Listening to Students
How and why Universities should change the way they gather feedback
Universities provide students with an education to help them succeed in their chosen field. At their best, they foster experiences, growth, and connections that would not have happened otherwise. In order to do this effectively, universities need feedback from their students. Gathering that feedback can be difficult, especially because not all students are equally able to give that feedback, but it will ensure that they continue to operate at their best for those they serve.
Many universities have a student government to provide student input on each university’s functioning. The exact nature of a student government’s powers varies from university to university. However, many students’ input never reaches student government, perhaps because of a lack of information, because of poor communication, or because they don’t know it exists. Clubs and other organizations can provide additional spaces for communication. But not every student will join one, and the degree of influence each organization has varies wildly.
To reach students more equitably, many universities try to provide their students with direct opportunities to give feedback. A common example is anonymous end-of-class surveys. These surveys are done on each student’s own time shortly before or during finals week. The difficulty with these surveys is that, while valuable, they come at a stressful time for students. Many of the classes I took in college had to offer rewards to get students to prioritize the surveys. Even though I knew each survey would benefit the instructor going forward and generally wanted to help, my final projects and tests ultimately took priority. Other reasons students may have needed the rewards may have included apathy, distrust that their responses were truly anonymous, skepticism that their responses actually change anything, or simply feeling overwhelmed by yet another thing to do.
Most universities utilize social media accounts to reach more students as well. The style of these accounts can greatly influence what feedback is received directly. When I was a student in two colleges with wildly different management styles, it was sometimes hard to believe the accounts belonged to the same university! One was highly standardized in its posting style, and almost exclusively focused on major events. This was useful for communicating with the public but did not encourage informal student interactions. The other account was managed more fluidly and sometimes generated considerable interaction, though not always when desired. Regardless of management preference, simply using social media accounts is a first step in gathering student feedback online. Social listening can enhance the feedback universities receive from their students online even further. From running keyword searches to employing wide-reaching data analysis software, it is now possible to gather more data than ever and meaningfully apply it in managing communications.
That said, gathering feedback online (especially through social listening) cannot replace direct interactions with students. For one thing, asking for feedback directly can build trust between students and their institutions--and that cannot be taken for granted.
Fortunately, new tools are emerging that can help fill feedback gaps. One such tool is Pulse. Pulse is survey software designed to help organizations get feedback from the people they serve and turn that feedback into action. Once Pulse survey kiosks are set up, students can access them at their convenience--removing much of the difficulty involved in gathering feedback at set times and places. Pulse surveys can also be sent out digitally, further expanding their reach. Crucially, Pulse can capture feedback from students who are not speaking through the channels discussed above, from organizations to existing surveys to social media. This maximizes the voices being heard and can help universities reach out.