Student voice: a guide for staff

Learning from student feedback

Our students' feedback is vital in developing and improving the experience we offer both now and in the future. We need to learn from students and respond to their voice to ensure that we maintain a high quality student experience.

The University of Plymouth gathers the student voice both formally and informally through multiple mechanisms. The insights drawn from different sources help us to understand and reflect on the student experience and to prioritise where our actions should be made when seeking to develop new initiatives and make enhancements to current services and provision.

It is vital for staff to communicate with students about the actions that have been taken as result of their feedback.

This should also include a rationale for any action not taken as a result of student feedback. We hope that this will increase student motivation to make use of the wide range of opportunities and mechanisms available leading to increasingly effective and constructive engagement.

[Student voice] is important because universities are communities of learning. That community is achieved through a partnership between staff and students and …this opens up possibilities for authentic and constructive dialogue, offering the opportunity for more holistic and reflective feedback and enhancement of learning (Peart 2009).

'Students bring an essential perspective for creating a success-oriented learning environment’ Kezar (2005, p.2). 


Four stage approach

Teaching and Learning Support suggest the following four stage approach:

Stage one – Listening to the student voice

Stage two – Reviewing the data

Stage three – Action

Stage four – Communicating a response

(Collings, 2018)

Stage one – listening to the student voice

How can the student voice be gathered?


At Plymouth we gather information formally and informally through multiple mechanisms. These include data, feedback, comments and requests continually collected through:

Collecting the student voice through national and UoP surveys.

The NSS, PGTSS and SPQ surveys now include statements about student voice for students to either agree or disagree with, including:

Question 23:                                                                                                          UoP (2017) 84.4%
‘I have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on my course’

Question 24:                                                                                                           UoP (2017) 75.6%
‘Staff value students’ views and opinions about the course’

Question 25:                                                                                                            UoP (2017) 59.5%
‘It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on’

Question 26:                                                                                                             UoP (2017) 61.3%
‘The Students’ Union (association or guild) effectively represents students’ academic interests’


Other ways of collecting the student voice

Stage two – reviewing the data

“The ‘easy’ response to feedback from students is to find the errors in in it. The difficult response to feedback from students is to realise that what they are giving voice to is of genuine concern to them and that this matters.” (Blair, 2017)

Much of the data we collect is via open comment boxes in surveys (including module evaluation, SPQ, NSS and PGTSS, feedback boxes, SSLC, PALS, SSTAR, Complaints and Appeals and student research). It is important that these comments are used in a way that informs future practice.

By sorting the comments and the quantitative data into themes, we can arrange action based on the number of times certain issues are mentioned and what kind of suggestions are made.


Consideration should be given to a number of issues  to enable action to follow, such as:

  • Consider timescales (long/short term)
  • Identify lead person to take responsibility
  • Identify how changes will be actioned
  • How will the responses be communicated?
  • Involving students and/or course reps in this process
  • Involving academic, professional and support staff in the process

These wil be added to any student voice action plan or school business plan. 

Stage three – action

Taking Action

A student voice  action plan with timescales in response to te student voice should be developed inconjunction with academic and professional staff and students. These actions may be added to the school business plan. 

An example of developing and discussing  potential actions is to hold the SSLC in three parts: 

1. Students meet with a facilitator (who is not responsible for marking) to discuss issues and potential solutions. Ideas might be collected on flipchart paper, post-it notes or a whiteboard.

2. The student group with the facilitator presents their ideas and potential solutions to module and programme staff.

3. Staff and students discuss these and develop an action plan taking into account all factors.

It is useful to consider exploring how other schools and programmes have addressed issues raised. Drawing on experiences of this from across the higher education sector as well as internally can often offer solutions efficiently and effectively.

Examples of the impact of student voice

1. The UPSU Education Officer campaigned for feedback on all assessments including exams – an examination feedback toolkit was developed and in June 2016 the Assessment Policy was updated. “Students will receive provisional marks on all assessed work, including examinations, with personal, group or general feedback as soon as possible, and within a maximum of 20 working days.” Students wanted clear information about assessment and feedback. Teaching and Learning Support funded UPSU to develop and publish the Student Assessment Handbook.

2. The Plymouth Compass was shaped through consultation with fifty students and graduates.

3. UPSU reported that the following initiatives were developed through UPSU student voice:

  • 24 opening hours in the library
  • SSTAR Awards
  • Influenced a fee freeze for international students
  • Creation of the A-Z of student help on the website
  • Improved student advice resources
  • The agreement for a second student governor on the Board of Governors
  • More student representation at high level university decision making meetings (for example,the Senate)

Stage four – communicating a response

It is essential that staff acknowledge and communicate a rationale for both any action and inaction to a wide audience including students, academic and professional staff.

  • Communicate to the school and course representatives the outcome of listening to students’ voice.
  • Communicate the response to students via the course DLE pages or a closed social media group.
  • Consider developing programme or school level 'You said, we did...' pages.
  • Feed back the response, actions or inactions to the student body, course representatives and teaching and professional staff at programme and at school committee meetings.
  • When communicating a response to any potential inaction ensure a rationale for this decision is included.

The University of Plymouth student voice web pages in the 'You said, we did...' section illustrates how student voice/feedback is acted upon.

See the below examples that are currently being used for psychology.

Resources and research

Resources

The Student Engagement (TSEP) webpages contain a range of resources on student voice and representation

Guidance for staff: how to capture and use the student voice to enhance academic practice hearing the student voice: Involving students in curriculum design and delivery. ESCalate project (2009)

University of Edinburgh Student Voice Policy

Community Feedback Boxes

These can be developed through Survey Monkey and be housed on the front page of the programme DLE. School of Psychology and the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry regularly use this method offering students the opportunity of giving anonymous feedback but the option of leaving their email address. The feedback is then discuss with staff and student course representatives. The responses are then published on the ‘You said, we did..’ pages of the Psychology programme DLE.

Research

Austin, E. (2018) ‘It ain’t what we do, it’s the way that we do it’ – researching student voices. WonkHE https://wonkhe.com/blogs/it-aint-what-we-do-its-the-way-that-we-do-it-researching-student-voices/

Bryson,C. (2016) Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education Taylor & Francis

Blair.E (2017) Hearing the student voice: finding value in feedback.
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/education/2017/05/04/hearing-the-student-voice-finding-value-in-feedback/

Blair,E. et al (2014) Evaluation in Higher Education, 2014 - srhe.tandfonline.com
Improving higher education practice through student evaluation systems: is the student voice being heard?

Brooman,S; Darwent,S;, & Pimor, A.(2015)
The student voice in higher education curriculum design: is there value in listening? Innovations in Education Taylor & Francis

Bunce, L; Baird, A; & Jones, SE. (2017)
The student-as-consumer approach in higher education and its effects on academic performance Studies in Higher Education, 2017 - Taylor & Francis

Couldry, N. (2009). Rethinking the politics of voice. Continuum: Journal of Media and
Cultural Studies, 23: 4, 579-582.

Corso, M. & Quaglia, R. (2014) Student Voice: The Instrument of Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Edstrom, K. (2008). Doing course evaluation as if learning matters most. Higher Education Research and Development, 27: 2, 95-106.

ESCalate (2009) Hearing the student voice project: Promoting and encouraging the effective use of the student voice to enhance professional development in learning, teaching and assessment within higher education; Final report

Fielding, M. (2004) ‘Transformative approaches to student voice: theoretical underpinnings, recalcitrant realities.’ British Educational Research Journal, 30(2), 295- 311.

Healey, M., Flint, A. & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. Higher Education Academy: York.

McLeod, J. (2011). Student voice and the politics of listening in higher education.
Critical Studies in Education, 52: 2, 179-189. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17508487.2011.572830

Rudduck, J; &Fielding, M. (2006) Student voice and the perils of popularity Educational Review Volume 58, Issue 2, pages 219-231

Seale, J. (2009). Doing student voice work in higher education: an exploration of the
value of participatory methods. British Education Research Journal, 36: 6, 995-1015.

Stubbs, M. (2013) Five top Tips to enhance your students experience. JISC blog
https://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/5-top-tips-to-enhance-your-students-experience-11-mar-2013

Surgenor, P. (2010). Student feedback: responding constructively.
https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/Student%20Feedback%20Responding%20Constructively.pdf

Swain, H.(2017) How can universities ensure their students are satisfied? Guardian online
https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/sep/11/how-can-universities-ensure-their-students-are-satisfied

Watson, S. (2003). Closing the feedback loop: ensuring effective action from student feedback. Tertiary Education and Management, 9: 2, 145-157