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How UCL Institute of Neurology used Unitu to engage with feedback more effectively and transparently

FACULTY SIZE:

695 students

LOCATION:

London, England

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ABOUT

The UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology was established in 1950, merged with UCL in 1997, and is a key component of the Faculty of Brain Sciences at UCL. The institute has nearly 700 students.

THE CHALLENGE

Like most universities, the QS Institute of Neurology needed to address the challenge of collecting and dealing with student feedback more efficiently and transparently.

Closing the feedback loop
In particular, there was a need to improve the student representation system to make it more effective, to better use informal feedback and to close the feedback loop by demonstrating that student concerns are responded to. Education Manager at the UCL Institute of Neurology, David Blundred, wanted to have a better system to respond to student feedback: 

I felt that what we had been doing was not really working. What tended to happen was that students would send individual emails to myself or my colleagues, and then you’d reply to those, but there wasn’t a sense that perhaps a lot of people might have these same questions.

Lack of transparency
Transparency was another relevant challenge they had. Pretty much based on individual emails, responding to student feedback was taking a lot of time and, at the same time, lack of transparency. The replies didn’t reach all students.

Since the main method was replying to student emails individually, “that didn’t seem a very good use of time. You’re replying individually to these people asking the same questions and not everyone is getting that answer.

Find out about issues quickly
The QS Institute of Neurology needed to identify what is essential to students, what their key concerns are about and what areas of improvement they needed to take action on. They wanted to
 “get a better sense of how many people are worried about certain things or what is important to people.

No formalised election process
David explained that before Unitu, they did not have a formal voting process in which course reps can be nominated, seconded and voted in.

THE SOLUTION

In the academic year 2019-2020, with a focus on making and sustaining significant improvements for the following academic year, they decided to implement Unitu with all their 695 students. As explained by David, they felt Unitu was a good platform to support them in increasing transparency when collecting and acting on student feedback.

The idea was to have a much more transparent platform in which to get student feedback.”

Unitu has helped them make the staff response much more transparent, 

[Unitu] is not only more efficient, but it’s much more transparent. Because I think the problem can be that if you’re just replying to a few students, people could not seeing that response”. On Unitu, “everyone can see everybody’s comments so the students can see other students’ comments and people can keep adding to it… what’s quite nice then is you can see a bit of a debate.”

Another solution they found userful on Unitu was running the rep elections on the platform. Previously, they had no formalised voting process. But now with Unitu, the process is accorded with more legitimacy. 

“Prior to running the student rep elections with Unitu, [students] would just send us an email or talk about it during the induction week saying who wants to be a rep and you’d get a few people coming and saying “I’ll be the rep,” and so then that’s how you select them, so there was no voting process.” 

THE RESULTS

The QS Institute of Neurology has seen a number of benefits:

  • More than 190 posts have been created on Unitu in 2019-2020.
  • Increased staff-student dialogue with more than 1k comments.
  • Problems are resolved more transparently and quickly: Reps responded to students’ posts on an average of 2 days and staff replied in 3 days.
  • They identified assessment and feedback as the main area of concern by students, which represented 50% of the posts.
  • More legitimacy and transparency to the rep elections process

Unitu has played a crucial role in giving the right opportunities to give feedback and improving satisfaction across the programmes at the QS Institute of Neurology. 

“It’s a perfect platform because people can see everybody has the opportunity to post something, and then to see how you’re responding to their ideas, their criticisms, their concerns.

Running elections on Unitu had a very positive impact as well. According to David Unitu helped them increasing legitimacy in the process.

"What was nice about Unitu is that [election candidates] had to put a little blurb about why to vote for them. Why would they be a good representative. So it gave [the process] a bit more legitimacy. And it has led to the student reps taking the role much more seriously."
David Blundred
Education Manager, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology

The increased assumption of responsibility by course representatives could be demonstrated by the more active role they played in the feedback process. As David put it, 

What has been really nice… was to see the comments that the reps have written. They’ve been giving really good advice. They’ve said things that I think I would have said, and that made my job a lot easier.”

From the student representatives’ perspective, Unitu has been helpful in figuring out what students were thinking. As Kai Loh, a student representative on the MSc Clinical Neuroscience programme, mentioned that through Unitu, “people can actually voice out their thoughts.”

[Unitu] is a great medium to discuss on several issues and to solve problems, or even to get people together.”
Kai Loh
Student Representative, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology

Overall, David thinks that using Unitu has made a huge difference from the individual emails they were using. 

“Unitu has been very positive experience. And, I would highly recommend it. I think it’s a much better than the system that we were using, which is essentially just individual emails or people coming in. Of course, you are still going to get those, but I think it’s much better to be more transparent and open.”

Impact summary

  • Responding to feedback became a more transparent exercise, as all students have access to the same staff response.
  • Students’ experience of the platform has been positive, they’ve felt much more like a community and felt their voices have been listened to.
  • Staff have been able to gain valuable feedback and representative data on students opinions and concerns quicker than previous methods.
  • Elections for course representative have been accorded with more structure, transparency and legitimacy.

​User survey results 

  • 89% of students said they are satisfied with Unitu.
  • 75% of students said Unitu makes the process of giving feedback much easier.
  • 100% agreed they had the right opportunities to provide feedback through Unitu.
  • 2 days was the average time course reps took to respond to students.
  • 3 days was the average time staff took to respond to students.

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