Some thoughts on the “Students expectations and perceptions of higher education” report

Via a tweet from David Walker I’ve just come across a QAA research report produced  by Kings College around students expectations and perceptions of higher education.

The aims of the project were to provide:

  • A better understanding of student perceptions of quality and standards, leading to the possibility of more effective relationships within and across institutions
  • Sector, academic and student groups that are better equipped to understand student engagement and thus facilitate enhancement
  • Examine the impact of recent policy developments on students’ perceptions of quality
  • A more developed understanding of how perceptions vary across student groups. iinstitutional types and regional settings

Although it’s primary focus was on students in English institutions, and the impact of increasing fees,  a number of the key recommendations have wider applicability to the rest of the UK and beyond.

A couple of the recommendations stood out for me including:

1. Students’ Framing of Ideology: Consumerist ethos: Student perceptions of value.

“there should be greater information and transparency over of information on how money is spent on teaching and learning activities, what qualifications do academics have in their subjects and for teaching, how are academics hired and trained and how teaching is structured and allocated.”

I’ve been trying to write something polite about this, but in light of experiences at my former host institution finding it very hard! Needless to say, there needs to be more  real buy-in and recognition of the importance of educational development within universities along side research activities. . . I’m very happy now to be in an institution that is providing increased opportunities and backing up rhetoric with adequate numbers of dedicated staff for CPD in educational development.

Related to this:

5. Staff: Attributes, practices and attitudes.  

“Students praised enthusiastic, experienced and engaged staff, but wanted mechanisms in place to develop staff and to manage ‘bad’ teachers. Students wanted staff to be qualified and trained  . . .”

In relation to perceptions of technology the points below jumped out at me:

2. Students’ Framing of Practice: Student expectations of the learning environment: Clear benchmarks. 

“Students’ expected their learning environment to meet clear benchmarks across four areas: instrumental (computers and physical spaces); organisational (timetabling and course structure); interpersonal (staff support and engagement); and academic (lecturers’ knowledge and attitude towards students).”

This reminds me of many of the findings from the Jisc DVLE and Curriculum Design programmes and in particular what Mark Stubbs refers to as the “hygiene” factors that really need to be in place in learning environments to support students. We really need to concentrate on having these basics in place we can move on to other “shinier” things.

In this section the executive summary also states:

“Students value face‐to‐face interactions for learning and support. Students viewed technology as a means to access resources and support studying, and no students mentioned pedagogical uses of digital technologies.”  (NB words in bold are my own emphasis) 

“Recommendation: Institutions should be cautious of using technology as a replacement for face‐to‐face interactions, or as a substitute for developing an active and collaborative learning environment and community.

I would agree that technology shouldn’t be seen as a replacement, but if we allow our staff more time for CPD then many more may be able to see the affordances that technology can bring to their teaching and in particular collaboration,  and allow more students to understand that the use of technology in learning is not just about retrieval of content and uploading of assessments.

Once again another argument for emphasis on creating blended learning opportunities?