These briefings are for all students, but especially course reps. They cover topics like the NSS, module evaluation forms and other areas related to academic issues. If you ever want more information on any of the below, or on other topics, please email Jeremy Harvey, the Student Representation Coordinator.
The NSS, or National Student Survey, is an annual survey of almost all final year undergraduate students in the UK. It is a central plank of most of the major league tables nationally and universities around the country base a lot of their work on the feedback it gives. Many of the improvements to things that you have benefitted from (even if you don't know that you have) comes from the feedback given by students who came before you. This is why the University, and the student's union, is so keen for everyone who can to fill it in and why come March you will have heard a lot about it.
Students fill out the NSS during the final months of their last term at university via an online questionnaire. Universities spend a lot of time going over the results – seeing where they are failing, where they are doing well and as the responses are broken down by subject, there is a lot of pressure from the university centrally on schools and faculties to both get as many students as possible to fill in the survey and to come up with action plans based on the responses.
We as a student union hugely support this because it is often the best way that we have to point out problems to schools. When it comes to your role as course and faculty reps, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to get support for what you are saying if you can point to evidence. Many schools and staff are happy to take on board points that you have raised just based on feedback from your course mates, but some staff will be more open if you have something else to back that feedback up with.
The website www.unistats.com (follow the link here for a guide on using the site) can be a very useful tool. This site collates information from a number of sources, especially the NSS, and allows you to look at the results in an easy-to-follow way for your course. Alongside other information (feedback from your fellow students being the most important), you can start to build an evidence-based argument on the issues that you want to raise with your school. We can work with you to look at the data and give some guidance on the areas that your school might need to focus on and how to use the information to improve the student experience.
Later in the year, we'll also be asking for your help in getting people to fill in the NSS. There'll be more information in the future, but your direct access to the students means that you are the greatest tool that we have to encourage engagement with what we do, and that includes the NSS. At the very least, we'd hope you fill it in yourself if you're a final year student.
Module evaluation surveys are something that you will almost certainly have had emails about by now. They’re one of a number of ways the University uses to try and make ensure that what is being taught is academically rigorous, relevant and organised properly. It is part of a larger cycle of “Quality Assurance” that covers a whole range of different people and groups (such as the student surveys like the NSS, reports by academic from outside the Uni, feedback from employers and more). They feed into a constant process of reviewing and developing all the courses that the University offers and how it is organised.
Module evaluations are a key part of this whole process. It can be a really key place to make suggestions and changes because modules are the building block of what you are taught and how you are assessed and get feedback. It is because they are so important that we really encourage you to fill in these surveys, however they are delivered. Whether it is a paper copy that you are sent or via Moodle/email, all of the responses are reviewed and used to make changes to the modules and how they are organised. The responses are looked at by teaching staff and staff centrally to see if there are themes emerging across the University and to share good ideas around all the schools.
The questions cover everything from how the lecturers actually delivered the teaching, whether you found the content relevant, if the assessment was clearly explained and whether feedback was timely. These are the core parts of being a student – the day-to-day issues that are constantly raised by students. Module evaluation forms are the single easiest way to make improvements to the student experience.
As ever if you want more advice or guidance, please feel free to get in touch.
Closing the Feedback Loop
One of the most important aspects of representing students is making sure that students are told what is happening in response to the issues you raise on their behalf. This isn’t just for things that have been solved or when requests have been turned down, but at all stages. The whole point of Students’ Unions is to try and make change to improve students’ lives. Everyone has a part to play in this process, but one of the key parts that is often forgotten is keeping everyone up-to-date.
As an example, think of a student raising a problem with getting on to the Wi-Fi in one of the library rooms. Assuming that they have actually told someone, it’s likely that they’ll avoid using that space until they know the Wi-Fi is back on. If no-one tells them the problem has been fixed, that space may become totally unused. Taking it a step further, IT might think that they’ve fixed it but if no-one tells them that actually the fix hasn’t worked, how are they to know?
This is why we call it a loop, and as the image above shows, it’s all about making sure that the changes that we make are actually working. We need to know if we are being effective, and ensuring that people know what work we have done is the best way of finding this out.
Having an unclosed feedback loop also means that students may be less likely to fill in surveys and take an active part in representation systems. Without knowing whether or not problems have been taken on board and addressed, students will question why they should bother taking part in these processes. This is where another way of closing the feedback loop can be used.
It’s not just when students come to you with issues that you can feedback on. It’s also the opinions and suggestions of past students that you can feedback to current students. For example, you can find out what last year’s students thought by looking at the NSS results (www.unistats.com should have information on your course) – you can ask students if they still agree with them on where the problems lie in your school.
Ultimately, we all want student representation to be as effective as it can be. Students want the best from their time at university, universities want their students to be happy and unions want to effect lasting change. Making sure everyone is informed and the feedback loop is being closed is the most effective way of making that happen. As ever, you can always get in touch with us in the SU for more advice and support.