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					Student Satisfaction Survey of first-and second-year undergraduates and National Student Survey of final year undergraduates 2008
report produced by Andrew Radford (Head of Department), November 2008 The overall percentage of respondents in the Department agreeing with each statement in the survey is given in the tables below, along with the mean scores for each category of statement (in bold print, representing the average of the scores for each statement in the relevant category). In general the higher the score, the greater the degree of student satisfaction. Category/Statement Degree content The content of my degree matches my expectations My degree enables me to acquire knowledge and understanding of the subject The learning and teaching methods used in my degree are appropriate The workload for my degree is appropriate The teaching on my course Staff are good at explaining things Staff have made the subject interesting Staff are enthusiastic about what they are teaching The course is intellectually stimulating Assessment and Feedback Information about passing modules and obtaining degree classes is clear The criteria used for marking have been clear in advance Assessment arrangements and marking have been fair Feedback on my work has been prompt I have received detailed comments on my work Feedback on my work has helped me to clarify things I did not understand Academic Support I have received sufficient advice and support with my studies I have been able to contact staff when I needed to Good advice was available on questions about my studies (SSS) / study choices (NSS) Support and supervision I receive from staff enable me to study independently Organisation and Management The timetable works efficiently as far as my studies are concerned Any changes in the course or teaching have been communicated effectively The degree is well organised and running smoothly Learning Resources The library resources and services are good enough for my needs I have been able to access general IT resources when I needed to Printed module materials and online documentation give me the information I need I have been able to access specialised equipment, facilities or rooms when I needed to Personal Development The degree has helped improve my transferable (SSS) / communication (NSS) skills My degree will support me in my prospective career/further study/individual goals The course has helped me present myself with confidence As a result of my course, I feel confident in tackling unfamiliar problems Overall satisfaction Overall I am satisfied with the quality of my course SSS 83% 88% 92% 74% 78% 78% 76% 72% 82% 82% 73% 69% 55% 79% 78% 84% 74% 77% 66% 85% 78% 80% 80% 76% 77% 87% 77% 72% 84% 83% 68% 64% 59% 79% 59% 57% 85% 85% NSS n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 82% 89% 73% 85% 80% 63% n/a 59% 68% 58% 71% 59% 69% 64% 88% 55% n/a 78% 80% 74% 80% 80% 79% 88% n/a 71% 73% 79% n/a 70% 71% 82% 82%

As a rule of thumb, I assume that we should aspire to a score of at least 60% satisfaction on all questions (corresponding to upper second class level for undergraduate work!), and that a score of 70% or above represents a very good performance, and a score of 80% or above

represents an excellent performance. Conversely, a score below 50% means we are failing to meet the aspirations of at least half our students, and so is a matter of concern. In relation to questions on degree content, the Department performed extremely well, achieving scores of between 74% and 92% on expectations, knowledge, teaching methods and workloads. In relation to teaching, the Department performed extremely well, achieving scores (for explanation, interest, enthusiasm and stimulation) of between 72%-82% with first- and second-years (SSS), and even higher scores of 73%-89% with final years (NSS). In relation to assessment and feedback, the SSS survey of first- and second-years showed the Department performing very well (with scores of 74%-84%) on fairness, promptness, detail and clarification, well (69%) on information about their degree, but much less well (55%) on marking criteria. By contrast, on the NSS survey, we scored well (71%) on detail and (68%) on fairness, but not so well on marking criteria (59%), clarification (59%) and promptness (58%). It is to be hoped that student awareness of marking criteria will improve in the coming year, because detailed information about these has been included in the Departmental Handbook (pp.41-43 for Modern Languages, and pp.74-75 for Linguistics), and staff have been asked to specify any additional/alternative criteria they use in their module descriptions: in addition, brief details of the marking scale have been included in all assignment cover sheets. On promptness of feedback, it would appear that staff take longer to return work to final years than to other students: in the case of LA modules, this may be because final-year work can be substantially longer than other work (e.g. it may involve a project); in the case of LG work, it has to be borne in mind that many final-year modules are also taken by postgraduates, and this increases the marking burden on staff. It takes around an hour to correct an average assignment, so staff members with 70 assignments to correct have to find the time to do 70 hours of additional work on top of their existing teaching, administrative and research commitments. It is worth noting that the University has this year introduced a new policy specifying that the normal expectation is for all assessed work to be available for students to collect within 4 weeks of the date on which it was submitted. On the extent to which feedback helps clarify points not understood by students, I note that the score from final-year students (59%) is lower than for other students (74%): this may be because final-year work is generally at a higher level, and so it is more likely that final-year students will come across things they don’t understand: the remedy in such cases is to go and talk to relevant members of staff during their office hours. In relation to academic support, I am pleased to note that the SSS survey of first- and second-years showed the Department scoring very highly (78%-85%) on three of the criteria (staff availability, departmental advice, support for independent study), and only marginally less well (69%) on the fourth (study advice). The NSS study of final-years yielded an excellent score of 88% for staff availability, a reasonably good score of 64% on support, but a disappointing score of 55% on advice about “study choices”. However, since students all receive a copy of the Departmental Handbook (which contains extensive details of degree syllabuses, lists of options, module outlines and links to relevant websites), it is not entirely clear what additional information they require – though I note that final-year students sometimes say in questionnaires that they hadn’t realised that they would not be able to take module X in the final year because they had not taken the prerequisite module Y in their second year: if so, then the second-year options talk need to stress the importance of looking ahead to modules they might want to take in their final year and their prerequisites. In relation to organisation and management, I am gratified to see that the SSS survey of first- and second-years shows us achieving very high scores of 76%-87% on the three criteria (timetabling, communication and organisation), and the NSS survey shows only slightly lower scores of 74%-80%. These high scores are a tribute to the hard work put in by the administrative staff in the Department.

In relation to learning resources, I am delighted to see that in the SSS survey of first- and second-years, we score very well (72%-84%) on library resources, IT resources and module materials, and only a little lower (68%) on access to specialist equipment. Likewise, in the NSS survey of final-years, we achieved very impressive scores of 79% on library resources and 88% on IT resources, and a lower (but still very good) score of 71% on equipment. The Department has invested around £10,000 over the past year in digital recording equipment, and we hope this will improve our equipment score next year. In relation to personal development, I am very pleased to see that the SSS survey of firstand second-years shows us scoring highly (79%) in relation to career goals, but disappointed to see that we fare much less well (with scores of between 57% and 59%) on transferable skills, self-confidence and problem-solving. However, I am gratified to see that these scores rise substantially to between 70% and 79% in the final year, which suggests that our programs are enabling students to improve their skills base each year. In order to further improve student skills, I have appointed a departmental Skills Co-ordinator (Sonja Eisenbeiss), and she is organising a skills program for students, in conjunction with other colleagues. We are also planning to develop new skills-oriented degree programs (e.g. BA Modern Languages and Professional Skills). In order to address the issues of student confidence and problem-solving abilities, I will encourage staff to consider making greater use of student presentations and problem-solving work in their teaching and assessment.

Free text comments
In addition, the NSS and SSS surveys gave students the opportunity of commenting on positive and negative aspects of their University experience which they would like to comment on. Positive aspects highlighted by individual students included: • multicultural nature of the campus • entertainment and eating/drinking facilities • friendliness of the University and the atmosphere on campus • staff being cheerful, helpful, supportive, enthusiastic, passionate, professional, attentive, responsive and understanding • teaching being well organised, with students given clear workplans • modules being interesting, varied, stumulating • quality of teaching materials • variety of modules available Negative aspects of their academic life commented on by individual students included • differences in marking standards between different teachers • disruption caused by students who talk in lectures • time taken for work to be returned to students (7 weeks in one case) • library (inadequate copies of key books, and not knowing how to access online journals) • teachers not making copies of their teaching materials available online to students • bunching of assignment deadlines (and tests/classwork on language modules) • Social Space should have a microwave and a computer (to practice group presentations) • lack of information about marking criteria for assignments • insufficient teaching contact hours • absence of a personal tutor to guide students through their studies • no contact with teachers during the year abroad In considering free text comments, it should be borne in mind that they are the expression of individual views and so may not be representative of the wider student community: for this reason, I will not comment on all of them in detail here, but rather confine myself to making a few comments on issues which have not already been dealt with above.

On possible differences in marking standards, I note that the Department appoints a team of seven external examiners from other universities to monitor undergraduate teaching and assessment in our department, and one of the tasks they are charged with is to see whether there is variation in marking standards from one module to another. Where (as occasionally happens) external examiners feel that marking on a particular module is too harsh, they can (and do) recommend that all marks for the module concerned should be scaled up by an appropriate number of marks. (This happened on some modules last year.) On disruption caused by students talking in lectures, it needs to be borne in mind that lecturers standing at the front of a lecture theatre (usually with a video projector shining its beam into their eyes and its noisy fan assaulting their ear) may not be able to see or hear what is going on in the back of the theatre: it is therefore up to other students to quieten nuisance noise-makers down e.g. by uttering a loud “Shhhh!” and glaring at them – or speaking to them after the lecture, if necessary. On library books, I note that there is always a tension between ordering (say) 20 copies of a key text (which will get heavily used a few weeks a year immediately before the relevant essay deadline) and ordering 20 different books and so having an up-to-date collection of all the latest research in a given field available to graduate students (which is a vital resource for students doing a dissertation in a specialist topic). Staff are told by the library to recommend the purchase of multiple copies of key books if they feel this is appropriate - but they are mindful of the trade-off alluded to above. On teachers making all their teaching materials available to students online, I have pointed out the importance of this both in my staff newsnotes, and at departmental meetings. On the issue of bunched deadlines, I would say the following. Because knowledge is cumulative, students generally perform better if assessed towards the end of a term than if assessed in the middle of it, and so setting an end-of-term/end-of-vacation deadline for assignments gives students an opportunity to optimise their performance on them. Unfortunately, this can also mean that deadlines are sometimes bunched together – but the way to cope with this is to draw up an individual workplan of your own and (e.g.) plan to finish one assignment by Wednesday of week 9, another by Monday of week 10, and so on. This gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the management and organisational skills that employers are looking for. On the idea of equipping the Social Space with a microwave and computer, I would say the following. The Social Space is intended as a forum in which students can (e.g.) read a foreign magazine or prepare an assignment or simply relax in relative tranquillity. Allowing students to use it to practice group presentations would clearly undermine this core function and be disruptive to other users. Students wishing to have a room to practice presentations should contact Sue Shepherd, who will try and book a space for them. And in relation to the idea of a microwave, I would point out that I have received complaints about nasty smells coming from the use of microwaves to cook certain types of food: these smells tend to linger in the room (and even spread into the corridor), causing offence to others. On the idea of increasing contact hours, I note that most language modules already involve at least 3 contact hours per week. If students do one hour of preparation for each contact hour they have (as they are expected to and need to, because self-study is the core component of learning), and if they spend a couple of hours per week revising the material they have covered on the module over the previous week (as they are expected to), and a couple of hours preparing for their next assignment or class test (as they are expected to), this will mean that they are working 10 hour per week on each LA module they take. Similar considerations apply to Linguistics modules. For example, for each LG module they take, first-year students have one lecture contact hour per week and one class contact hour per week. They will be given a reading list for the lecture, and typically be expected to spend two hours a week reading one or more articles (or book chapters) in preparation for the lecture; they will also be expected to spend a couple of hours a week preparing exercise material for discussion in

class. In addition, they need to set aside a couple of hours per week revising the work covered in the previous week, and a couple of hours per week of advance reading for their next assignment. The key point to note once more is that universities are not about spoon feeding but about developing independent learning skills which will enable you to be an autonomous learner throughout the rest of your life. [As an aside, I will note that a student I know who spent a year in France was delighted to have 30 contact hours a week; she thought all she had to do was turn up each week, and she would absorb everything. Instead, she failed miserably and had to repeat the year: the bottom line is you don’t learn by sitting on a seat in a classroom – you learn by guided self-study].If you put 10 hours a week of work into each of the four modules you take each year, this will add up to a study load of 40 hours per week – more than enough for most students! On the need for a tutor to guide students through their studies, I note that individual degree Program Directors have been asked to take on this role, and to arrange meetings with students on their programs (either individally or in small groups) – e.g. once a term. Students should go and seem their Program Director if they have concerns about their overall performance on their program. On the absence of contact with tutors during the year abroad, I would make two points. Firstly, the Study Abroad Office organises a program of staff visits to students studying an partner institutions abroad. Secondly, staff email addresses are freely available, and Essex staff are happy to receive emails from students on their year abroad.


				
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