Student Voice

Student Voices: Learning Analytics

The following post was written by Johannes Schmiedecker, a BILT Student Fellow.

In early April, the BILT Student Fellows conducted various workshops at the Bristol SU Education Network. Below are some findings from the workshop about learning analytics in the HE sector.

The Task

8 groups of students (maximum 7 people per group) had to decide if the University should or should not include various metrics when it processes student data to improve the university life. The metrics were written down on single index cards and included different data, ranging from academic data such as assessment grades, blackboard access or library usage to personal data like gender, religion or ethnicity. The groups had to decide collectively and only allocate a certain data metric to either “Yes” or “No” if all the members of the group agreed. After 10 minutes the time ended, and students were asked to reflect on the task. 

The Outcome

The groups engaged in active discussions and we saw that students had different opinions when it comes to finding an accurate balance between privacy rights and data analytics. Students were mostly open to providing their data for learning analytics as they saw that it can improve university life, however, they expect clear policies and strategies from the University before they would agree to such a thing.

The following bar chart provides a summary of how the students allocated the cards. For instance, all 8 groups said that attendance in classes or assessment grades data should definitely be included in learning analytics. However, when it came to more personal data like the current employment situation, gender or ethnicity, the results were mixed, and some groups could not agree to either Yes or No. Furthermore, all groups decided that facial recognition at campus or comments on social media should be excluded. In general, the groups could allocate academic data easier, agreeing on a usage of personal data was far more contentious.

Student Feedback

As the time of the workshop was limited, the findings do not provide a full picture of the issue of data analytics, but it was good to get some student feedback and listen to their approach to data usage at the HE level. After the workshop the students had the chance to express their thoughts on the workshop, and the responses varied. “We kind of mulled over each metric, it was hard to decide!” one student said. Some were generally critical towards data analytics, “The question is, how the University is going to use the data? What do they want to do with it and why? It really depends on how the Uni uses it!” was one response. Others had a more open attitude towards data analytics and were fine with the usage of their data if it was education based and the university processed the data in a transparent way. “It would be nice if the University had an opt-out policy, if there are tick boxes and we could decide which data we want to provide. This would be the best way to approach it because everyone has different opinions!” one student argued who advocated for more control of students over their own data.

It was great to hear so many different opinions on how the University should use data of students. It demonstrated that there are many perspectives on how to approach learning analytics and a University policy would need to consider many different aspects.

Thanks to all participants, we are looking forward to the next BILT workshops and activities!

Student Voice

In conversation with a fourth year Liberal Arts student

Check out this snippet of conversation our Student Fellow Zoe Backhouse recorded with a fellow fourth year Liberal Arts student on the topic of assessment.  Want to know why Europe’s doing HE better than the UK and why playing Donald Trump in class may not be a bad thing? Read on…

Z: How was your assessment on your year abroad?

A: Well, when I was in Amsterdam it was broken down so much into different areas. It wasn’t all reduced down to an essay because that isn’t the one mode of intelligence in the world.

One of my assessments was I became Federica Mogherini who’s the Foreign Minister for the EU and we played out a simulation of the Middle East. Everybody was a different country – someone was Donald Trump! – and literally I learned so much about applying the theory and the logic and actually putting in a practical sense. I think that’s just so important because university should be about teaching skills that can be transferred to employability.

I also loved how we did presentations abroad. At Utrecht you had to lead a seminar for 45 minutes after a 20 minute presentation. In your presentation you couldn’t just read from a piece of paper like everyone does at Bristol. You would stand and deliver a lesson, not looking down at notes, you’d talk to people and have eye contact. And then you had to lead a discussion amongst your peers.

I found it pretty nerve-wracking and I’m quite a confident public speaker. But that’s because the way we’ve always been indoctrinated here is… it’s just very insular. I don’t know, I just think there is a lack of discussion in general in all forms. Discussion only happens as an internal monologue that gets reproduced in an essay. People can’t have conversations in seminars because they get nervous, because they feel like they’d look stupid. I think you should take that away.

We used to be marked on class participation at Utrecht which was like 20% of the mark. I actually do think that’s really important? In the UK people are so scared of saying something because they think there’s only one right answer. In our education system we’re taught that there’s only one right answer and it’s at the back of the book and don’t look and don’t copy and don’t speak to anyone else about it. But it’s not that. Art is about taking things and reinterpreting them and making them better. So I think discussion has been lost from education.

I did another module called Digital Citizens. And literally, we were just coming in to talk about what was going on in the news that day, we’d all just sit around and have a discussion. One of the requirements of that course was to write a journalistic article which was liberating. And it wasn’t just GCSE journalism, it was like, can you write a legitimate article? So I wrote about how data analytics is perpetuating gender stereotypes.

You did have essays as well because that’s important. It’s just about diversifying assessment, and making people feel more comfortable and able in their abilities as opposed to constantly critiquing people and telling them they’re wrong all the time because they don’t fit one style of system.

Female student stood in front of other students discussing information on flipchart
Student Voice

Utilising Student Voice in Learning Support and Transition

The following post was written by BILT Associate and Senior Teaching Fellow in Bristol Law School, Imogen Moore. 

Sometimes we might wonder how much of the guidance we give to students to support transition and learning is heard and absorbed. Despite our efforts and best intentions, we may find the same mistakes being made, the same confusion continuing – and the same lack of satisfaction voiced in student surveys.

It can be tempting to apportion blame – if only students would just listen. But we can’t ignore our own responsibility for providing effective guidance and support. How can we help our students hear? Critical educational messages may be missed even when clearly delivered due to overload, anxiety, unfamiliarity, perceived irrelevance, and various other factors. There is much to be discussed in all those areas, but the focus of this blog post is the role student voice might play in overcoming obstacles to communication, particularly during transition.

Why consider utilising student voice to support learning and transition? In short, students typically respond well to guidance from their peers. Even within peer assessment and feedback, where students sometimes question the value of advice given by a peer rather than a tutor (Mulder et al, 164-5; Cartney 2010, 554), students typically engage well and have positive perceptions of the process (Nicol et al, 2013, 108-9). So even in a context where a contrast might be drawn between an ‘expert’ tutor and an inexperienced peer, students recognise and value peer advice.

Such positive perceptions are likely to be all the stronger in relation to more general guidance on studying and the student experience. That is because in this context the student is undoubtedly the expert: expert in the modern student experience; expert in what works for them; expert in understanding the concerns and confusions of a student in transition. A lecturer will inevitably be (at least) one step removed from the student experience, and probably perceived to be a great deal further away than that. Furthermore the lecturer may be viewed as having their own (possibly unrealistic) agenda, rather than genuinely understanding a student’s concerns.

Utilising student voice may thus enable the provision of expertise and understanding in areas a lecturer is less equipped to comment upon. Even those directly engaged in transition may not fully recognise what new students need to know, as our own experiences and recollections might be misremembered or reflect a different era. It has been observed that what may be “obvious to those of us indoctrinated into university life … is information that is very difficult for someone on the outside of the institution to obtain without inside assistance”, particularly “those coming from backgrounds without a tradition of university attendance” (Clapham, 2018, 373). We may fail to identify ‘unknown unknowns’.

Even in respect of ‘known unknowns’, we may be perceived to be inexpert. Our distance from the listener may significantly reduce the perceived value of our guidance to the student. Even a new lecturer has by definition already cracked the code and is now on ‘the other side’. A student is inherently more relatable, a fellow traveller who is learning the route, has spotted some of the dead-ends (and shortcuts), and whose experience is directly relevant to the listener. It is probably for this reason that student reviewers of ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’ (Moore & Newbery-Jones, 2018) responded so positively to the inclusion of authentic student comments. One anonymous student reviewer remarked that their own experiences were similar to many of those mentioned, while another stated that they were more likely to listen to advice from a fellow student than from a lecturer. This tallies with observations within the context of peer-assisted learning: students often found it easier to relate to a peer than an authority figure (Zacharopoulou et al, 2013, 202).

The relatability of the messenger has particular significance in transition. Pre-transfer students may have difficulty envisaging university life and accurately predicting their student experience, which can cause difficulties in adapting to higher education (Briggs et al, 2012, 5). The ability to picture ‘someone like me’ (Briggs et al, 2012, 14) in the voices of real students may therefore have particular value in that context.

Student experience and student voice might then be utilised more fully in transition and learning support. Much good work has already been done in this area for example through PASS mentors, at least when the system works well. But there may be further scope for utilising student voice within programmes, whether in welcome lectures, transition events or skills development (although care must be taken to ensure students are not perceived as a cheap substitute for ‘expert’ advice in this area), and even within individual units. For example unit leaders might ask past students to give tips and reassurance to new students, in place of more typical top-down lecturer advice. In my own unit that takes the form of short video clips on Blackboard from a small, diverse group of high-achieving students from the previous year (“The Survivors”), to demystify the subject and build trust. (With thanks and acknowledgements to Dr Lana Ashby of the University of Durham, who originated the ‘Survivors’ tag.)

Incorporating student voice within programmes and units – rather than leaving it entirely outside the classroom – ensures we do not appear to be delegating our educational responsibilities to the student body, enables us to check any advice given is genuinely helpful, and provides reassurance to the recipient. My experience within units and programmes and in writing ‘The Successful Law Student’ has shown that authenticity is essential (hence the importance where possible of using attributed comments and materials), but this cannot remove our responsibility for ensuring advice is appropriate and accurate. Student voice as learning support is therefore a potentially powerful tool that should neither be neglected nor manipulated, but nonetheless requires oversight.

References:

Briggs, A.R.J., Clark, J., & Hall, I., (2012) ‘Building bridges: understanding student transition to university’, Quality in Higher Education 18(1), 3-21
Cartney, P., (2010) ‘Exploring the use of peer feedback as a vehicle for closing the gap between feedback given and feedback used’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5), 551-564
Clapham, N., (2018) ‘Book review: The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, The Law Teacher, 52(3), 372-374
Moore, I.K., & Newbery-Jones, C., (2018) ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, Oxford University Press
Mulder, R., Pearce, J. & Baik, C., (2014) ‘Peer Review in higher education: student perceptions before and after participation’, Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2), 157-171
Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C., (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective’ Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 39(1), 102-122
Zacharopoulou, A., & Turner, C., (2013) ‘Peer assisted learning and the creation of a “learning community” for first year law students’, The Law Teacher 47(2), 192-214

This blog post is published with thanks and acknowledgements to the University of Bristol Law School Blog (https://legalresearch.blogs.bris.ac.uk/) where a version of this piece first appeared.