News

Surveying the Students

The following post was written by Corrie Macleod, a BILT Student Fellow. 

Lisa, Zoe, Phoebe and I were stationed outside of Senate House, ready to seduce students with free tea, coffee and biscuits in exchange for their raw and honest opinions about their course, their student life and their state of mind.

 We were ready to hear honest, unedited student thoughts during this post-exam January blues. Were they worried about the results they were going to get? Were they anxious for the semester ahead? Surprisingly, none of them were.

‘I’m having a hoot today!’ ‘To be honest, it’s been really good’ and ‘Yeah I had a great night at Lizard Lounge last night and my lectures were alright’ were one of the few happy responses we got from students. Given the unexpectedly beautiful sunshine and clear blue skies that kept us company throughout our 1h30 of questioning, it’s maybe no surprise people were feeling more positive today.  

We spoke to more than a dozen students, both undergraduate and post-graduate, from courses ranging from Politics, to Neuroscience, to Mechanical Engineering. No one seemed to be having a bad day and we were starting to wonder if students were just giving us polite and agreeable answers to thank us for the freebies? We then worried that our survey wouldn’t be an accurate representation of what students were feeling given its small sample size and the absence of Arts students (most of them are currently on Reading Week). Furthermore, could it just be that those students who were miserable simply weren’t on campus and were commiserating in the comforts of their homes? There were obviously some drawbacks to our little informal survey, but, as we continued these conversations with students, their answers became more and more layered and articulate.

We were most surprised by an almost unanimous agreement that having fewer assignments that count for a large chunk of degrees created unnecessary pressure for students to perform well without being given time or opportunity to improve. To have a summative assignment worth 100% of a module made students stress out and scared to fail – it does not successfully gauge the performance of scholars or their level of engagement with their degree.

‘This might be controversial, but I wouldn’t mind having more assignments…’ said an Anonymous final year Neuroscience student. But little did she know, she was actually in the majority of people who thought that more frequent assignments would enhance their understanding of their content and their relationship to their course. Some students, namely in Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering, felt that they had a lot on their plate already. But could this be because their degrees were already shaped up by a diversity of short assignments, group projects and exams spread out throughout the year?

What we do know, is that these responses we got today are not meant to fully encapsulate the feeling of the entire student population, they should provide an interesting snapshot of it. We obviously need more opinions to determine whether there is a strong correlation between student engagement and the frequency and diversity of assignments they receive throughout their education. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to these concerns. But, there is definitely a discussion we need to take part in to find this multifaceted answer towards greater student satisfaction.

Without greater conversation, there is no way of knowing what students truly want.