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Student dissatisfaction

ULCC looks at the increasing importance of addressing student dissatisfaction

Posted by Hannah Oakman | October 20, 2016 | Research

The rise in tuition fees over the past few years has led to an adjacent increase in the level of expectation from students within the UK higher education sector. This, combined with the government’s proposal to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework, means that addressing and improving student satisfaction is now more important than ever. 

An aspect of the student experience which is often highlighted as a pain point is the virtual learning environment (VLE). A recent study by the University of Liverpool* found that dissatisfaction is widespread amongst students regarding the inconsistent use of VLEs by lecturers – with many students left frustrated by some lecturers using it heavily while others not at all. This unhappiness should not come as a surprise, however. In a world where the proliferation of digital technologies is increasingly widespread, there is a much greater expectation from students for technology to play a large, coherent role in their academic journey.

Similarly, assessments and feedback have also proved to be a source of dissatisfaction amongst students. The 2015 NSS report** found that only 73% were satisfied with their institution’s assessment and feedback processes – making it the lowest scoring metric tracked by the survey.

So why does this all matter?

The UK higher education sector is changing. Although growth is still continuing, it slowed dramatically*** in 2015, from 4% down to 1.5%. As such, universities are under more pressure to attract students from a smaller pool of candidates. This, combined with the aforementioned NSS and looming introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework, means that failing to address and improve student satisfaction can impact an institution’s appeal to an audience who are now more scrutinous about where they choose to study.

In a world where the proliferation of digital technologies is increasingly widespread, there is a much greater expectation from students for technology to play a large, coherent role in their academic journey

By addressing the satisfaction levels of the existing student population, HE institutions can improve their attractiveness to prospective students whilst also improving the quality of the service on offer to those who are already enrolled.

Where do VLEs and assessment and feedback processes fit into this?

With VLEs and assessment and feedback processes being highlighted as two of the key sources of student dissatisfaction, it makes sense to take steps toward addressing these. As such, our team at CoSector – University of London (formerly ULCC) have begun exploring these issues to further develop our own VLE - Bloom. 

Through user testing, we have been able to develop fictional personas, based on over 200 survey responses and 20 in-depth conversations with students. These personas represent the typical VLE user, and by incorporating them into our project, we are able to ensure the team focuses on user needs during design and development.

Although improving the VLE is only a small part of improving the overall student experience, we feel that our approach, looking directly at how students use the platform, will result in improved satisfaction.

To read our research findings in full, please visit Bloom.london.ac.uk/research

* Peter Reed, Institute of Learning & Teaching, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, The University of Liverpool (2015)

** Higher Education Funding Council for England, http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2015/Name,104948,en.html 

*** Chris Havergal, reporter, timeshighereducation.com (2015)

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