3.5 Beyond the NSS: insights from student researchers

The engineering and mathematics department recently employed two student researchers (who will co-present this talk) who are using questionnaires, interviews and focus groups to investigate student experiences on mathematics and engineering courses. This presentation will introduce this work, discuss the findings, reflect on the experience of using student researchers, and discuss some of the ways that it will inform future practice.

Drawing on the findings of the student researchers, we will explore the interaction between individual modules, course structure, and the academic and social culture of a course, in shaping the perceptions of students. As well as highlighting features that appear to be associated with high levels of student satisfaction, we will aim to capture the diversity in students’ responses so as to reflect the different ways in which different students respond in the same settings, and go beyond the “headline figures” of the National Student Survey.

We will also reflect on the process of working with student researchers, who bring their own experiences of student life, and can elicit more candid opinions from their peers about the strengths and weaknesses of their course than the academic staff. The insights gained permit us to scrutinise our practice from a perspective not otherwise available to us. Whilst this has obvious advantages for tutors, it is clear that the researchers themselves also gained much from the experience.

Finally, we will discuss how such insights might inform and improve our future practice and our relationship with other students. Provided staff react positively – either by instituting changes, explaining why changes are not possible, or perhaps especially by engaging in a genuine dialogue with students about planned changes – the work further enhances the development of a genuine learning community in which students are – and feel like – partners in their own experience.