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Is accountability a natural bi-product of our digital campuses?

NSS

Is accountability a natural bi-product of our digital campuses?

Tomorrow, Collabco will be attending the ‘Evaluation in HE’ conference with partner EvaSys, the evaluation software provider. We work together with the company to provide quick access for students to fill out the National Student Survey that gives students a vehicle to deliver feedback. It’s a questionnaire aimed mainly at final-year undergraduates which gather their opinions about their experience of their courses, asking them to provide honest feedback on what it has been like to study on their course and at their institution. It provides influential information about HE and gives students a powerful collective voice to help shape the future of their course and of their university or college.

The survey takes place in January and this year it has attracted some negative press from some of the UK’s leading HE institutions. Indeed the National Union of Students has suggested that undergraduates should consider boycotting the survey as they believe the information gathered from it will be used to develop a league table of universities that will help to drive up tuition fees according to the feedback of the student population. Many students have done just that fearing that the survey will ultimately be used against them.

This has been strongly denied by Professor Chris Husbands, the chairman of the Teaching Excellence Framework that judges universities and enables them to raise tuition fees. The TEF measures student satisfaction rates and drop out rates – and Professor Husbands is clear that student satisfaction is not a good measure of teaching excellence. Students may answer survey questions with non-academic reasons in mind – how well they get on with their lecturer, but not necessarily how well they teach for example. Satisfaction scores in American universities suggest such a trend and call into question their use as a means to rank university standards.

Whether the NSS is being used to drive up fees or not, it opens a can of worms in terms of accountability and the digital campus. As our campuses digitise and students and lecturers are able to collaborate more easily online – even filling out the survey itself from their smartphones or other digital devices, it drives an ever increasingly accountable environment. The data driven campus delivers the information in real time that can be used to drive up standards. Feedback from students on their lecturers and the institution can be fed back into the cycle to increasingly improve standards as well as student satisfaction. Digital environments generate data and that data is difficult to ignore when it delivers the clarity required to make changes.

It therefore seems inevitable to me that accountability for all – students, lecturers and institutions alike – will increase as we increasingly digitise our HE institutions. And if that means that ultimately we can provide many more and different measures of success, then it has to be a good thing.

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