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How UCL ChangeMakers support improved NSS scores in ASER Intensive departments

Dr Jenny Marie recently won a Provost's Teaching Award, highlighting her work to implement a new scheme which puts students at the heart of departmental change.

5 June 2017

At the start of 2015/16 I was asked to develop a new part of UCL ChangeMakers to support ASER (Annual Student Experience Review) Intensive departments to improve their NSS (National Student Survey) scores, in particular in the Assessment and Feedback category. I began by consulting widely on the idea in order to create a proposal, which I took to the UCL ChangeMakers steering group. The proposal covered the number of students, the funding for their work and the type of work that it was anticipated that they would undertake. A particular concern was to differentiate the role from that of Student Academic Representatives (StARs), which was achieved by offering the role first to StARs and by modelling the work on the project work undertaken in the rest of UCL ChangeMakers.

I designed training sessions on assessment and feedback for the students in consultation with staff from the Arena Centre for Research-based Education, Organisational Development and UCLU.

Following the training, I met with every participating student and a departmental representative to agree the focus of the student’s work for each department. I set up a Yammer group and provided regular opportunities for them to meet up to discuss their work and its progress.

The scheme produced a number of important resources, such as marker’s commentaries, a report on student and staff perspectives of feedback and new tabs on Moodle sites to provide more support for assessment. The students were very complementary about the scheme and have written that it increased their sense of empowerment, engagement and belonging: “I genuinely feel more involved with the department and my academic studies.” Staff were also positive; one Head of Department wrote that “the scheme was an excellent idea”. NSS scores in Assessment and Feedback rose by 5.2% between 2015 and 2016 in participating departments, compared to 3.0% for UCL as a whole.

The scheme has also attracted a lot of interest from the sector, with a request for consultancy with Sheffield University following a presentation about the work at the Assessment in Higher Education Seminar Day 2016 and an invitation to publish a case study about it in the Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal. My reflective portfolio on the scheme’s development has led to me being awarded an ‘Institutional Change Leader’ award, which is accredited by the Staff Education Development Association.

I evaluated the scheme by looking at project outcomes, staff and student feedback and changes in NSS scores and well as reflecting on successes and difficulties that had arisen. I presented the evaluation to the UCL ChangeMakers steering group, proposing minor changes to further increase its effectiveness. In 2016-17 I have sped up recruitment and brought forward departmental briefings to increase the time available for the project work. I have also redesigned the scheme slightly so that students work in pairs on the projects, to increase the peer support available to them and I have introduced a new role of ASER facilitator to further support educational development in these departments.