Introduction to the world of student feedback
by Eryk Gadomski
In September 2016 I got elected to be the University of Derby year 1 Biology representative. As I started the role I realised that a programme representative has an abundance of responsibilities, the main one being collecting feedback from students. In this short but sweet article I shall discuss my decision to choose certain programmes and social media sites, their strengths and weaknesses, and finally what the future holds in collecting feedback.
Making the right choice
I am not going to be like Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist who took all the credit for the discovery of penicillin, instead I am going to be fair and give the credit to those that helped. It was not just me who set up the “UoD Biological and Forensic Science Feedback and Discussion” group page. Myself and Brook Smith – who is the year 1 forensic science programmer representative, both came up with the idea to create a multi-course platform for all the students in year 1. The Facebook group page would include all programme reps and students from Biology, Zoology, Human Biology, Biomedical Science, Forensic Science, and all the joint honour programmes. Thus on 25th of October 2016 the group page was created.
The idea of the page was to create a site where all the programme reps could easily communicate with their students and vice versa. Firstly, we got all the registered representative on the group page, so that we could make them admins and thus enabling them to add content, ask questions, create polls etc. Once we got the programme representatives on the page I asked everyone to advertise it through their social media profiles and messenger group chats. As it stands today the group page has ten admins and 104 members from across five different courses in the first year. Once I had a communication platform sorted, the next challenge was to find a way of collecting feedback which I could present to the members of staff in the programme committee meetings.
In the beginning, I tried to use a poll to see this method of gathering feedback worked for the students.
Although, some people did voted, there were 54 members that have seen it but did not press the button to vote. It is still a mystery to me as to why someone can see something online but not respond to it. I mean it’s just a click of a button! However, even with a couple of responses I took this information and went ahead with the use of the group page as a way of gathering feedback. Next I posted a question to find out what did people thought of the “Evolution of Life” coursework. The programme committee meeting was approaching and I needed some data. However, this sort of backfired.
The word trust has a lot of meaning. I understood why some people commented and wanted to know specifics of how I was going to anonymise their responses. The students were not satisfied with this method, so I took their advice and looked in to some free survey programmes. The two that came up were survey monkey as suggested and google forms. I choose google forms as I had previous experience with it during my A-levels. There were other reasons but, that’s in the later part of the article. That evening I created a short survey which would collect both qualitative and quantitative data. I sent it out and got some responses. I could then use this data in the programme committee meeting. I also emailed the results to both the module and programme leader for their own evaluation.
Google forms worked really well. I got 29 responses, both the programme and module leader were happy with the level of data which was received. Following the success I sat down with my programme leader to talk about my representative situation. He suggested to me that rather than having a survey for each module it would be better to have one feedback site for the students. I had a think about it and so I created “The Reps Letterbox”. The reps letterbox is an online feedback questionnaire powered by google forms, that all students on the group page have access to. Alongside this I created a reps only messenger group chat, because if an issue came up for a zoology representative I could simply put it on the chat for them to deal with. This method has a lot of trust involved between myself and the other programme representatives of the corresponding courses.
Along the way I had to make some changed to accompany the seriousness of some issues. This year I have added an optional section called “Your Name/Contact Details (Optional)”. This came about as some feedback can be considered as a serious issue which would require a name or contact information, so that if the issue is taken further up the chain that person can be contacted to discuss their opinion or their own account of the events. Unfortunately, the reps letterbox isn’t as used as much as I would have hoped it would be.
The Strengths & The Weaknesses
When me and brook made the Facebook group page it was quite easy to set up and now it is quite easy to maintain. One of the issues that we talked about was weather to have an open or closed group. Each has pros and cons. If we had an open group then none of us would have to accept each and every member that requested, we would sent out a link to everyone and boom people would have joined by simply pressing a button. However we would not have the control on who is adding themselves to the group. On the other hand, the closed group has that control, you have to accept each and every member but, this can be time consuming. We decided to go for a closed group as the control allowed us to see who wants to join and also it kept the group private.
The Facebook group page has been quite successful in letting students and representatives share information for revision and coursework purposes. Last semester during exam season a couple of representatives were sharing useful videos which helped students who were struggling in their chemistry of life module. I shared some links to websites which helped students understand the SPSS programme. In general programme representatives posted deadlines, reminders and sometimes necessary emails from programme leaders to inform their students. We all united to help each other to understand the complicated and mysterious world of science.
Our Facebook group page has a lot of positives and only minor negatives. Whereas, the google forms programme is much more varied in my opinion. I choose google forms as it was quick and easy to access on my computer as it links to my google account. The key word in the last sentence is computer because using google forms on my phone was quite tricky. On my computer I could easily see all the forms that I created in one section however, on my phone it jumbled up all my google docs, google sheets and google forms. It was very disorganised. Also a huge issue I had was sharing my content. When I created “The Reps Letterbox” I was the only one with control over it, the other programme reps had no control and had to put their trust in me that I would tell them what was written by the students. I have built a good relationship with all the representatives in the biological and forensic science this allowed me to gain their trust. However, if I was on the opposite side of the fence, then I would like to have that unlimited insight into the reps letterbox and not wait for someone to tell me when they have time.
On the other hand, google forms offers a good set of qualitative and quantitative questions. You have a huge variety of open and closed questions which include short & long answer text boxes, multiple choice, drop box, check box, and linear scale. The customisation is a nice touch as it allows you to create a brand new survey from scratch and make it distinguishable from all the other surveys that you have made. I had a great time adding pictures, changing the colour of the background, and changing the order of the questions so that the survey has more flow to it. I am quite glad that once I made all the questions up I could change the order of them. For a person with low experience in creating questionnaires I found google forms accessible, quick, and simple to use and customise.
Future of collecting feedback
I think that the Facebook group page worked well this year. Everyone has benefited from it in some shape or form, whether it was work alerts, useful revision tips or feedback from meetings. I think that It was a success and that all representatives from different collages should use it. In addition, the same applies to my google forms questionnaires, I think the questions were not ambiguous and the anonymity gave all students privacy and freedom to say whatever they want. So overall I cannot see why there is a low responses rate for the questionnaires or the Facebook group page. However, one possible answer could be student participation. It is difficult as a rep to get feedback, a rep can try and try again, by in the end of the day you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I can write here and say I’m done, but that would mean giving up on the students and the future of the university. Soon I will create a small survey to see what people thought of their experience and what they want to change. Then I’ll go from there and see how I can improve this for next time, but also use it as experience to further develop myself.