Multiple feedback

April 19, 2012

Regarding your news story "QAA's new riff on student feedback: positive notes or waves of jargon?" (12 April): although criticisms are understandable, it is good to see that the Quality Assurance Agency is finally facing up to the need for a variety of approaches to collecting student feedback. More than 20 years of research has shown that feedback is an important way for students to take ownership of the quality process.

The QAA's position is important because the recent emphasis on the National Student Survey has led to unrealistic competition and comparison between institutions. The watchdog's draft code encourages the development of a range of feedback processes that are more focused, appropriate and specific to the institutions in which they operate.

It is to be hoped that the code will encourage institutions to explore some of the ways in which student feedback was collected before the advent of the NSS. The most successful used instruments that were designed in consultation with the students themselves and that reflected their concerns rather than those of senior managers or statisticians. The resulting data were triangulated with other important sources of intelligence to inform (not dominate) management decision-making.

But despite the QAA's spin, informing students about what action has been taken as a result of their feedback has always been problematic. It has long been recognised that "closing the feedback loop" is vital, but it remains open.

James Williams, Associate editor, Quality in Higher Education, Birmingham City University

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