The adequacy of course feedback given across the majority of University departments has been called into question, after figures reveal levels of student assessment satisfaction has fallen below 40 per cent in some areas.
The National Student Survey, questioning on average 70 per cent of students in all departments, highlighted that only 32 per cent of Maths students at York felt they had recieved detailed feedback on their work, and only 41 per cent agreed it had helped clarify things they didn’t understand. This shows a 17 per cent drop from 2010 in feedback satisfaction, the largest drop in any area of the departments surveyed, and is over 20 per cent lower than the satisfaction results at Durham University.Sam Endor, a second-year Maths student, agreed with the criticism, calling the course “badly organised.”
Olivia Ward, a third-year Maths student, told Nouse: “I can understand why some people might have been dissatisfied as we don’t really get any feedback at all,” but added that she personally saw it as “sufficient for Maths as it is generally a right/wrong subject so it is easy enough to see where you went wrong just by looking at solutions and not having personal feedback.”
“I think the main problem with Maths students is their inability to ask questions in seminars though so maybe that is really where the problem lies,” she continued. “I think most humanities students would be amazed if they sat in for one of our seminars due to the fact that everyone just sits there in silence.”
“Feedback is an area that has always held back this institution. Management and Economics traditionally perform badly which is a problem for York”
Graeme Osborn – YUSU Academic Officer
The declining trend was not isolated solely to Maths, with a myriad of departments demonstrating poor and below-average results on feedback. As the worst performing category across every department at York, only 44 per cent of Psychology and Computer Science students expressed satisfaction with the clarity and detail of their assessments, and only 47 per cent of Management students.
Graeme Osborn, YUSU Academic Officer, conceded that feedback was an area that “has always held back this institution.”
“Management and Economics traditionally perform badly in the student satisfaction survey which is a problem for York as an institution as they are both large departments and had a high response rate, meaning the figures are very representative” he said.
“However this year was particularly bad for Maths, which saw quite a downturn. The University is keen to turn this round for all departments that performed badly and we have been meeting with each individual department to ensure they have an action plan to turn things around.”
With the majority of student satisfaction figures averaging 80 or 90 per cent, the notable disparity between the quality of teaching and the quality of feedback- over a 30 per cent difference- emphasises assessment as a major stumbling block for York to boost its student satisfaction results across the board.
Osborn confirmed that the University had made an aim to get all departments to 70 per cent student satisfaction on feedback by next year, a goal he termed “ambitious but achievable.”
He added: “Overall student satisfaction actually improved by 1 per cent this year, but we slipped a few places because everyone else is improving at a faster rate.”
The falling standards of feedback, and subsequent declining satsfaction, is a considerable factor in York’s descent in the Guardian and Times University league tables this year, which ensured York fell out of the country’s Top 10 Universities, as well as out of the World Top 100.
Trevor Sheldon, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, acknowledged that the departments were “disappointed with the relatively poor student satisfaction ratings”, but asserted that “each is committed to make huge efforts over the next period to improve the undergraduate student learning and teaching experience.”
“The Vice-chancellor and the Deputy Vice-chancellor have met with the departments and each one is developing an action plan to respond to student feedback,” he said.
“I am confident that the new heads of department, along with their senior teams, will ensure that areas of weakness will be addressed. Their actions will be shared with students who I hope will support the staff in their efforts to make change.”
The Nursing and Health Science department has also performed saliently poorly in feedback satisfaction, dropping over 20 per cent from last year in the perceived clarity of feedback administered to students.
Similarly with Politics, who, having performed badly in last year’s survey, implemented a detailed plan throughout the last academic year to raise levels of student satisfaction. Despite improving in overall satisfaction, feedback satisfaction fell by a further 6 per cent, to 50 per cent, indicating a continued failure to address the issues plaguing the feedback process.
Despite satisfaction levels being above average in the department, several English students have also expressed their continued dissatisfaction with the depth of assessment provided.
“I didn’t get any feedback from last term. We only had one essay and my feedback was just ticks,” said Lev Harris, a third-year English Student.
David Ward, another third-year, expressed a similar sentiment.
“For the only essay we got back last term, which is worth alot towards my degree, my mark was disputed between the two markers. This should mean I get feedback from both markers, but all I got was six lines. It is ridiculous.”
Nonetheless, Brian Cantor, the University Vice Chancellor, was optimistic about future overall student satisfaction.
“We have been working hard to enhance our library provision, our careers guidance, and marking and assessment procedures,”he told Nouse.
“I hope and expect that our NSS scores will improve further in the future, particularly with the completion of the library refurbishment and the new personal development plans to help with career planning for all students.”