Student voices in evaluation - motivations and perceptions

By Student Voice

In the dynamic landscape of UK higher education, the impact of student evaluations of teaching (SET) cannot be overstated. These surveys can serve as a crucial tool for assessing teaching performance and course quality. However, the effectiveness of SETs is often undermined by dwindling participation rates, casting shadows on their utility. This blog post delves into the motivations, perceptions, and opinions of students towards SETs, guided by recent comprehensive research in the field. Through thematic analysis, we unpack the layers of student engagement with SETs, aiming to enhance their design, timing, and overall impact.

The Critical Lens of Student Voice

At the heart of our discussion is the concept of "student voice" - the idea that students are not just passive recipients of education but active contributors to the learning environment. By exploring student motivations and perceptions, we're tapping into a rich source of insights that can transform educational practices and policies. The study by Sullivan et al under consideration reveals that understanding the student voice through text analysis of SET responses offers an unprecedented opportunity to refine the teaching and learning experience.

The Value Placed on SETs by Students

The research highlights a key theme: the value students place on SETs is intrinsically linked to their perception of these surveys' significance. Many students recognize SETs as vital for improving teaching quality and course content, suggesting a readiness to contribute constructively to the academic milieu. However, a recurring point is the need for clearer communication regarding how SET feedback is utilized, underscoring the importance of making the SET process transparent and its outcomes visible.

Actionable Feedback: The Catalyst for Engagement

Students are significantly more inclined to participate in SETs when they believe their feedback leads to concrete changes. This finding underscores the necessity for institutions to not only act on SET feedback but also to communicate these actions back to the student body. By closing this feedback loop, universities can foster a culture of continuous improvement and deepen student engagement with the process.

The Role of Confidentiality and Anonymity

Confidentiality and anonymity emerge as critical factors influencing student participation in SETs. While these elements encourage candid feedback, they also raise concerns about the potential for non-constructive criticism. Balancing the need for honest feedback with the protection of teaching staff from undue criticism is a delicate challenge, suggesting a need for guidelines on providing constructive feedback and mechanisms for filtering comments.

Incentivising Participation

The effectiveness of incentives in boosting SET completion rates is a theme with mixed implications. While certain incentives can motivate students, they also raise ethical questions about the quality of feedback procured under such conditions. Institutions must carefully consider the types of incentives offered, ensuring they enhance engagement without compromising the integrity of the feedback.

Survey Design and Timing: Keys to Enhanced Participation

Optimising the design and timing of SETs is paramount for maximising student participation. Simplified survey interfaces and strategic scheduling can significantly reduce participation barriers. By releasing SETs during less busy periods and ensuring they are straightforward and user-friendly, universities can encourage more students to share their valuable insights.

Towards a Future of Enhanced Student Engagement

This exploration of student motivations, perceptions, and opinions on SETs illuminates a path towards more meaningful student engagement in higher education. By harnessing the power of student voice and leveraging text analysis to understand and act on SET feedback, institutions can create a more responsive, dynamic, and inclusive educational environment.

The journey to enhancing SET effectiveness and participation is ongoing, but with a commitment to understanding and addressing student concerns, UK higher education can nurture a culture of shared responsibility and continuous improvement in teaching and learning. In doing so, we not only elevate the quality of education but also affirm the critical role of student voices in shaping the future of academia.


Q: How can institutions effectively incorporate student voice into curriculum design and policy-making beyond SETs?

A: Incorporating student voice into curriculum design and policy-making requires a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond the traditional SETs. Institutions can create student advisory panels that regularly contribute to discussions on curriculum development and institutional policies. Engaging students in such panels ensures their experiences and needs directly inform decision-making processes. Furthermore, institutions can utilise social media and online forums as informal platforms for gathering student opinions and suggestions. These platforms can offer real-time insights into student experiences, complementing the formal feedback mechanisms. Additionally, conducting focus groups and interviews can provide deeper understanding of student perspectives, allowing for more nuanced changes in curriculum and policy. The key is for institutions to actively seek, value, and act upon the student voice in all its forms, ensuring education remains dynamic and student-centred.

Q: What are the ethical considerations and privacy implications of using text analysis for interpreting open-ended responses in SETs?

A: The use of text analysis for interpreting open-ended responses in SETs raises significant ethical considerations and privacy implications. The primary concern is ensuring the anonymity and confidentiality of student feedback, particularly when personal or sensitive information could be disclosed. Institutions must implement robust data protection measures to secure the feedback and the identities of students. This includes anonymising data before analysis and ensuring that text analysis tools comply with data protection regulations. Moreover, ethical considerations extend to how the insights gained from text analysis are used. It's crucial that the findings are employed constructively to enhance teaching and learning, rather than to penalise or stigmatise individual educators. Transparency with students about how their feedback will be analysed and used also forms an essential part of ethical practice, fostering trust and encouraging open and honest communication.

Q: How can universities ensure that the insights gained from text analysis of SET responses lead to actionable changes that are communicated back to students?

A: For universities to ensure that insights gained from text analysis of SET responses lead to actionable changes, a structured feedback loop is essential. This involves not only analysing the data but also developing a clear plan for implementing changes based on the insights gathered. Once changes are made, it's crucial for universities to communicate these back to the students to demonstrate that their feedback is valued and has a tangible impact. This communication can be achieved through various channels, such as email updates, announcements on the university's digital platforms, or presentations at student forums. Highlighting specific changes made in response to student feedback can reinforce the importance of student voice in shaping the educational experience. Additionally, universities can engage students in the evaluation of the changes, creating a continuous cycle of feedback and improvement. This transparent and inclusive approach not only enhances the student experience but also fosters a culture of mutual respect and collaboration between students and faculty.


[Source] Daniel Sullivan, Richard Lakeman, Debbie Massey, Dima Nasrawi, Marion Tower & Megan Lee (2024) Student motivations, perceptions and opinions of participating in student evaluation of teaching surveys: a scoping review, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 49:2, 178-189
DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2023.2199486

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