by MAHSOOD SHAH
National and institutional student surveys have been in place for many decades. These surveys have many uses: for example, for quality assurance and enhancement; staff performance reviews and promotions; senior staff and organisational KPIs; and learning and teaching grants and awards.
They are analysed and reported internally and beyond: for example, by regulators; governments; and professional bodies. Some institutions share a summary of results with students and communicate specific course improvements through various mechanisms. In recent years, some institutions have introduced early feedback surveys to assess student learning and action improvements. The rapid take-up of learning analytics and TEQSA regulatory requirements to monitor student performance data add to both institutional and sector-wide data intelligence.
The emergence of social media now provides an additional mechanism for students to provide 24/7 feedback about their experience. Social media reviews are widely used in tourism and hospitality to determine choice. This trend is now emerging in higher education and is moving quickly. Social media reviews are providing freedom and autonomy to rate institutions and make comments on all aspects of student experience – both academic and non-academic. These comments may well be the same as those usually made in traditional surveys, which often languish without analysis and action, but their immediacy and public availability seem tangibly more reputational and therefore demanding of quicker responses.
A recent analysis of Google Review ratings and qualitative data of 40 Australian universities provides interesting insights. 16 out of 40 institutions have attracted more than 200 Google Reviews. The analysis compared Google Review ratings with 2018 SES scores on overall educational experience.
In total, 22 universities (55 per cent) have ratings between 4.0 and 4.4 and 13 universities (32 per cent) have ratings of 3.9 or below. Among the universities with greater than 4.5 ratings, three are research-intensive universities and one is a technology university. The analysis of recurring positive and negative comments relates to quality of teaching, course design, learning environment and administrative support. Students have written extensive comments on these four domains to outline their experience.
The use of social media platforms to provide feedback, which is beyond institutional control, will continue to gain prominence. The time has come for institutions to think through how they engage with social media feedback as students and other stakeholders increasingly use such platforms for attention-attracting purposes.
One way to do this is for universities to monitor student comments on social media platforms and triangulate that data with feedback gathered from other sources. Where warranted, actions need to be taken in a timely manner to implement improvements and responses should be communicated. Senior managers, academics and professional staff need to understand the volume of student commentary on social media and its implications for attracting future students in a highly marketised tertiary education environment.
Gaining insight into the next generation of students is critical in understanding their expectations, lived experiences and predictors of positive and negative engagement. The measurement of student experience in the 21st century has to move beyond traditional survey and feedback mechanisms.
Professor Mahsood Shah, dean, Swinburne University of Technology, Sydney.