Are you as satisfied as me?

Here’s a question for you…which song has the lyrics – “I’m on a ride and I want to get off”? Do you know? If you do then add the answer in the comments below. Don’t worry this isn’t turning into a Youtube Daily vlog – I just think it represents how I am feeling at the moment. Last Monday was lovely and although many of you probably worked, it was just nice to work on some different things and not the usual jobs that we need to do. I have many projects on the go at the moment, and something which I like to keep in mind is whether there are providing satisfaction for all the people who engage with them, whether this is my blogs, my gaming stream or even my Youtube videos. At the same time, it is coming to the end of the teaching year at university and students are being asked to complete programme evaluations and the National Student Survey – but do these actually provide an accurate measure of student satisfaction? Well that it is what I wanted to waffle about …

This waffle was prompted by an article I read back in March on The Times Higher Education website about how the National Student Survey possibly gets student satisfaction wrong. I know its a while back now, but I’ve been thinking about what I actually consider and recognise as student satisfaction and, it is only when I have been chatting to the students in academic tutor meetings this week and in final year assessments that I started to piece together my actual views. As always, I am going to try and summarise my thoughts into three major points, so please do not judge this as a attempt to simplify the whole concept. Also, something which I appear to be doing more often, these are my own personal view on things and do not represent the views of any specific institution – it sounds like I am going to be controversial – I assure you this is just a marketing ploy to get you to continue to listen/read.

  • Tell me what I need to knowMichael Rosen this week in the Guardian wrote a letter to the education minster, Nicky Morgan, about the year 2 and 6 tests. In this article he refers to the education system treating the children as receptacles which the teacher is required to ‘fill up’ with knowledge. This might be considered as the basis of education but it should not be accepted as an analogy for learning. Within higher education and in particularly my sessions, I do want to introduce learners to new areas of knowledge, but then I want them to engage them with these and develop a critical stance to challenge and debate them further. If I have delivered a session in which I have successfully promote this, then I would consider this a good session. However, I do wonder whether this is want the learners also consider a good session? Even within higher education, we are educating in an environment of outcomes, grades and judgements. Within this environment, learners what to know what they need to do to pass, how to do it and for me to provide the necessary support to do it. Is there therefore a dichotomy here between my own personal view of a good session and that of some of the learners? I feel that I face the same dilemma as teachers within primary schools – do I teach to the tests/assignments or stay true to my own philosophy of learning by providing opportunities for reflection, critical analysis and debate. And, if I chose the second, will my overall rating for keeping learners satisfied go down or reflect poorly against other tutors who teach and support the assignment more. I don’t want to teach learners what they need to know – I want them to decide what they need to know and give them the skills to seek this out and then, when they have found it, to have the confidence and skills to challenge it critically and maybe even decide that they didn’t actually need to know it in the first place and continue the search.

  • Engagement with the learning… – Since moving from primary education to higher education I often get asked a question over and over again – do you miss teaching in the primary school? I’ve been working in higher education for nearly six years now and I have had plenty of time to ponder this question and I think I have come up with the answer. I really enjoy teaching and all the associated activities which accompany it, but there is one aspect of teaching which I miss from being in a primary school. I know I am not what most people would consider ‘normal’ – you only need to read some of ‘My Weird Life’ series of blogs to realise this. I actually enjoy learning and do, on several occasions actually choose to learn over other activities. I like watching video tutorials and Lynda.com, I like reading educational books and blog posts. I am curious about things and always collect articles and book titles to engage with at a later date. The thing which I miss the most from working in the primary sector is that joy and excitement about learning. Children still enjoy learning, they get excited about new topics about suddenly understanding something about sharing experiences or just, plain and simply, learning something new. Within higher education, I sometimes feel that that joy of learning has gone and everything is focused on assessment and the successful completion of the module. As a tutor, I want to try and re-inject that enthusiasm to learn by making it relevant, interesting and providing activities and a dialogue which actually engages the learners. When I get ‘rated’ I would like to know if I achieved this and whether I have encouraged learning or planted that seed of curiosity into the minds of the learners – curiosity might have killed the cat – but it was a very clever cat when it eventually died!

  • It’s not just about lectures… – One of the aspects of being an academic tutor I really like, is seeing the students progress through the three years of the undergraduate programme. I feel quite honoured to be part of this process and to endure the tough times with them and to smile and enjoy their successes. As a senior lecturer – a term/title which I actually dislike, firstly due to the term ‘senior’ and secondly because of the didactic connotations of the term lecturer – I am responsible for the learning of the students I engage with. However, I feel that, when rating student satisfaction of their experience at university, it goes beyond the teaching within sessions. A lot can happen within three years of a degree course, and this is all part of the student experience. Small things can make a big difference for students – answering an email quickly since there is an obvious need, making yourself available when things need to be discussed and even just saying well done or the offer of help if things are not going well. Within their final year, I have had students turn up to my office ,after tweeting to make sure I am in, just to sit, chat, drink hot chocolate and eat biscuits. This is nothing to do directly with learning, but it is about student satisfaction. Students, I know from feedback, appreciate the time that tutors give to support them and yet the National Student Survey does not, as far as I can see, ask questions which relate to the little extras which, over the three years, might even contribute to the successful completion of the degree. Surely this is worth asking about and rating me on?

  • Reading this back, I don’t want to come across as if I am feeling hard done by. There is no blame within this waffle, it is just my usual ramble of thoughts I have put together on this blog. In a similar way that I do not think it is possible to assess the children within primary school by asking them a series of yes/no, right/wrong questions, I am dubious of any system that attempts to rate student satisfaction or even my teaching with a series of closed ended and rather, in my humble, minion opinion, limiting questions. What satisfies one person, might not satisfy another. Learning isn’t easy, its hard and requires effort and it would go against my own philosophies to just ‘provide’ the answers. Learning should however, be fun and engaging and that is something which I am prepared to work at, ensuring that this happens in each of my sessions. If I am doing this, and supporting the learners both in and out of sessions, then I consider that I am doing my job well and that, even though others might not be completely satisfied, I am and this, even if might seems a bit selfish, makes me go to work every day and enjoy what I do for a living.

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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