Student Researcher Reflections: Working on a National Evaluation

By John Adesola

 Reflections on working as part of an evaluation team

I started working as a student researcher in September 2018.  This role allowed me to gain an insightful experience into the inner-workings of the University, whilst at the same time bringing a student perspective to several research projects. I was able to meet a wide variety of supportive and enthusiastic staff across different Directorates and Faculties as well as broaden my outlook on the purpose of research and its application. The National Mixed Methods Learning Gain Project (NMMLGP) is a national project commissioned by the Office for Students and I was fortunate to be a part of the evaluative team. The project made a significant contribution to the concept of learning gain by conducting focus group sessions with students across several HE institutions and evaluating different ways to measure students’ learning gain longitudinally.

Visiting other institutions

Visiting other institutions certainly was an eye opener into researching other settings. Each institution had a unique model for recruiting students and we had to adapt during each visit. The focus groups discussed the effectiveness of different methods designed to measure learning gain.  This provided the research team with primary evidence capable of shaping educational policies and pedagogical approaches.

It was also fascinating to listen to various contrasting and conflicting views from diverse students about the role of incentives in student engagement.

The whole project experience, particularly running focus groups, was very educational and provided an in-depth understanding of student’s expectations and perception of higher education.

 Running focus groups

Running focus groups comes with its challenges – from the selection and organisation of resources, to the management of group interaction between participants. The Student Engagement Evaluation and Research Directorate (STEER), however, helped me navigate through these challenges by providing adequate training and preparation and this made the whole research seamless and less burdensome. I have learnt the importance of developing a clear sampling process and how to avoid leading questions so not to misconstrue opinions or gather biased data. The NMMLGP project has been a valuable part of my postgraduate studies, and the skills and knowledge, acquired throughout the whole project phase will be carried on into any field I wish to pursue in my graduate or professional career.

Managing student life and work

Lastly, stress is an unavoidable part of being a student and a worker. Therefore, the best thing to do is not to avoid stress but to learn how to manage it. Just like the proverbial phrase: a failure to plan is a plan to fail, I had to implement a daily checklist to keep on top of what needs to be done and not become overwhelmed with the workload. By having a daily plan in place for both my studies and work activities, I was able to prioritise my schedule and make the best use of my time. Every now and again things crop up and plans have to be adapted, the ability to calmly deal with the unexpected while remaining gracefully flexible with my time remains a vital quality developed throughout the research process. The NMMLGP has been a vital part of my postgraduate journey and working with such a cohesive and engaging evaluative team has been very enjoyable.

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