Why student feedback should inform, and indeed transform, international business education

“The headline is just how seriously student voice is being taken and how business and management education providers are collecting and responding to feedback”

How can the student voice deliver transformational international business and management education?

This is the question we explored in Feedback Matters: Business and Management Education Focus Report, which examines how student feedback – including feedback derived through evaluation surveys – influences institutional enhancement, says John Atherton, general manager (Europe and Africa) at Explorance.

The report itself convenes in-depth thinking from experts in business schools and university-based business and management faculties around the world and shares strategies underpinning student insight; differentiated approaches to capturing, and responding to, student feedback; and specific challenges and how these are being addressed.

It also highlights best practice case studies on student voice policy and practice and delves into the future for teaching and learning in business and management education, including how student feedback will support this evolution.

With perspectives captured from Australia, Egypt, Sweden, UK and the USA, the headline is just how seriously student voice is being taken and how business and management education providers are collecting and responding to feedback about different aspects of the experience at different points in time. It is also clear that student ownership and engagement is fundamental to the success of this process.

Writing in the report, Jennifer Milam, pro vice-chancellor (Academic Excellence) in the vice-chancellor’s division at The University of Newcastle, Australia (Newcastle Business School), said: “The University embarked upon a cultural shift in how we use course and teacher evaluations to drive excellence and measure the impact of our university. By increasing the reliance on the student voice, the University has created a successful performance development process that encourages, nurtures and rewards individuals for their impact on their students and the wider community.”

Meanwhile, Angela Guadagno, PhD (Academic Associate, Teaching and Learning Services), at Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, revealed, “McGill University has a long history of valuing student input on course evaluations, and has developed a system that allows instructors to personalise some of the questions they ask.

“We plan to continue gathering feedback from students through course evaluations, questionnaires, focus groups and midsemester feedback. Midsemester feedback is particularly valuable to instructors because it allows instructors to make changes and benefit the students who gave the feedback, rather than future students.”

Student representatives also reinforced the need for universities to take their views on board. At the University of Edinburgh Business School, which recently implemented a new Student Voice policy, current undergraduate school representative Florence Barnard and former undergraduate school representative Pippa Gosden jointly commented: “The Business School is placing increasing emphasis on the importance of feedback in improving student experience. As a student you feel your voice is being heard. It is especially rewarding when the school listens and acts upon our advice.”

Institutions have certainly ramped up their approaches to student engagement/student feedback throughout the pandemic and course evaluation surveys remain integral. What we are seeing is end-of-semester summative evaluation surveys (providing standardisation on questions which enables comparisons between courses/between cohorts) being complemented with formative feedback (giving lecturers the opportunity to seek feedback through bespoke, non-standard questions, during a module).

There has also been a rise in informal, ad hoc, approaches being taken to capturing feedback about a module, a course, and wider issues on the student experience.

Whatever direction the pandemic or other global events take over the next 12 months, and their impact on teaching and learning, course evaluation surveys are a proven approach to informing quality assurance and enhancement within universities. Given the rich data they provide they will remain the primary channel for student feedback on the educational experience.

However, during a period when ‘Pulse’ surveys – providing quick and light-touch feedback – have risen in prominence given the need for universities to better understand how students are feeling at any given time, institutions may be questioning where they put their efforts. Any new beginning post-Covid should include the best of ‘old’ and ‘new’ normals.

Perhaps this quote from Sherif Kamel, professor of Management and Dean of the School of Business at The American University in Cairo, is most indicative.

“The future of learning will continue to change, but student voice will be a powerful informer of that change,” Kamel said.

About the author: John Atherton is General Manager (Europe and Africa) at Explorance. Feedback Matters: Business and Management Education Focus Report is available to download here.