How to win the National Student Survey

The National Student Survey (NSS) is an annual survey of all final year undergraduate degree students at higher education institutions throughout the United Kingdom.

The survey is designed to assess undergraduate students' opinions of the quality of their degree programmes. It contains 27 questions covering eight aspects of the student experience, plus a ninth category for 'Overall Experience'. The full list of categories is:
1. The teaching on my course
2. Learning opportunities
3. Assessment and feedback
4. Academic support
5. Organisation and management
6. Learning resources
7. Learning community
8. Student voice
9. Overall satisfaction

Each question is actually a statement attached to a five-point Likert scale, from 'Strongly Agree' through to 'Strongly Disagree'. Examples include, "I have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on my course" and "I feel part of a community of staff and students".

Why is the NSS so important?

The NSS delivers a benchmark that gives a clean basis for comparison. It should come as no surprise then that the NSS has been highly influential since it was first run in 2005; it sways the choices of prospective students after all!

In the scramble to meet student recruitment targets, the universities themselves have adopted the NSS into their overall strategies. Many have created a new kind of role rarely seen before 2005: Student Experience Manager.

What makes the NSS tricky?

For a university, the difficulty with the NSS is the timetable. It is conducted each year between January and April, with results being published in August, when students have already left and prospective students are just about to make a decision. It's too late do anything about the results!

The NSS also suffers the same broader problems as any annual survey: It is retrospective and infrequent. Being retrospective means that it can't fix issues for the students that reported them; it can only fix issues for the future. And being infrequent means that issues can fester for a long time before they are noticed.

In short, the NSS can deliver slow improvements, but it is a poor vehicle for agile change.

So, do we ditch the NSS?

No. At least, we don't think so! We think that annual surveys provide an important yardstick from one year to the next. We just need a way of supplementing it with fast and frequent feedback.

Okay, how do we do that?

Through the work we do with our Ombea Response product, we already see lecturers using the voting technology to poll students on some aspects of the NSS.

By adding questions on aspects like teaching quality and student wellbeing throughout the course, they can pick up on issues before it's too late. The problem is central coordination. It's normally an ad-hoc approach which nobody is combining all the pockets of data to paint a bigger picture. Or to put it another way, the feedback isn't going somewhere where it will inspire institutional change. It's a start, but it's not the complete solution.

What we need is a way of capturing fast, frequent feedback from multiple locations that is visible centrally.

The Ombea ExpressPod is a perfect fit

Obviously this is the point in our blog article where we recommend our own product, but the principles apply to any approach you use.

The ExpressPod is a smiley-face feedback pod. It features a single, simple question, such as, "I have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on my course." You can change the question as often as you like, and you can place as many ExpressPods as you wish around campus.

Data is fed to a central dashboard with plenty of options for aggregation, comparison, and monitoring trends over time.

The twist is that students can vote throughout the day, every day, without breaking their stride. The result is an ongoing stream of feedback that gives you the micro trends on any question you wish to ask. No need to suffer the low response rates of online surveys, and no need to wait for an annual survey before you can start acting.

Where ExpressPod meets NSS

Hopefully it's obvious now: Pick an NSS question and set it up on your ExpressPod. Scatter ExpressPods around campus, et voila, you now have NSS data on tap!

Monitor it throughout the year and use it to give you clues on where to look for improvements.

You could even combine it with Ombea Response in student focus groups to quantify the more detailed feedback you'll receive.

Where ExpressPod goes beyond NSS

You can change ExpressPod buttons from smiley faces to multiple-choice mode. This means you can ask multiple-choice questions to seek further detail from time to time, whenever you like.

Every university will have plenty of examples of choices they'd like to put to their student population, and ExpressPods provide a simple and convenient way of doing so.

About Ombea

Ombea provides leading solutions for capturing and analyzing real-time feedback. Governments, Fortune 100 corporations and top-rated universities across the globe use our solutions to visualize feedback, generate insight, and make evidence-based decisions. This helps them make their students smarter, their customers happier and their employees more engaged.

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