students in the lab

Case study for stop-check surveys in Chemical Engineering

From the beginning of the academic year (2020-21), the undergraduate teaching team has been actively involved in carrying out short evaluations to monitor how our students were getting on with their studies during these extraordinary times. The central aim of these pulse surveys was to tease out any immediate (and long-term) concerns students face and make concerted attempts to offer the right support and guidance as quickly as possible to prevent situations from escalating.

Initially, the plan had been to administer surveys and run student focus-groups intermittently, (with one of these options employed fortnightly). However, as we run town-hall meetings for students fairly regularly with senior members of staff we have just been using surveys instead to prevent students feeling overloaded. The survey items address topics that cover all teaching scenarios, personal tutorials, departmental and institutional amenities, social interactions with peers and staff, wellbeing, administrative support, workload, and access to information, and the survey itself is sent out to all undergraduate students. In total 23 questions are asked: 22 closed and 1 open. Qualtrics is used to register responses with the survey usually sent out on Monday morning and responses collated on Friday afternoon of the same week. The most useful feature of the survey is the open-text comments which invites students to provide details about the concerns they face and/or offer up suggestions, with this question encompassing the one open question of the survey.

In the first instance, the undergraduate teaching team go through the survey and discuss the concerns that need addressing and this takes approximately 30 minutes to do (patterns are easier to spot when questions are closed). As we run regular (once monthly) informal, catch-up meetings for staff and GTAs, we have a ready-available forum in place during which the concerns raised by students can be discussed and acted upon if need be. For example, students have expressed feelings of isolation, and as such a series of student-staff lunches are organised during this term in addition to a Covid-secure group outing being organised by our wellbeing advisor last term. A second example was students complaining of going through days without breaks and as such senior management requested that the duration of lectures be slightly curtailed allowing students comfort breaks between lectures. These pulse surveys have worked well in our department as they have enabled us to get a better grasp of how students are coping and how best to serve them.