ISSE 2017 … the national results!

ISSE 2017


Earlier this week, the publication of The Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE): Results from 2017 saw the latest set of national data and analysis revealed, thus building on our own local efforts to analyse, report and act. One of the major innovations in this year’s national report is the explicit use of learner qualitative feedback to help illustrate what lies behind the quantitative data; this year, our own Irish Student of Student Engagement (ISSE) 2017 – report seeks to do exactly the same thing.

This blog was only launched at the start of this current calendar year, yet one of its main priorities has been to enhance the learner feedback process in terms of promotion, completion, evaluation and action, thereby closing the feedback loop by use of this ‘virtuous circle’. The sharing and utilisation of the national report is an essential part of that process.

ISSE utilises resources such as those on YouTube and at Student to help promote the national survey, but ultimately it boils down to students having their say and being partners in what happens next as a result of what they have fed back.

Next spring will again see NCI and NCISU jointly promoting this annual data gathering exercise, with the dates for the survey itself provisionally pencilled in as far as we are concerned from Monday, 5th, to Sunday, 25th February 2018. This three week window will allow us to build on last year’s record response rate and it will seek to make the learner feedback we receive ever more representative.

As the ISSE slogans declare: ‘Shared insights, shared outcomes’; ‘Shape the future’; ‘We value your voice’; & ‘National survey, local impact’.

ISSE 2017
The Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE): Results from 2017


QA network #3: ʼTis the season?

No, we don’t necessarily mean the forthcoming holidays, even if that time of the year seems to start earlier and earlier.

Instead, we’d like to talk about learner feedback, not just because it went to the heart of the most recent QA network meeting hosted by Hibernia College. The national conversation will turn to this subject in the coming weeks with the impending publication of the ISSE 2017 report, but we also had the opportunity to compare and contrast aspirations, ideas, and practices at this our third meeting with a particular focus on module (and programme) evaluations supplied locally by our students.

The fact is that the QA network allows us to share our experiences and to learn from one another, but where it is arguably most valuable is that it also consistently reveals that, while we may be encountering curiously similar issues, we are also getting real insights from each other regarding potential next steps. Ah, the value of networking!

Our institutions have quite a degree of flexibility when it comes to learner feedback, which normally comes to us via both formal and informal means. In terms of formal mechanisms, local practices and experiences are not necessarily all that different, even if QA expends a lot of its efforts gathering data (usually paper and/or online by module), while also advocating that it is utilised appropriately, as well as being seen to be used.

If we could all get what we want this Christmas, it would doubtlessly be that the feedback loop is closed ever more effectively. We may well need to revisit this whole issue of learner feedback again soon, it is a perennial and not just seasonal.

Neapolitan coffee
Il Caffé di Napoli



NCI’s “Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) 2017 – report”


Earlier this calendar year, first and final year undergraduate, as well as postgraduate taught, students were asked to provide feedback as part of the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE). Over the last number of weeks, we have been examining our own institution’s data and reporting upon it internally, but the time has now come to start making this analysis more widely available.

Our Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) 2017 – report is based on the qualitative and quantitative feedback received from 663 NCI students last spring. An overarching national report drawing on the data received from students attending Higher Education Institutions from all across the country is expected to be published later this month or early next.

NCI will of course be looking to capture learner feedback through the next iteration of this survey in spring 2018 but, in the meantime, we are working with staff and students in interpreting what our learners are telling us, taking it on board, and responding to it constructively.

This is all part of the ‘virtuous circle’ regarding learner feedback (i.e. promotion, completion, evaluation and action supported by ongoing communication) identified in the Feedback from students project work undertaken at the start of academic year 2015-16. It is also a fundamental part of the ‘feedback and feedback loop’ identified by the Working Group on Student Engagement in Irish Higher Education.

As the NCI’s ISSE 2017 data analysed PPT presentation given late last month to a group of colleagues illustrates, this work continues in earnest!

“Architects of their experience”

TSEP publication

The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP) works in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS), as well as other stakeholders involved in Higher Education in England, to champion and develop student engagement knowledge and practice. Through its work, TSEP seeks “to equip student engagement professionals, practitioners and decision-makers across the sector with the knowledge and skills they need to make a success of student engagement in their context” (see for more details).

With this purpose it mind, it should be noted that the recent TSEP publication on student academic representation – see Abbi Flint, Hannah Goddard & Ellie Russell, “Architects of their experience: the role, value and impact of student academic representation systems in Higher Education in England” (London: TSEP, 2017), for the main report – offers up an engaging analysis, as well as a useful set of resources including a benchmarking tool, a literature review, and a summary poster.

The focus of these materials is student representation, in particular the student voice within the context of student academic engagement (i.e. engagement in and with learning). It is not necessarily an easy task to provide a summary regarding the rich resources on offer here; frankly, these documents deserve exploration on their own merits as they will have different meanings for Higher Education institutions depending on how and where they operate. This being said, even the most cursory of readings reveals that they could readily be employed to support thinking, review and action in a range of scenarios and contexts.

Of the report’s ten recommendations, the one that leaps out reads as follows:

“Reflect on and consider how to address power differentials which may inhibit effective representation. In some cases, this may include visible signs of where power lies, such as: who chairs meetings; who acts on issues brought through representation; who sets the agenda for meetings; and, when and how different parties are enabled to speak.”

Without wishing to do a disservice to the breadth or depth of a report that examines a whole host of student academic representation matters, any attempt to consider or review how effectively class representative meetings are operating could do worse than to start with such basic considerations as group composition, dynamics and purpose.

In turn, while many participants in these meetings may perceive them as being “focused mainly on feeding back on current experiences”, often with an unfortunate focus on the negative rather than also accentuating the positive, the more ambitious hold “aspirations to have a more proactive, feeding forward role, particularly in curriculum and course development: to enable students to be ‘architects of their experience'”.

Indeed, when done well, the value of effective student academic representation to the wide range of institutional stakeholders are, according to this TSEP research, obvious:


  • Alternative perspectives
  • Current and relevant information to inform improvement
  • Culture and community
  • Reputation


  • Emotional
  • Personal development
  • Professional development


  • Reputation and credibility
  • Political
  • Culture and community
  • Currency and relevance
  • Informing improvement


  • Being listened to
  • Valuing their voice
  • Changes secured on their behalf

And, once the easier to reach learner groups are on board – typically undergraduate, full time, near campus, etc. – every effort must be made to involve other, often less represented, groups be they students who are carers, international, mature, off-campus, part-time, postgraduate, etc.

At the same time, staff themselves, particularly but not necessarily only academic staff, must be at the forefront of effectively functioning student academic representation (SAR). The fact is that “staff engagement is important in supporting the operation of SAR at the local level, and how staff perceive, and are open to listening to, student contributions” will help to determine their utility and impact.

Ultimately, the impact of student academic representation can be profound, especially when effective practices are employed, such as appreciating how and when to communicate back to students, thereby closing the feedback loop. The fact is that, for everyone who is a member of a self-respecting learning community, most – if not all – of the points noted above should apply when it comes to the role, value and impact of effective representation in particular and the place of learner feedback more generally. These TSEP resources, which clearly resonate with NUS campaigning on this issue of student academic representation, deserve wide dissemination.

NCISU class rep training, 13 October 2017

The annual invitation for QA@NCI to meet and speak with the new NCISU class representatives, to answer their questions and to establish a point of contact with them, was no less welcome this year than it has been in the past. Indeed, this opportunity to get directly involved, to listen to what our student volunteers are telling us, and to consider what we might want to do next is one of the highlights of the academic calendar, so sincere thanks to Stephen Cleary (NCISU president) and his team for inviting us back again this year.

As 2017-18 unfolds, we were asked to speak with NCISU class reps on the topic of NStEP and NCI’s role within it, which was very timely given the potential that this national programme is now realising across the sector, as well as locally at institutions like our own.

The training and development of class reps is an NStEP priority; the fact that it aligns so closely with NCISU’s own imperatives means that progress is now being made in our understanding of a number of student engagement principles including ‘transparency’, ‘collegiality and parity of esteem’, and ‘feedback and feedback loop’ (see Taking Next StEPs for more details).

NCI and NCISU have been asked to lead on the NStEP project entitled “the role and recruitment of class representatives”, more of which in due course. But, if it the outcomes of the national project are anything like the openness on display today at this training event, as demonstrated in the willingness of our class reps to get involved, and their developing awareness of the possibilities inherent in learner representation, then it should prove to be a success.

NStEP and NCI's role within it
NStEP and NCI’s role within it

QA network #2: re-engaging

QA network

Sometimes, a good idea proves to be just that. So, particular thanks to Hugh for continuing to drive this network forward and, even more usefully, to himself and Ruth for the opportunity to touch base, to look at a specific issue in a bit more depth, as well as the chance to place it within its wider context, and, of course, to drink coffee at 8:30am in a nice city centre hotel.

Our previous meeting – see QA network #1 for details – had proven to be so successful that it felt like (i.e. in the sense that it actually was!) a meeting with trusted sectoral colleagues where there are opportunities to give and to take, to learn and to impart, to share and to develop.

This time around, the subject was Re-engagement with QQI, and it was immediately striking how our experiences thus far are leading to increasing levels of resource sharing, informed interaction across and within our institutions, and an awareness that we are actually part of a wider learning community rather than just being employees of different HEIs.

Ideally, our little group will expand to involve other HE colleagues working within the QA space, but we are determined to meet again, next time to talk about learner feedback systems and experiences, in particular feedback from students. That third QA network meeting is expected to take place in six weeks’ time or thereabouts in one of our three locations; if you’d like to get involved, you’d be very welcome, just get in touch.

QA fuel
QA fuel

“Connecting, Listening, and Enhancing”

UCC learner feedback review

Earlier this year, colleagues at University College Cork (UCC) conducted a review of learner feedback processes, particularly in terms of how and why student surveys are undertaken at their institution compared to other universities. They recently published their findings in an eminently accessible report with transferrable findings entitled Connecting, Listening, and Enhancing: Placing Student Perceptions of their Educational Experience at the Heart of Decision Making at UCC.

Apart from advocating that QA@NCI blog readers should themselves have a look through the report, this posting wishes to highlight one or two of the many takeaways from this important piece of work. For example, without proper oversight, there are dangers inherent in over-surveying our students, leading to survey fatigue and/or low (and by definition less representative) response rates. In turn, there can be real frustrations involved in showing evidence that the feedback loop is being closed effectively, particularly if there is an intertwined culture of disengagement or disinterest. Referring to the challenges facing learner survey activity at UCC, the review’s statement on ‘closing the loop’ resonates particularly loudly:

There is limited evidence that the analysis of data arising from some student surveys is being fed back to relevant stakeholders. Although data may be analysed, action may not be taken to make relevant changes, and the findings may not be disseminated appropriately.

This UCC review is also proving to be a useful means for us to consider our own practice and to help in determining whether it is effective or not. For instance, it highlights the role now being played nationwide by the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) noting that, up to this point, analysis at UCC has centred on the quantitative – but not necessarily on the qualitative – data. Clearly, there is some real potential in considering the ‘words’ our students are offering through ISSE, as well as the ‘numbers’, which is why an “Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) 2017 – report” using NCI’s own quantitative and qualitative data is currently being put together; indeed, it will appear here on the QA@NCI blog in due course.

It is clear that Higher Education institutions – both their staff and learners – up and down the country are starting to recognise the power of, as well as the richness in, the student voice. The transparency exemplified through this UCC review is a very welcome addition to our body of knowledge and to its advocacy of due process. With any luck, but more likely through ongoing efforts to persuade, convince and cajole, it should help to prompt ever more effective practices to be enshrined when it comes to learner feedback in particular, and student engagement more generally. If we connect and listen, then we can also enhance.

Further details and resources related to the UCC ‘Review of student feedback’ are available here.