Higher Education Academy – SEDA Workshop



Using Student Experience Data to Support Academic Development and the Enhancement of Learning & Teaching

Friday 28th January 2011, Higher Education Academy, York


This joint workshop between the HEA and SEDA provided participants with the opportunity to share ideas and examples on using the National Student Survey to support the enhancement of learning and teaching. It was targeted at educational developers across the UK and included presentations from colleagues representing both convening organisations.




NSS Resources



Sally Brown, Independent consultant and Emeritus Professor Leeds Metropolitan University

Julie Hall, Head of LTEU, Roehampton University and co-Chair of SEDA

Helen King, Head of Academic Staff Development, University of Bath

Alex Buckley, Adviser (Evidence-Informed Practice), Higher Education Academy




10:00 – 10:30           Coffee and registration


10:30 – 10:45           Welcome and Introduction (AB & JH)


10:45 – 11:15           How the NSS is Used in Different HEIs (HK)


11:15 – 12:00           Roles of Educational Developers in using the NSS for Enhancement (JH)


12:00 – 12:30           Opportunities and Barriers (HK)


12:30 – 13:15           Lunch


13:15 – 15:15           Institutional Case Study, Sharing Experiences and Considering Long-Term Pro-active Approaches (SB)


15:15 – 15:30           Action Planning


15:30                      Close



Notes from the workshop


Introduction: Purpose and Uses of the NSS


Alex Buckley (Adviser: HEA Evidence-Informed Practice) introduced the day and discussed the HEA’s perspective on using the NSS, emphasising its use as a starting point for discussion on learning and teaching. The HEA provides a variety of activities to support the use of the NSS for enhancement including data analysis at a national level, an Institutional Working Group as a forum for sharing practice, the annual Surveys for Enhancement conference (19th May 2011), case studies and other resources. Alex then went on to provide a useful overview of the NSS in the national context as outlined in his PowerPoint presentation.


Julie Hall (Head of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Unit at Roehampton University and co-Chair of SEDA) then described SEDA’s perspective.


For many SEDA members the NSS has resulted in interesting educational development work in departments to help academic teams reflect on their scores, understand more fully student perspectives and plan changes to curricula, teaching methods or assessment practices. However this work can occasionally be problematic and for this reason SEDA is also interested in the processes educational developers use in such situations.



How the NSS is Used in Different HEIs


The large number of participants (~30) meant it was not possible to do ‘round table’ introductions. Instead, colleagues introduced themselves on their tables and discussed which elements of the NSS they were each focusing on in their institutions and why. These discussions were captured on post-it notes and categorised according to the scale of the NSS:


Teaching on my course

Organisation and management

Assessment and feedback

Academic support

Personal development



Teaching on my course

Organisation and management

Assessment and feedback

Academic support

Personal development



The Roles of Educational Developers in using the NSS for Enhancement


The PowerPoint presentation from the workshop is available to download here.


The particular orientation and role of educational developers in relation to the NSS was discussed by Julie.  Educational development is a complex role and interestingly positioned between supporting academic colleagues and being the agents for change. Julie suggested a variety of different metaphors to describe the role of the educational developer in this context such as:


Julie also noted that espoused approaches and approaches in practice may sometimes be different. SEDA members often find the underpinning SEDA values helpful in guiding action:




NSS Provides an Opportunity to...


By way of capturing the discussions and issues raised through the previous activities, the morning closed with group discussions under the following headings; NSS provides an opportunity to….  Yes, but…   And, so….


The NSS provides an opportunity to… Yes but… And so…
  • Talk about teaching and learning
  • Listen to the students
  • Prioritise the student experience
  • Celebrate improvement, even if small
  • Catalyst for change
  • Challenge bureaucracy
  • Drive through gimmicks and quick wins
  • Implement institution wide approaches to enhancement
  • Get resources for library
  • Plan staff development which links to perceived needs
  • Working in different ways
  • Monitor whether university strategies are working
  • Change things which aren’t very good
  • Expose negative and problem areas
  • Expose positive areas – provides opportunities to share good practice.
  • Amazing that we get 80% satisfaction rate at this stage of an UG programme.
  • University experience may not be key to all students
  • Unfair to compare across different kinds of institutions and different courses
  • Staff under the kosh can’t engage in learning and teaching development: another managerial device to grind them down
  • Class dimension/entry background impacts of experience/ethnicity/cultural perspectives
  • NSS can’t be only measure
  • Use benchmarks or similar institutions
  • Beat people up who aren’t playing the game
  • Share good practice
  • If you use NSS in a sentence, everyone pays attention
  • Identify and address real problems
  • Refocus central issues
  • Promote discussion of evaluatory work
  • Different disciplines’ interpretation of wording on questionnaire
  • Stifling innovation – avoiding risk
  • Potentially damaging for ‘low scoring’ schools / academic staff
  • No indication of student engagement
  • Somebody has to be at the bottom
  • Change in student behavious (coercion)
  • Additional funding to ‘bottom’ to help develop and move to ‘top’.
  • Hear the student voice
  • Gauge student satisfaction
  • Act as a catalyst
  • Compare performance of institutions / departments
  • Recognise good practice
  • Examine problem areas
  • It is only a snapshot; does not account for full period of a students’ time at university
  • How can different types of institutions be compared with each other?
  • Is it desirable if institutions start to produce identical students?
  • Enhance learning and teaching
  • Starting point for dialogue with students
  • Starting point for dialogue with staff
  • Think about the student experience as a whole / joining up the experience
  • Think about a joined up university
  • Celebrate positive change


  • Time
  • External examiners
  • Accrediting bodies
  • Understanding / interpretation expectations
  • Conflicting priorities
  • Central vs local provision
  • Develop / build a staff / student partnership.
  • Think about other metrics that we should also be looking at
  • Look more closely at areas where scores have changed and resulted in subject-specific actions
  • Encouraged a more evidence-based approach to changing practice
  • Empower academics to use the NSS to effect change / for their own benefit
  • Raise awareness of differences / links between quality assurance and quality enhancement
  • Opens a discussion about L&T in appraisal
  • Potentially develop ‘parity of esteem’ between teaching and research


  •  Time willingness of staff to engage.
  • Differences between research / teaching led institutions
  • Links to reputation: are student using the NSS? Does it reflect what they want to know?
  • NSS dominates the discussion when we have richer evidence in-house that reflects the experience for current students
  • We don’t own it
  • Are there real opportunities for educational developers to change practice locally?
  • Change has to be owned locally
  • Contextualise and connect the NSS to discipline/local culture
  • Identifying ‘opinion leaders’ within school
  • If the first time we hear of issues is the NSS there is something wrong; we need to critically evaluate student voice / dialogue mechanisms.
  • Different parts of the HEI to talk to each other
  • Look at learning and teaching issues they wouldn’t otherwise
  • Recognise where we’re doing well / identify good practice
  • See where changes have made a difference
  • Spotlight on good areas
  • To talk to students about process of learning, teaching and assessment (senior management to take a knee jerk reaction)
  • Talk about / acknowledge learning and teaching (in the context that it matters)
  • Explore professionalism / identity around learning and teaching
  • Lever for change
  • Setting expectations from 1st year / long-term planning
  • Different departments perform differently – those that do well might be perceived as ‘blowing our trumpet’ rather than opportunity for sharing practice
  • But some people get carried away, which leads to coaching
  • We could overload with information



Institutional Case Study, Sharing Experiences and Considering Long-Term Pro-active Approaches


The afternoon of the workshop was led by Sally Brown (Independent consultant and Emeritus Professor Leeds Met) who provided an animated and interactive case study on the measures an institution put in place in response to low scores on the NSS and issues raised in a Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) institutional audit. The principal actions taken by the institution, that resulted over the next eighteen months in significant improvements in the student experience, included:

  1. Using a university wide approach with change agents including Teacher fellows and the Associate Deans for assessment, learning and teaching in each faculty
  2. Building on positive outcomes where satisfaction was good e.g. the Library
  3. Avoiding questionnaire fatigue by banning competing surveys
  4. Zero tolerance on cancellation of classes
  5. Developing a mutual expectations document for students across the university
  6. Requiring teachers to engage in Peer observation of teaching (with 85%+ compliance)
  7. Focusing on improving feedback on assessed work and a three week turnaround
  8. Changing the  orientation of the university to focusing more strongly on the student experience


The PowerPoint presentation is available to download here.


NSS Resources


The HEA has created an annotated bibliography of key NSS resources, including: data analysis, history and development, critical evaluation and discussion, and case studies. The bibliography is available here.


For other NSS resources on EvidenceNet Extra, please click here.


To visit EvidenceNet, the HEA's repository of research- and practice-based evidence in HE learning and teaching, please go to www.heacademy.ac.uk/EvidenceNet