Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How, What and When of Improving Student Satisfaction

Recently I was asked for the how, what and when of improving the student's satisfaction with courses:
  1. How: Focus on assessment, course materials and feedback. Student activities are important, lectures are not.
  2. What: Small regular assessment items, at least two large assignments, minimal exams. On-line course materials, with optional lectures. Feedback with assessment results.
  3. When: Assessment every week or two, all course notes and assessment tasks provided before the course starts, mark and feedback within a week of small assessment submission.


Here are some suggestions I provided for one course (some details omitted, to protect the course designer's feelings):

Better course materials and more progressive assessment would improve course completion rates. It does not matter if a Learning Management System (LMS), or something else, is used to deliver course materials, provided they are well designed. Ordinary web pages and Streams are a viable alternative to Wattle. Using Wattle for all courses would not be a significant improvement.

The assessment, course notes and staff contact details should be most prominent on course websites. Details of lecture times should not be so prominent, as students place a low value on lectures and if staff try to make students attend they sound desperate. All lecture notes and assessment items should be provided to student at the start of a course and no changed made, except where errors are found.

Just as there is an examiners meeting at the end of semester, I suggest a meeting at the beginning of the semester, where the person in charge of each course presents their course material and assessment design to their peers. There would then be peer pressure to produce clear, complete and consistent work.

Some points:


The Course Description is a little long. I suggest cutting it by one quarter to just two paragraphs. The Learning Outcomes are far too long and I suggest cutting them by half to about four points. They should be derived from some accepted skills standard, such as (for ICT) the ACS Body of Knowledge, Skills Framework for the Information Age, or similar and be explicitly covered in parts of the course notes, workshops and assessment.

The Indicative Assessment description is misleading. It says there is almost an equal weighting between Continuous Assessment and Examinations. But the assessment page indicates a large end of semester examination a small mid semester exam and a couple of small assignments.

An alternative assessment strategy would be 20% for each of the mid and end of semester exams, mid and end of semester assignments and 20% total for a short lab exercise or quiz each week. However, consideration should be given to eliminating the conventional examinations entirely, as they have little value as an assessment tool.

I suggest having firm deadlines for all assessment: late submission should result in a mark of zero, unless special consideration is granted. Students should be encouraged to submit a draft of each assignment at least three days in advance, with failure of the student's computer system (or the institution's computer system) on the day the assignment is due, not being  grounds for special consideration (nor would an illness lasting less than three days).

Students who have a propensity to submit work late would quickly learn this was not going to be tolerated and change their ways (I find this very effective in my Green ICT course).


The web page for the course has a photo which appears to have nothing to do with the topic of the course. Students like to know who their teachers are, so I suggest replacing this with ones of the teaching staff, with links to their bios. In preference to email, provide Moodle Dialogue or similar. This keeps all correspondence with the student in one place, so that all teaching staff can see it.
The web pages emphasize attending lectures, but these are the least useful part of a course (and if you have to beg students to attend lectures you sound desperate). I suggest providing more details of the assessment up front, which is what the students consider important.

Labs are a useful educational technique, so I suggest communicating this to the students by making all labs assessed. Students can submit material on-line and be marked for it.


The lecture schedule should be replaced with a course ebook. This would contain all the notes for the course, provided to the students at the start of the course. The subtitle "to be adapted and refined throughout the course" should be removed, as this says to the students that the course has not been properly designed.

Lectures could continue to be held, but it should not be assumed that students attend. Consideration could be given to using a workshop format with min-lectures, but this would require a TEAL type room, large enough to hold all students.


I suggest the Weekly laboratories material be inserted in the course notes under the appropriate topic headings. Having many separate documents creates confusion.


Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) sounds like a good idea, but I could not understand from the web page how it was supposed to work. Also this appears to be only a face-to-face group. I suggest it be extended with on-line forums.


I had difficulty understanding how the postgraduate version of the same course was supposed to work. It seems to add more work for postgraduates. That suggests that either the undergraduate version has less than the usual amount of work or postgraduate has too much.

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