Using feedback to improve student experience

Written by Guy Carberry, published on

A look at some of the ways we used feedback to improve student experience at The Open University, including methods of collecting and analysing feedback and incremental steps you can take to do the same in your organisation.

Highlight problems and opportunities for improving student experience

An effective feedback capture system will make it easier for you to identify issues in the student experience. For example, identifying

  • content that is not effectively addressing student needs
  • gaps in content to address unmet student needs
  • problems with campaigns, communications or content on other websites that are linking to your content
  • opportunities for further, deeper testing
  • trends and patterns over time

Know why, when and where to make changes to the student experience

Reviewing feedback regularly will help you make decisions about what to act on immediately and what to schedule into your backlog. Where feedback is indicating that students are struggling to find information that is already on your website, you might make changes to the navigation and search mechanisms.

Where feedback is indicating a basic content gap, you might fill it immediately. For example, if lots of students are telling you that they want to know if they can wear a smart watch to their exam and it's just before the exam period, you could make an immediate change. If it's past exam time, you might schedule changes well ahead of the next period.

Understand students

Feedback helps us better empathise with students. It is important to remember that the people that use our services are not like us! They have different needs and expectations based on their own lived experiences.

Students, especially new ones, may not know institutional jargon, concepts and terminology. We can use feedback to understand their intent and redraft content to better resonate with them.

We can use student feedback to better understand and appreciate diversity across the student population. Analyse and organise feedback into themes and use it to design and improve student personas, profiles and empathy maps. These artefacts all help keep students at the centre of the design process.

Student feedback can also be used to

  • understand what *types* of content works well vs what doesn’t
  • keep the student voice prominent in your design process
  • build trust - demonstrating that you care, presenting opportunities for you said / we did
  • inform experimental A/B test candidates
  • provide an additional lens on a given student, where feedback feeds into customer relationship management software for a 360 view

Make the case for change and investment

Sometimes it can be hard to convince senior management to invest in service change initiatives. Feedback can be used alongside projected financial savings to make the case for change.

Student survey data is often used to assess how well Universities are delivering on strategic objectives. Quickly and efficiently responding to issues can enhance the reputation of an organisation and lead to an increase in new student registrations as well as contributing to retaining students as they progress through their studies.

Grouping feedback into themes can help highlight opportunities for improvements, providing solid evidence for investment into the student experience.

Energise your team

Where staff can see the positive effect of changes they have made in real-time they can feel a sense of achievement and value to the organisation. Where changes generate negative sentiment, psychologically safe teams are motivated to try again. Feedback helps teams

  • get motivated around a real student issue
  • develop empathy with students
  • connect their roles to the problems they are collectively solving

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter if you'd like to discuss this further or ask me any questions.

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About the author

Guy spent 20 years as Lead User Experience Designer, Student Support at the Open University.

He brought progressive, accessible and responsive web design techniques into the organisation, designing and developing digital styles, standards and components that remain in use to this day. He also contributed to establishing digital governance, agile UX and devised an introduced Content Design, UX Design and Service Designs into the organisation.

Before the OU, Guy led the digital design strategy for 9 regional newspapers at Central Counties Newspapers.

As a servant leader, Guy is passionate about coaching, mentoring and developing people. He considers his greatest achievement to be the recruitment and retention of some of the greatest minds in Digital Student Support.

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