Student trust in surveys falters

January 15, 1999

The widespread practice of asking students to grade the quality of their courses - as a key plank of quality assurance procedures - is often inadequate, with little evidence that the feedback contributes to improved teaching.

So the Quality Assurance Agency concludes in a report, Closing the Loop, the impact of student feedback on students' subsequent learning. Report author Janet Powney, of the Scottish Council for Research in Education, analysed two typical institutions' feedback mechanisms in her research.

"An immense amount of effort and resources are put in to student feedback these days but the approaches adopted by universities too often mean that there is a lack of coordination leading to omissions, overlaps and repetitions between different departments," she said.

"As students rarely get any information about the consequences of feedback, there is a degree of cynicism. In many instances it is hard to get students to engage in the process of quality assurance at all."

A survey or focus group that concludes that students are pleased with a tutor does not mean that any effective learning is taking place, she said.

Ideally, students would communicate the good and less good features of a programme. This would then be used to review and revise the programme.

However, "the loop is seldom closed", said Ms Powney.

The main difficulties she encountered were the narrowness of most student feedback and the problem of establishing whether students comments were reasonable or "fickle".

Report from SCRE, 15 St John Street, Edinburgh EH8 8JR.

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