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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

5.3.2 Policy statement on obtaining and using student feedback - Obtaining feedback on the student learning experience

Please note: this policy is currently under review in light of changes to the University MEQ process.

1. The University is committed to using a broad range of methods for obtaining feedback on the student learning experience, with the choice of method being made in light of the reason why feedback is being sought, and the nature of the issue(s) being considered. These methods include:

a. Formal representation on University, faculty and departmental committees, including Staff-Student Consultative Committees.

b. Direct communication between staff and students.

c. Module and programme questionnaires.

d. University-wide questionnaires, for example National Student Survey, International Student Barometer.

e. Focus groups.

f. The annual report process for research students.

g. Student involvement in programme approval, monitoring and review processes.

This list is not, and cannot be, exhaustive. Rather it is illustrative of the range of approaches that departments might take to obtaining feedback on the student learning experience.

Departmental policies on obtaining feedback on the student learning experience

2. The University expects departments to use a range of methods for obtaining feedback from students. In particular, it lays particular emphasis on the importance of the student representative system and stresses that student questionnaires should not be the only mechanism for gathering and considering student feedback.

3. This policy statement, and the associated policy statement on student representation, set out a framework within which departments are expected to develop, in consultation with students, an approach to student engagement that utilises a range of methods for obtaining, and responding to, student feedback. This University framework is intended to be sufficiently broad to allow departments (both staff and students) to develop an approach to student feedback that is appropriate to their disciplinary, pedagogical and organisational context.

4. Consequently, all departments are expected to:

a. Develop for consideration for approval by the board of studies, in consultation with students, a departmental policy on obtaining and using student feedback.

b. Ensure that all students are made aware of this policy, for example via duo, departmental websites, programme handbooks etc.

5. All departmental policies on obtaining and using student feedback should:

a. Outline the range of mechanisms the department will use to obtain student feedback, and the circumstances in which it will use each of the mechanisms.

b. Detail where student feedback will be considered; how students will be involved in the consideration of this feedback; and how the results of this consideration will be fed back to the student body as a whole.

6. To ensure effective student engagement it is vital that that students are aware of the value that a department places on the feedback it receives, the ways in which their feedback will be used, how they will be informed of action taken in response to feedback and that the timing and frequency of the mechanisms for obtaining feedback is underpinned by a clear strategy. Consequently departmental policies on obtaining and using student feedback should be publicised to all students, and the expectation is that they should be concise (normally no more than one to two sides of A4).

Student representation

7. The student representative system should be at the heart of every department's approach to obtaining and using student feedback. It is of such importance that a separate policy statement on this area has been developed, and departments should refer to that statement when developing their departmental strategy.

Direct communication between staff and students

8. Much valuable feedback can be gained through the formal and informal direct communication between staff and students. This takes place through normal day-to-day interaction (for example issues raised by students as part of teaching sessions, through meetings or email correspondence between staff and students). Opportunities for this type of feedback may also be provided in a more structured way. Examples of this type of activity include (but are not limited to):

a. The use of electronic 'audience response' systems within teaching sessions.

b. Allocating time within scheduled teaching sessions for students to provide feedback direct to teaching staff (for example giving all students three post its and asking them to identify the three key things they have learnt from a session or the issues that they still don't understand; or what they feel has been the most effective part of the session, the least effective part of the session and a suggestion for something that was not included in the session but which they would have found useful).

c. The use of suggestion boxes (for example, in a teaching room, or in another agreed location).

Departmental module and level/programme questionnaires

9. Questionnaires play an important role in all student feedback systems. The University recognises the value of questionnaires as a means of obtaining feedback, but believes that the use of questionnaires needs to be balanced with other mechanisms that yield different, often richer, information on the experience of students (for example SSCCs). It is also aware that administering, answering and analysing questionnaires demand significant amounts of staff and student time, and is conscious of the need to respect the many demands on the time of both staff and students.

10. Consequently, the University's expectation is that departments should as a minimum administer questionnaires for taught programmes on the following basis:

a. Either module questionnaires administered on a two-year rolling basis, so that half of the taught modules delivered in a given academic year are the subject of a module questionnaire;

b. Or module questionnaires administered on a three-year rolling basis, so that one third of taught modules delivered in a given academic year are the subject of a module questionnaire, and an end of level/programme questionnaire.

Where departments choose not to administer a programme/level questionnaire, module questionnaires should include a question(s) on how the module in question has fitted into their programme of study as a whole (this may refer to coherence, progression or contrast with other modules as appropriate).

11. In addition, where in a given year a module meets any of the following criteria it should be the subject of a module questionnaire:

a. The module is new, or has undergone significant changes since the previous academic year.

b. A probationary member of staff is making a significant contribution to the delivery of the module.

c. A module has received negative feedback from students in the preceding year.

d. The SSCC, departmental EC or the Head of Department feel that there is a specific reason for a module to be the subject of a questionnaire in that academic year.

12. Paragraphs 10 and 11 set out the University's minimum requirements in terms of administering questionnaires for taught programmes. Departments may exceed these if they wish (in particular, departments subject to accreditation by Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies may need to do so, or to run other questionnaires, in order to meet the requirements of their PSRB), but the University encourages all departments to consider carefully the full range of student feedback mechanisms they employ before deciding to exceed the University's minimum requirements. The frequency with which a department chooses to administer questionnaires should be specified in the departmental policy on obtaining and using student feedback.

13. Student questionnaires should be designed and used with methodological rigour. To support this, workshops on the design and analysis of questionnaires will be offered each year within the Academic Staff Development Programme.

14. As a minimum, the University expects all module questionnaires to cover the following areas:

a. Module content.

b. Issues around the modes of learning and teaching.

c. Issues around the modes of assessment.

d. Learning resources.

e. Where a programme/level questionnaire is not used, the way in which the module in question fits into their programme of study as a whole.

In addition, all questionnaires must give students the opportunity to make additional, free text comments.

15. Where level/programme questionnaires are used, as a minimum these should cover the following areas:

a. Overall satisfaction.

b. Development in respect of students at the previous level.

c. Academic coherence.

d. Choice.

e. Modes of learning and teaching.

f. Modes of assessment.

g. Learning resources.

h. In addition, all questionnaires must give the students to make additional, free text comments. An example of programme/level questionnaire is available at Appendices

16. For all module and level/programme questionnaires, departments should aim to achieve as high a response rate as possible. The minimum target response rate is 50% (in line with the NSS reliability threshold). Research demonstrates that where student feedback is sought there needs to be a clear understanding by all groups about why it is being sought and what will be done with it. Ensuring that there is this clear understanding often leads to higher levels of response. When using questionnaires, therefore, departments and schools should ensure that all students are informed of:

a. Why the feedback is being sought, the purpose of the questionnaire.

b. Where and when the analysis of the feedback will be considered.

c. How the results of this analysis, and any actions to be taken in light of this analysis, will be communicated to them.

17. In managing module and level/programme questionnaires, departments should take account of the following:

a. Extensive provision is made within duo for administering module and programme/level questionnaires, and using duo for this purpose offers many benefits (for example reminders to students to complete questionnaires can be automated, results can be sorted by student groups, graphs of responses can be produced automatically, results can made available to students via duo). However, the University recognises that the use of duo to administer questionnaires will not be appropriate in all circumstances, and there is no requirement to use duo to administer module and level/programme questionnaires.

b. Where module and level/programme questionnaires are administered via duo, these questions will contribute to a question bank in order to reduce workload in devising new questions.

c. Questionnaires should be managed so that responses can be reported and analysed by programme of study, for example to support analysis of the experience of joint honours, Combined Honours and Natural Sciences students.

18. The purpose of obtaining student feedback is to inform the development of all aspects of a department's educational provision. The consideration of this feedback, effective implementation of actions agreed as a result of this feedback, and informing students about both of these, are crucial to the effective use of questionnaires. Consequently the University's expectations are as follows:

a. The department is responsible for analysing the quantitative and qualitative data arising from all module and level/programme questionnaires, and for producing action plans addressing any issues identified by this analysis. Departmental consideration of MEQ results should include consideration of the results by a member of academic staff other than member(s) of staff teaching on a module. Action plans arising from the analysis of questionnaires should also include examples of good practice for dissemination across the department, and the department should ensure that it has mechanisms in place for this dissemination (for example via a departmental website, the annual review of taught programmes).

b. The quantitative data arising from module and level/programme questionnaires and the action plans should be considered by both the departmental EC and the SSCC. These action plans should be treated as items for discussion at SSCC, not simply items for receipt.

c. The department should ensure that the quantitative data, summary qualitative data and appropriate action points are made available to all students by posting these in the relevant duo site for the relevant module (for example the quantitative data and resulting action plan from the 2010/11 questionnaire for WIDG3001 should appear in the duo site for this module during 2011/12).

d. Qualitative data arising from module and level/programme questionnaires should remain confidential to the head of department, chair of departmental EC, the module team and (if relevant) the member of teaching staff to whom it refers). The module leader and chair of departmental EC are responsible for ensuring that the action plan for a module reflects the qualitative as well as the quantitative feedback, and for ensuring that any issues of staff development arising for an individual member of staff are addressed confidentially.

e. Where action plans raise issues regarding central services (for example library provision, IT support), departments are responsible to notifying the relevant support department of the issue(s). The support department is responsible for providing a written response to the department, normally within one month of being notified by the department.

f. The departmental EC is responsible for monitoring progress against the action points resulting from questionnaires, and for providing the SSCC with updates on progress. Where questionnaires raise strategic issues (for example issues that reflect on a programme as a whole, that are common across a number of modules, or which raise resourcing implications) these should be considered as part of the annual review of taught programmes.

g. All students should receive consolidated feedback from their department summarising the action taken by the department in response to internal and external (for example NSS) questionnaires conducted in the previous academic year. This may be via a single piece of feedback covering internal and external surveys, or two separate pieces of feedback covering these two types of survey separately. It is for departments to decide which of these two approaches will allow for the more effective and timely feedback to students.

University-wide surveys

19. Durham uses a number of University-wide surveys to obtain feedback from its students on their educational experience. Currently, these include:

a. National Student Survey (NSS);

b. Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES);

c. Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES);

d. UK Engagement Survey (UKES);

e. Student Barometer (SB/ISB).

20. University-wide surveys can play an important role in obtaining student feedback, but these need to be effectively co-ordinated and managed. In particular, care should be taken in selecting the target group of participants and the timing of the survey, to prevent, where possible, the same group of students being included in more than one survey in a short space of time. In order to ensure this, the University has the following expectations:

a. Education Committee will maintain a record of all surveys that are administered on a University-wide basis. Permission should be sought from Education Committee for any new University-wide survey, by completing the request form at Appendix A5.03.

b. All proposals to establish new University-wide surveys must indicate the strategic rationale for introducing the new survey, i.e. how it will be of wider benefit to the University; the reasons why a survey is the most appropriate method of gathering information rather than, e.g., student representation on committees, focus groups, or using existing survey data); the length of the proposed survey (including any optional questions to be added to a standard questionnaire) the way in which the results will be analysed and considered; and the timeline for analysis and follow-up action, including committee reports.

c. Proposals should also include information on the target population of students for the survey (e.g. all students, all undergraduates, all undergraduates except finalists), the proposed dates for running the survey, and the rationale for both the target population and the dates.

d. A support department should normally be designated as responsible for managing new University-wide surveys, and a responsible individual should be named in the proposal.

21. Requests to establish University-wide surveys will be considered by the Chair of Education Committee. Requests will normally only be approved where there is a clear strategic reason for doing so. Consequently the expectation is that the analysis of University-wide surveys will normally result in a report to EC or one of its sub-committees to ensure that the strategic issues are considered at University level.

22. Results of a University-wide survey should, in addition to reporting to a committee, be disaggregated by department (where this is statistically meaningful) and results should be sent to departments for consideration by the SSCCs.

Focus groups

23. Focus groups are small panels of students, representative of the wider student body, which are convened to discuss their opinions and experiences. Focus groups can be convened to consider specific issues or for a specific issue, or might be held to consider a range of issues. They can also be one-off meetings, or form part of a series of meetings on a specific issue or issues.

24. Focus groups are particularly valuable in exploring a particular issue or issues in depth, and therefore can be useful in following up issues raised through other means (for example issues identified in SSCCs, student questionnaires, or through informal feedback from students to members of the department). They can therefore form a useful part of an overall departmental strategy for obtaining student feedback.

25. In order to be effective, focus groups need to:

a. Have a clear purpose, which is effectively communicated to all participants.

b. Be based on student willingness to participate.

c. Have clearly established before they meet how the discussion will be recorded, and how the feedback obtained through the process will be considered.

The annual report process for research students

26. The University requires that all research students and the supervisory teams complete an annual report on the progress of research students. (for full details please see https://www.dur.ac.uk/learningandteaching.handbook/8/1/5/ ). These reports offer much valuable feedback on the experience of research students, and they are considered at departmental, faculty and University levels. In order to ensure that departments benefit to the full from this feedback, it encourages all directors of postgraduate research to prepare a summary of any key generic issues arising from the annual reports (on an anonymous basis, without identifying individual students) for consideration at relevant departmental committees (including SSCC) in the Michaelmas Term each academic year.

Student involvement in programme approval, monitoring and review processes

27. Student involvement in these quality management processes supports the University in reviewing and enhancing its educational provision, and a separate policy statement on this area is therefore in place.