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Case study: Student Survey Strategy

Student surveys are generally accepted as a valuable means of ensuring student interests are understood and where appropriate, supported. However, the use of surveys needs to be undertaken wisely and in a manner which ensures students see tangible outcomes resulting from their feedback.

Cognisant of the number of cross institutional student surveys at Warwick, the (limited) visible impact on changing practice in the case of some surveys, and the limited sharing of survey data with interested parties, a group was established to streamline and enhance the use of cross-institutional student surveys.

The number of cross-institutional student surveys has now diminished considerably and much more emphasis is put on increasing the effectiveness of survey use, particularly in relation to communicating outcomes and responses to students. The group has moved the ethos of using surveys from ‘service delivery’ (carrying the risk of encouraging consumerism) to ‘dialogue’ (aimed at partnership with students to improve the student experience).

Department(s) / colleagues involved

The Student Learning Experience and Engagement Committee established a subgroup consisting of:

  • Charlotte Ridley, Head of Campus & Commercial Services Marketing
  • Elisabeth Blagrove, Senior Teaching Fellow, Department of Psychology & WIHEA Fellow
  • Liam Jackson (2017/18), Larissa Kennedy (2018/19), SU Education Officer & Co-Chair of SLEEC
  • Dan Derricott, Assistant Registrar (Monitoring & Review), Teaching Quality [Secretary] who has oversight of the operational coordination of institutional student surveys and NSS in particular
  • Gwen van der Velden, Academic Director (WIHEA) & Co-Chair of SLEEC [Chair]

Our aim was to …

Our aim was to rationalise and steer the use of student surveys to focus on the enhancement of the student experience. We were particularly interested in increasing response rates and moving from a consumerist approach to a partnership approach in all communications with students regarding surveys.

What we did …

The group started by mapping all cross-institutional surveys that were in place in 2016/17 and planned for 2017/18. It became clear that students were regularly asked to fill out multiple surveys at the same time, and that few survey organisers consistently fed back to students what had happened since analysis of survey results. Moreover, response rates for most surveys was low, leaving the data to be of limited use. Only the NSS generated highly effective response rates. In some cases it was clear that there were better ways of collecting student feedback than using a survey. In other cases surveys were simply unnecessary as the data was already available elsewhere.

The group took charge of renegotiating survey timing, survey use and communications (in relation to generating response rates and feeding back to students) with various survey organisers. Several very constructive conversations took place with survey organisers and this has allowed the introduction of annual planning for surveys, which avoided survey overlap, decreased the number of surveys put in the field and meant better communication of surveys and their outcomes for students.

In December 2017 the communications team developed a joined-up approach to survey communications which emphasised partnership between students and staff to enhance the student learning experience. The key word used is ‘dialogue’ and this is emphasised on banners, websites, in emails and on LCD displays around the university whenever a major survey is promoted (NSS, PTES, PRES and since 2018 the Warwick Student Experience Survey).

Alongside this work, the Survey Strategy Group has worked with colleagues across the university on ensuring consistent action planning in response to surveys and better data sharing. For example, instead of asking academic departments to respond to each separate survey, the approach has now changed to annual and ongoing evaluation of data by departments, thereby lessening the administrative burden. Action plans are no longer separately reviewed which had led to feedback arriving too late; these are now being integrated in TEG reviews which take place at the beginning of the academic year. Also, professional services are now asked to respond to survey outcomes, and both departments and services are asked to ensure they feed back to their students on what actions have followed or are planned. To ensure the highest level of relevance to the student experience of all action planning, colleagues are encouraged to work with students or their representatives to analyse data and formulate action planning.

Student Surveys

The outcome has been …

The outcome of these efforts has been an increased response rate to key surveys, a lessening of survey demands on students and a greater awareness of what happens in response to student feedback. An annual communications plan is now put to the Education Executive, the Student Communications Group and SLEEC, to ensure key staff are aware of survey planning and can influence how we communicate regarding surveys. At the start of the academic year, representatives of all departments are invited to meetings where the yearly plan for cross-institutional surveys is presented, and colleagues can give feedback to steer the implementation of the plan and the related communications with students.

The benefit/impact has been …

In 2018 we started to see substantial increases in response rates (PTES being a particularly good example), and students have fed back in focus groups that they are seeing changes happening in response to surveys. At the same time fewer surveys are taking place which has allowed staff time to be redirected to greater analysis of data gathered. The 2018 NSS data could therefore be very thoroughly analysed and shared with departments and the Students’ Union swiftly, which has been well received. That in turn has allowed for earlier and more intensive support for departments in preparation for the 2018/19 student surveys.

This supports the Education Strategy by …

The streamlined and rationalised approach to the use of cross-institutional surveys means more reliable data can be gathered and a positive dialogue can be developed with students. Both these aspects are key to enhancing learning, teaching and the student experience. Understanding student interests better and increasing student engagement with enhancement are key to achieving the aims of the Education Strategy.

Our next steps will be …

The Survey Strategy Group has achieved a considerable amount in the first year and a half, but more is to be done. We are now concentrating on better guidance development for all interested parties and on increasing the level of data analysis various survey organisers are engaged in. Importantly we are also working towards better access to existing survey data, so that interested parties can make positive use of the data we already have.

To find out more, you can contact …

To find out more you can contact the chair of the Student Survey Strategy Group, Gwen van der Velden (G dot Van-der-Velden at warwick dot ac dot uk), or Dan Derricott (D dot Derricott at warwick dot ac dot uk) who services the group and oversees the annual planning of surveys. They are also able to put you in touch with the organisers of specific surveys.