How do your Course Modules add up?

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Ever wondered what happens to your module evaluation forms that you fill out each semester? Why would anyone care, you may ask, but would you find it useful to know the average scores of all your course modules when choosing your options?

Before Christmas, the Wessex Scene undertook an investigation into what happened to these forms. 39 days later, along with one “polite” reminder that the University was breaking the law by not responding within 20 working days, the Wessex Scene was able to gain access to the “Quality of Content”, “Quality of Feedback” and “Overall Module Rating” scores for all third year Politics and International Relations modules. Could this be the beginning of a revolutionary change in how students choose their course options? And why was I denied access the first time?

With Semester two underway, most students will have put Semester one – exams, coursework and all – behind them, and they almost certainly will have forgotten the module evaluation forms that they filled out not long ago. However, how many students had to pick options for Semester two? How many students chose options based on thorough research of module contents and past student’s opinions of the module? Or instead, how many chose a module purely based on the name and the lecturer?

I will stick my head out and say an awful lot of people.

I began investigating by asking the Politics Programme Support Office, and then lecturers personally if I could have access to their module scores. As you could guess – most were against this idea – with the School Office saying “the evaluation forms are for teacher training purposes only”.

However, thanks to Tony Blair, the FOI Act gives you the right to ask any public body for all the information they have on any subject you choose. Unless there’s a good reason, the organisation must provide the information within 20 working days; lo behold, I was successful.

I approached the Office again – and Pro Vice Chancellor Education, Debra Humphris – armed with the information that the figures are, in fact, publically available. Debra said “there may have been a minor misunderstanding”, before providing me with the University’s policy. Interestingly, the document says “a summary of the outcomes of module evaluation should be fed back to students by staff involved in the delivery of the module”, but it clearly isn’t.

Russell Bentley, Head of Politics, said that the School’s policy is that “quantitative information about the module itself, excluding information about academic staff, is made available through staff-student liaison groups and programme boards” – yet for one, I was denied access at first time of asking, and second, I would hope if students were told these figures are available, they, or their course representatives would actively chase up the information. Speaking to a Course Rep in Politics, he was oblivious to the fact he should have this information provided for him.

In November 2010 a group to explore module evaluation across the University was established, chaired by Jim Anderson – the Deputy Head of Education for the Maths department. When I spoke to him, he said that he had been working over the past year and a half into working out a suitable policy about Module Evaluation information – given that Maths students are currently given their Module Evaluation data online, unlike any other school. There are potentially many points of conflict, with how reliable the data is, how to best release the data, how to protect certain lecturers who do not receive good marks, or what to do when the content or lecturer teaching a module changes.

The main concern from the results presented is the consistently low response rate, sometimes as low as 16.7%. Given there are at least 30 students registered for each module, this is clear evidence that students do not value the worth of the module evaluation process, perhaps because there is no seen end-product for the student.

Debra Humphris acknowledges this as a serious flaw with the evaluation process, saying the University “undertakes a significant amount of evaluation activity, but this is not always with sufficient student response rates to be helpful”. She has suggested that Module Evaluation forms become accessible to be completed via Blackboard, but Mr Anderson pointed out that some lecturers felt that students who didn’t attend all the lectures would not be in the correct position to assess the module properly.

Mr Anderson said that the University is aiming to develop a policy that can hopefully be trialled in Semester 1 next year, for wider expansion in Semester 2. What needs to be done now, then, is that Course Reps actively chase up their schools for their module scores, and distribute the results effectively; if their request fails, politely link them to this article, and cc the Pro Vice Chancellor. I’m sure she would love to see how well schools have grasped University policy.

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Afternoon! Welcome to my political world, reporting on all things studenty and politics-like. I do most of my writing whilst browsing the Internet when I should be doing other things, and I do love a good stat, so do expect links and numbers that are meaningless yet informative. Enjoy!

Discussion4 Comments

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    Benjamin Brooks

    Great article Sasha, Interesting that you got stonewalled the first time.

    I would correct you on one point though, where you say:

    “Maths students are currently given their Module Evaluation data online, unlike any other school”

    You’re not 100% correct. SOES policy is that all module evaluation feedback is available to all students through the “SOES Communication and Feedback” Blackboard site. The problem lies as much with the school not publicising it, and with students not actually accessing the information where available, as it does with the university not making it available.

    SOES Students can go to the following URL to get access, or do so through their own blackboard sites: http://blackboard.soton.ac.uk/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_id=_2_1&url=%2fwebapps%2fblackboard%2fexecute%2flauncher%3ftype%3dCourse%26id%3d_71437_1%26url%3d

    Ben Brooks

    Sasha Watson
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    That’s exactly the problem (communication), and seeing as its such a basic thing to resolve, it makes it more frustrating. Resolving this issue will be part down to training of Course Reps, part down to getting the Schools to stop being lazy and actively push this. We shall see…

    Sasha Watson
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    I’ve just had a browse on the scores – thats really a fantastic way of showing the information (although do you know how well used or well known that page is?).

    The problem is consistency across the board – rather than having a SOES way, a Maths way and a Politics way – a Southampton way needs to be developed

    Benjamin Brooks
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    I don’t know about this year, but at the beginninng of last year when I was the school president I know that the site was barely used at all, with only myself and one-or-two of the later year course reps knowing about it. It came up in SSLC meetings and the school was pretty unhappy about that, but they’ve been trying to publicise it for years with no success and I think they kinda gave up.

    I definitely agree that an across-the-board method for showing and accessing module feedback is a must, especially as the university moves towards a more-flexible curriculum.

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