35,850 students took part in the 2017 Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) – a national survey of students in twenty-seven public higher education institutions – bringing the total number of responses to almost 125,000 since the survey was introduced in 2013.
The Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) is designed to ask students directly about their experiences of higher education. Student feedback provides institutions with valuable information to identify good practice that enhances the student experience and to prompt awareness of, and action on, any particular issues or challenges that affect students.
In each year’s report, one chapter “looks deeper” into what students are saying. In 2017, the experiences of students studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects) are explored and present some expected and some surprising results:
Students studying non-STEM subjects, when taken all together, spend more time addressing higher order learning than those studying STEM. For the survey, higher order learning is defined as the extent to which work emphasises challenging tasks such as application, analysis, judgement and synthesis of information. For example, 15% of STEM students reported that their coursework emphasised ‘evaluating a point of view’ very much whereas 25% of non-STEM respondents selected this option.
Students studying STEM subjects spend considerably more time than other students dealing with quantitative reasoning, that is, evaluating, supporting or critiquing views by using numerical and statistical information. For example, 48% of STEM students report that their coursework emphasises ‘reaching conclusions on analysis of numerical information’ compared to 26% of those studying all other subjects.
Students’ interaction with academic staff offers another perspective on the value of the survey. It is noted that these results are low compared to other countries with similar surveys and lower for first year students than for other year groups. This might not be surprising given the increasing numbers of students participating in higher education against a background of well-known funding constraints, but institutions are working hard to limit the impact on students. In fact, despite the low base, results for this indicator in 2017 are the highest since the survey started in 2013. However, lecturers, class sizes and group work feature very frequently in open text responses from students, as illustrated in the following:
“Tutorials are a great way of understanding and practicing questions. I find that being in these smaller groups really help as you are able to ask more questions and get a better quality of learning”.
“In a lot of the lectures, the lecturers interact with the students and assign groups to work together, which is a good approach to learning. There are also a lot of resources in the university for those who need it, in regards to learning. I always receive emails about some type of resource to avail of and it’s nice to know it’s there if I need it”.
“The continuous assessments allow us to engage in the work throughout the semester. Some lecturers have excellent in class work to help us understand topics.”
“We have group projects to do in our tutorials which force us to research and engage further in the material covered in the lectures. The group presentations help you get a deeper understanding of the material.”
The results of the survey are intended to bring benefits to students and their institutions, and to inform national policy. When introduced in 2013, the ISSE was the first national survey of its kind in Europe, although a number of countries have explored similar surveys since then.
Some results from the 2017 survey
- 35,850 students took part in the 2017 survey
- 56% have developed clear and effective writing skills quite a bit or very much
- 63% often/very often improved knowledge and skills that will contribute to their employability
- 59% of students feel they are well supported to help them succeed academically
- 53% often/very often worked with other students on projects or assignments
- 61% often/very often combined ideas from different subjects / modules when completing assignments
The full survey publication is available online at – http://hea.ie/assets/uploads/2017/11/ISSE-Report-2017-final.pdf