Closing the ‘feedback loop; using Unitu: student uptake, usage and impact of a new online student feedback platform

Dr Emma Mayhew, Politics, Economics and International Relations
e.a.mayhew@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2015/16

Overview

PLanT funding was used to research the impact of a new student feedback platform in Politics. Unitu creates an online student forum from which representatives pull issues onto a separate departmental board. Academics can then add responses and show if an issue has been actioned or closed by dragging between columns.

Objectives

  • To monitor student uptake and usage figures across the year.
  • To increase our understanding of the impact of the platform on the student experience.
  • To look more deeply at the effect of continuous feedback, via Unitu, on teaching and learning provision within the Department.

Context

Increasingly, providers are looking for alternative ways to encourage more continuous student engagement by opening channels of communication between staff and students to target further improvements to the student experience. This is particularly timely given the Teaching Excellence Framework and changes to National Student Survey questions which stress the importance of the student voice.

Implementation

In order to investigate student uptake, usage and impact of Unitu, the project team adopted a three stage approach:

  1. To survey students to assess their knowledge and experiences of Unitu. 120 questionnaires were received from students across all parts of the Department.
  2. To conduct a focus group of between 8 and 10 students to help draw out themes surrounding the student experience of using Unitu and impact of the platform on provision and satisfaction.
  3. To research the experiences of the University of Roehampton to look at how this provider raised awareness of the platform, how they encouraged student engagement and what kind of impact they had seen.

Impact

We now have easily accessible sign up and usage figures across the year. We can see how sign up figures respond to our promotional activity. We have a much better understanding of why some students were not aware of the platform, how some students encountered initial technical difficulties with sign up, why some purposefully prefer not to engage with Unitu and, for those that have, which features are of particular use and which are not. This data has led to changes in our approach to student communications and liaison with the software provider to amend some of the features offered.

Reflections

Although some features were problematic, such as numerous ‘new post’ email notifications, the overall response was positive. 58% of students enrolled onto the platform. 55 issues, questions or praise were posted, prompting 5,500 student views of follow on discussion. 52% found Unitu increased student representative profiles. 61% felt it improved the student voice. 75% felt it showed exactly how the Department responded to student feedback. Some changes were made to teaching provision in response to student feedback including addressing deadline clusters and balancing assessed and non-assessed presentations. Notably the platform offers academic colleagues the opportunity to explore the pedagogical rationale behind curriculum design and assessment decisions. But we do remain mindful of the way in which Unitu might lead to difficulties managing student expectations in terms of the timing and nature of responses as well as the impact of adopting a very open discussion forum which does require clear rules of engagement.

Follow up

We have started work on broader dissemination of our experiences. In September 2016 a Part Two student, Jack Gillum, presented as part of a broader University of Reading symposium at the Researching, Advancing & Inspiring Student Engagement (RAISE) conference in Loughborough. Unitu is now being considered by Computer Science and the School of Construction Management and Engineering. We would like to continue to share our experiences with new adopters.

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