By Eve Bracken-Ingram
At Student Voice, we know that student voice initiatives have many benefits for students, tutors, and educational institutions when carried out correctly. However, how do you determine if a student voice initiative was successful? A 2016 paper by Seale (Source) explored how the success of student voice initiatives in higher education can be assessed by applying two criteria:
There has been limited study into the evaluation of student voice initiative. This may be due to the assumption that the benefits of student voice are an inevitable consequence of the practice and therefore evaluation is unnecessary. Additionally, due to the current mandates for student voice within higher education, the focus has been primarily on proving the frequency of opportunity that students are provided to express voice rather than assessing the quality of these opportunities. Student voice initiatives can take many forms and have different intensions, making it difficult to establish criteria for success. However, the universal goal of empowering students to bring about positive change within higher education institutions remains constant across projects. Student voice initiatives can be evaluated in three phases:
The previously identified criteria reach and fitness for purpose can be defined differently when considering each phase. These definitions address common issues within student voice initiatives such as lack of student agreement in the aims of the project and discord between project assumptions and student behaviour, resulting in reduced participation. There may be limitations to the power tutors have to enact change within institutions, leading to tension between staff and students. Additionally, projects may be organised in such a way that students have little control over how and what they wish to express. This limits the empowerment of students and the outcomes of the initiative.
When evaluating aims and assumptions, reach considers the extent to which all participants support project aims and assumptions. Throughout the process, reach refers to the degree of influence and opportunities for choice participants are given. When considering outcomes, reach describes the extent of transformation which occurs for all participants. It is important to note that in the context of student voice, the term ‘participants’ encompasses students, tutors, and higher educational institutions. Therefore, an initiative could be considered successful if tutors develop an understanding of student perspective and apply this to their teaching, or if students are empowered through participation in or outcome of the project. A fully successful initiative would result in positive transformation for all participants.
Fitness for purpose is closely related to reach. In the context of aims and assumption, fitness can be assessed by considering the accuracy of the assumptions on which the project is based. When considering the process of student voice, fitness can be defined as the extent to which processes enable meaningful response, and the ability and willingness of the university to act on student voices. In the context of student voice initiative outcomes, fitness refers to the increased understanding between participants. Simply, is the study designed in such a way that it is capable of producing the desired results?
The criteria reach and fitness of purpose allow for student voice initiatives to be objectively evaluated. The broadness of the terms allows for the assessment of a wide range of projects, each with different methods and goals. These criteria encompass the overall aim of student voice initiatives: to empower students and allow the collaborative transformation of higher educational practices.
[Source] Jane Seale (2016) How can we confidently judge the extent to which student voice in higher education has been genuinely amplified? A proposal for a new evaluation framework. Research Papers in Education, 31(2), 212-233 DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2015.1027726