Teaching & Learning


Listening harder for the student voice

Dr Thomas Gilbert, Lecturer (teaching) Electronic and electrical engineering, on an event which allows students and staff to have meaningful conversations about student experience.

11 December 2023

Local Media Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/0d85EBI1Watch the video on MediaCentral. Download the transcript [Word]

We want to allow the students in our department to network across the different academic years, asking and answering questions about life in the department. These questions often cover several topics, including academics, student union societies, careers, accommodation/halls, and social life. While our students are never prohibited from talking to their peers from other academic years, this event gives a more formal opportunity that gives the students a safe space to ask questions. 

The event – "What I wish I knew" – is itself split into two parts: a panel Q&A session directly followed by a social networking session.  

Get the right people involved 

Before preparing for this event we had to determine our best points of contact for matters regarding teaching in the department, and the student body. 


If you're thinking of hosting a similar event, possible contacts could be the Head of Teaching, the Departmental Undergraduate Tutor, or the Teaching and Learning support team. The purpose of this contact is to advise on the organisation of the event such that it clashes with the fewest possible deadlines, assessments and other potential events running in your department. 


Possible contacts could be student reps or members of the departmental society. The purpose of this contact is to give students a say in how the event will be run. 

Develop the event with student reps

We began a dialogue with the representatives of our student body describing the purpose of the event and coming up with questions. For example:

  • “What impact does my minor choice have on my degree?”
  • “How many applications did you have to write before getting an internship?”
  • “How many societies should I be a part of?”
  • “Where is a cheap place I can get lunch?”
  • “Should I do a PhD or get a job in the industry?”

We encourage the reps to continue this dialogue with their peers via their own choice of communication (WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.). 

Tackle the logistics

Choosing panellists

By default, this was the student we had spoken with while organising this event, but we also did some additional scouting. Ideally, the panel is made up of students from 2nd year onwards, including postgraduates and PhDs. 

Location and capacity

We ask our student reps to gauge the interest of their peers as well as looking at the attendance rate of similar events. 

Ideally, the panel session is hosted in a lecture theatre with Lecturecast and multiple microphones for accessibility. For the social networking event, it works better to have a large flat room where food and drinks can be served. 

Get the timing right

Staff with access to student deadlines and other clashes are vital here and meant we could offer students a few options. We have found the event works best in early term 1 or late in term 2, or ideally both. 

Advertise widely

  • Departmental email.
  • Departmental social media.
  • Posters around the department, preferably digital posters to avoid wastage. Our poster was discussed with the student reps to make it as engaging as possible for the student body.
  • The student reps promoted the event using via social media. 

Take questions in advance

We use a Mentimeter to allow students to submit their questions prior to the event. This also lets students upvote particular ones (very helpful if there are a lot). Moderating the Mentimeter gives the panellists a chance to reflect before answering, and the Mentimeter can be advertised alongside the event. 

Entice with free refreshments

Food and drinks make the social networking part of the event much more attractive. 

Help out on the day

Our event is mostly student-led; however it is worth having a couple of members of staff on hand to help with managing the event. This may include chairing, helping with the hybrid aspects of the panel session, being a point of contact with UCL catering, and being present for any unforeseen issues that may come up. Staff can also note any questions that could not be answered by the panel to address at a later time. 

Further reading

HEPI Collection: 'What is the student voice? Thirteen essays on how to listen to students and how to act on what they say', Edited by Michael Natzler.

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