Why is it important to 'close the loop' in student voice initiatives?

By Eve Bracken-Ingram

Often, student voice is thought to be the act of providing students with a platform to express their views on learning, teaching, assessment, and the student experience. However, effective student voice processes should have multiple stages:

  • Engage students in the feedback process.
  • Provide a variety of routes for students to participate in the feedback process.
  • Obtain a diverse range of student voices.
  • Systematic communication of results of student feedback with students, staff, and educational partners.
  • Timely actions taken as a direct result of student voice.
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of actions and improvements.

These stages act as a loop, with the successful execution of each stage being essential for the implementation of the next. If there are stages missing the success of student voice initiatives will be hindered. Work must be done to 'close the loop' to maximise the benefits of student voice.

A 2017 study by Shah, Cheng and Fitzgerald (Source) explored how Scottish and Australian universities use student voice to inform improvements in their institution. This study discovered that although universities utilise a wide variety of processes to obtain and analyse student voice, there were limited mechanisms in place to effectively use feedback to inform action. The majority of universities failed to communicate the results of student feedback to all stakeholders and had no clear system for actively addressing areas for improvement. As a result, it becomes very difficult to engage students and the benefits of student voice are diminished.

Students are likely to disengage if there is no evidence that their feedback is being used to inform improvements. Students may feel like their opinion is not valued and participating in student feedback initiatives is a waste of time. This is particularly important as students may be asked to complete upwards of 60 surveys over the course of their studies and have reported t experinece 'survey fatigue'. If there is no evidence that actions are being taken as a result of their voice, students may become frustrated and the relationship between students and teachers may be impacted. Although some actions such as curriculum redesign take time to implement, it is the responsibility of the university to communicate improvement plans with students to ensure that they understand the value and weight of their feedback.

All stakeholders in student voice should be motivated to 'close the loop'. Universities utilise student feedback results to market themselves to prospective students. Therefore, if there is a lack of engagement in student voice initiatives then universities will be financially impacted. Additionally, reduced engagement limits the diverse voices which can be heard and listened to, limiting the inclusivity of teaching, learning, and assessment practices. Teachers should also participate in and encourage all stages of student voice initiatives as feedback is often used as part of academic performance reviews. By continuously listening to and acting on student voice, and communicating resulting actions, their teaching and relationship with students will be improved. Finally, by engaging in student voice students are provided the opportunity to influence and enhance their learning experience. This will allow them to develop skills and improve their academic outcomes.

In summary, the successful implementation of student voice initiatives is beneficial to students, teachers, and universities. Currently, there are many methods for the collection and analysis of student voice but limited systematic processes in place to facilitate communication of results and resultant actions. In order to boost engagement and reap the benefits of student voice, work must be done to 'close the loop' of student voice initiatives.


Q: How do universities currently utilise text analysis technologies to interpret student feedback?
A: Universities are increasingly adopting text analysis technologies to sift through and interpret student feedback. These technologies, including natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms, help in identifying key themes, sentiments, and trends within the feedback. By applying text analysis, universities can quickly process large volumes of text data from surveys, forums, and open-ended questionnaire responses. This approach enables them to understand the students' perspectives on teaching, learning, and assessment practices more efficiently. The insights gained through text analysis are crucial for informing decision-making processes and implementing changes that reflect the students' needs and preferences.

Q: What are the challenges and limitations associated with text analysis in the context of student voice?
A: While text analysis offers significant advantages in interpreting student voice, it also comes with challenges and limitations. One of the main challenges is ensuring the accuracy and relevance of the analysis, especially when dealing with ambiguous or highly subjective feedback. Text analysis algorithms may struggle to accurately capture the nuances of student sentiment or to understand context-specific language. Additionally, there's the risk of bias, where the algorithms might not equally represent all student groups, potentially overlooking the voices of minority or marginalised students. Ensuring inclusivity and avoiding bias in text analysis requires careful consideration and continuous refinement of the methodologies used.

Q: How can the process of engaging student voice be improved through advanced text analysis techniques?
A: The process of engaging student voice can be significantly enhanced through the application of advanced text analysis techniques. By leveraging more sophisticated algorithms, such as those based on deep learning, universities can gain deeper insights into student feedback. These advanced techniques can improve the accuracy of sentiment analysis, better identify emerging themes, and even predict trends before they become widely recognised issues. By understanding student feedback at a more granular level, universities can tailor their responses more effectively, addressing specific concerns and enhancing the student experience. Furthermore, advanced text analysis can help in identifying gaps in feedback, prompting universities to seek input from underrepresented student groups, thereby making the process more inclusive and equitable.


[Source] Shah, M., Cheng, M. & Fitzgerald, R. (2017) Closing the loop on student feedback: the case of Australian and Scottish universities. Higher Education, 74, 115–129. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-016-0032-x

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