Group of students walking

At the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year we implemented a new student voice policy – Valuing Students’ Views and Opinions, and this is significant because it represents how we look at things at the University of Portsmouth.

The policy – and our ethos – is about valuing students’ opinions and doing something with them. Within this policy we emphasise our partnership with students, and we highlight three important aspects of the student voice: student surveys; student participation in quality assurance and enhancement; and student representation.

Here is what we are doing, even within the context of Covid-19 and our ‘new normal’, to support what we are calling at Portsmouth the blended and connected learning experience.

Student surveys

As well as our new student voice policy, 2019 saw the implementation of a new curriculum framework and, as part of that, we introduced new internal course and module surveys. These were completely online for the first time.

It is going to be very important, as we progress through this academic year, that we look at feedback coming in from students right from the early weeks of teaching. We have also looked at survey data gathered by the Students’ Union which carried out surveys over the first initial ‘flip’ to online and provided feedback on students’ initial experience of online teaching and learning.

Triangulating all sources of survey data was a key element of our preparations of the delivery of blended and connected teaching and learning for the 2020-21 academic year. However, it is not just about surveys – it is about other feedback mechanisms too. We do not just want to rely on survey data, we need other student voice data. So we have developed virtual student panels to gather student input too. I have also created a virtual version of a mechanism which I conceived when I started at Portsmouth called ‘Haver with Harriet’, an informal drop-in session for students.

Student participation in quality assurance and enhancement

This is something we have worked on for quite some time. We are very proud of our partnership with students, and have students on all our committees like the Quality Assurance Committee.

I also Chair the Student Experience Committee (SEC), which I have developed to function as a research group. We take data – both internal and external data, and both quantitative and qualitative – at the beginning of each academic year, from all sources across the University, and look at it together, staff and students, to decide where we are going to focus our attentions to enhance the student experience.

It is important that within all of this we are making sure students feel that their feedback has created something of which they are firmly a part.

Dr Harriet Dunbar-Morris, Dean of Learning and Teaching

We have also had student representatives at all levels of our university-wide programme preparing for the new academic year: they are on the steering group, the planning group, all the workstreams, and some of the relevant workstrands. We really ensure we include students wherever we can, and one of the ways in which we have is, for example, on TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students Through Assessment) workshops. Having in SEC identified assessment as an area of focus, in TESTA workshops we looked at assessment data, both formative and summative, considering things such as quantity, quality, variety and distribution, with course teams and students, and how changes at programme level could be made for the benefit of students.

Student representation

As part of developing our student voice policy we reviewed, jointly with the Students’ Union, the course representative job description and expectations. We have already worked on how to enable course reps to be elected and trained in a blended and connected environment. We are also confident about how we will be able to work with course reps and the virtual student panels in the new academic year.

In terms of student feedback, the fact we are now completely online with our course and module evaluation surveys is useful, as it has given us the opportunity to do things differently, and we will build on that. It will be more important than ever to keep in touch with students via our VLE and to make even better use of mid-module feedback. Students will thus feel connected as well as their views and opinions being valued. The course and module surveys will go ahead as they always have, but will require more surrounding communication as a result of being in a blended and connected learning environment.

Overall, we are content about our readiness to continue with student representation and feedback.

In summary, it strikes me that these three aspects of the student voice are also those we must focus on throughout the 2020-21 academic year – in our ‘new normal’ of blended and connected learning. It is important that within all of this we are making sure students feel that their feedback has created something of which they are firmly a part. Students are at the heart of everything we do, and we are practising what we preach.

The article is taken from a new eBook Engaging the student voice in our ‘new normal’.

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