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Using UKES to enhance staff-student reflection and engagement

16 Jul 2019 | Juliet Winter, Cassie Shaw In response to an increasingly metric-driven higher education sector in the UK, educational developers Juliet Winter and Cassie Shaw from the University of Winchester consider the usefulness of the UK Engagement Survey as a reflective and critically evaluative tool for students.

The benefits of using UKES as a tool for reflection and critical evaluation

Having run the UK Engagement Survey (UKES) at the University of Winchester for a number of years now, we’ve known for a while that the survey holds great potential as a method by which university tutors and educational developers can create an engaging, discussion-based environment for students to examine and evaluate the learning gain they have experienced upon entry into higher education. We felt that developing our approach to using UKES as a tool for reflection and evaluation – rather than running it in the standard survey format – would provide the space and time for students to think about bigger questions; relating their learning, knowledge and skills development to the wider world and contemplating their academic, professional and personal development in a meaningful way (i.e. beyond questions of satisfaction that we see in surveys like the NSS).

In 2018 the University piloted a workshop approach to UKES that aimed to do all of the above and succeeded in providing students with the space for reflection and critical evaluation, as we hoped it would. In turn, we found that, on the whole, the workshop approach increased students’ pedagogic literacy (by which we mean the greater depth of reflection with which they responded to questions relating to their development) and increased the survey response rate among those programmes who participated.

The benefits of this approach were twofold. Firstly, by increasing student’s pedagogic literacy and critical engagement with the survey questions, we found that students could make clearer connections between their academic study and the wider world, which was of particular importance in allowing them to articulate to others the knowledge and skills they had developed through their studies. Secondly, by increasing the response rate among those programmes who participated in the workshop approach, the data provided by students was more representative of the whole student cohort. In this sense, the increased validity of the data built a clearer narrative of students’ experience of study on the programmes involved and therefore allowed tutors to identify areas of strength as well as areas for enhancement with regards to their teaching practice and learning environments. These findings have seemingly fulfilled the aims of the survey developers, who hoped that UKES would be used as a tool for enhancement rather than for comparison between institutions (Kandiko-Howson and Buckley, 2017). This was also true in relation to academic tutors, who we wanted to explore UKES not as a performance management tool or a data-driven stick, but as a platform for a more nuanced framing of discussion around development.

What did we do? Our UKES workshop approach

When running UKES in previous years we had encouraged this type of approach across the institution but had found that many tutors did not have the time, capacity and/or resource to develop and build these sessions into their classes. We developed the workshop approach in 2017/18 as a means of supporting programme teams to engage with the survey themes and use them to facilitate the reflective discussion outlined above.

The workshops adopted a three-tiered approach that centered the key themes from UKES while giving a degree of flexibility to tutors and students struggling with time and workload pressures, and also allowed tutors to opt in for a workshop that they felt most suited and supported their students’ work and development at that point in the degree. During each workshop, students were given the opportunity to complete the survey. The tiered approach is outlined in the table below and was offered to all programme teams across the university.


Within each of the tiers, we aimed to position the themes of UKES as a useful method for the students in the room to think through their progress and development to date, as well as to consider how they might begin to articulate this to others (such as prospective employers). While the tier 1 workshop allowed us to do this via a brief introduction to the survey, the tier 3 workshop included three activities that allowed us to delve into these in more depth. Tier 2 sat somewhere in the middle; facilitating general discussions around the survey themes without the lengthier activities of tier 3. For more information on the specifics of the activities, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Juliet or Cassie.

Adopting the workshop approach: our reflections and considerations moving forward

The benefits of utilising UKES as a learning and teaching enhancement tool are clear and we would encourage the adoption and adaption of the workshop approach by tutors and educational developers across the sector. Saying that, our own reflection on the workshop approach highlighted a number of areas that will likely be important for colleagues to consider. They are:

  • Buy in from programme teams has tended to be low, seemingly because of issues relating to time and resource, as well as general disenchantment with metric-driven approaches.
  • The involvement of module tutors in the workshops varied significantly, with some actively participating in the discussions and others not attending the sessions. We found that tutor involvement was key to the success of the workshops with regards to a) encouraging student engagement, and b) supporting students to contextualise the survey themes within their own discipline.
  • Timing the workshops appropriately can be challenging with regards to where they sit in relation to students’ learning and development, as well as avoiding clashes with other national surveys (namely the NSS) that are institutional priorities.

We hope that the University of Winchester’s approach to UKES will inspire others to consider the survey’s potential with regards to enhancing student reflection and engagement. We also hope that our reflections are useful to those who are hoping to pilot similar approaches.

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Juliet Winter is a Senior Researcher in the Learning and Teaching Development team at the University of Winchester. In her role, Juliet leads the university's participation in the UK Engagement Survey (UKES), as well as the university’s TESTA enhancement approach. Alongside this role, Juliet is an Associate Lecturer in American Studies and is working to complete her PhD.

Cassie Shaw is a researcher in the Learning and Teaching Development team and second year PhD student at the University of Winchester. Alongside this, she is also an hourly-paid lecturer in the Institute for Values Studies.

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