from campus safety to the cost of catering, providing opportunities to address issues outside of the classroom as well as any academic challenges raised.

Once the focus groups with students are completed, the Community of Practice will reconvene to discuss actions and set out a list of recommendations to bring to senior management. In the meantime, plans are already in place to improve orientation for the next cohort, including introducing more icebreaker events to encourage peer engagement and that all important sense of belonging.

“We know that a sense of belonging has a big impact on how students view their university experience. If you feel you belong there, you’re more likely to settle in and make friends. That’s such an important aspect and it’s something that we’re looking at, again, probably in terms of further enhancing our orientation process. That socialisation piece and just getting to know people around them is critical. So, the early engagement is really, really important”

TUD roundDave Kilmartin, Senior Manager, Student Success

In terms of closing the feedback loop with students, TU Dublin will communicate the survey results and action plan to all students, highlighting the issues uncovered and how they will be alleviated. Where challenges are currently insurmountable, for example if not financially viable for the university, the reasons will also be communicated to students.

TU Dublin helps new students to settle in and thrive with evasys

The work that TU Dublin has carried out in surveying first year students to understand more about their new experience of university very much echoes the current trend in UK and Irish universities around using surveys both pre-arrival and to evaluate student belonging. A focus on meeting students where they are and smoothing the transition to higher education is mission-critical to student retention and success.  Further resources on the topics of pre-arrival and student belonging can be found in the following references list.

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