Student satisfaction – what does it take? And is it edible – sorry – ethical?

Student fees in England are high. And as someone who received a grant to study from a local authority – as almost all students did, back in the good ol’ days – I feel sorry for the youngsters who have to shoulder a debt into the world of work before they’ve even earned their first full-time, career-type-job pay cheque.


Today, yet again, stories of student dissatisfaction are in the news.

They don’t feel they’re getting value for money. Specifically, many of them, don’t rate the teaching and cite – irony of ironies (read on) – lack of contact hours.

And the more work they have to do, the happier they are, it seems.

Well, I thought those of you who studied before the advent of the internet might like to know – and marvel at – what resources today’s students have available to them at my husband’s university.

First, the online handbook, which is introduced to students at the beginning of the course. This details what the course they’ve chosen entails, its requirements, deadlines for assessment, essay questions, reading lists and timetables for classes, lectures, exams, dissertations, etc.

And everything on the reading lists, btw, should be accessible from the library at the click of a link.

Thus, it’s a doddle to find out, in an instant, what’s expected, when work is due and to access the resources needed to complete it.

Lectures are filmed – the lecturer wearing a mic to record the content.

I hate this idea. I’m sure it hampers a lecturer’s style, knowing throw-away, controversial remarks and dad (or mum) jokes are forever accessible online. Not to mention my own feeling that it’s dodgy in terms of copyright. Lecturing can require not just a lot of personal research (and constant updating) but plenty of original thought.

But never mind that now. Back to spoonfeeding.

So (to start this sentence as so many academics irritatingly do now) the lectures are available online if a student misses a class.

The PowerPoint slides are online.

The notes are online.

Thus, if the student fails to attend any lecture, the material is there to work from, no excuse.

So far, so good. And arguably, so valuable, yes?

Here are a couple of examples of what actually happens.

Student turns up to session, week before presentations are due. Previous week lecturer told students what’s expected – details of format, style and content – this is simply a reminder. OK?

So (again). Student arrives for class. Unusual in itself.

‘What’s the presentation about? What are we supposed to do?’ s/he asks. (I’m leaving personal pronouns vague on purpose.)

The subject was discussed in the previous week’s lecture. The actual lecture was online. The PowerPoint was online. The online handbook detailed what was required.

That same student is now applying for postgraduate courses.

With a lousy attendance record, you might think s/he would consider choosing a referee whose course s/he had attended diligently. And you might think s/he’d ask the lecturer first.

But no. A reference request arrives with no warning.

Now, cut this student some slack. S/he’s far from being the only one. And given all that’s available online, you might not be surprised attendance can be pretty poor.

So (getting used to this ‘so’ starting?) let’s move on, to assessment. Of lecturers and courses, not students.

Students are routinely asked to rate their lecturers and course material in end-of-course evaluations. It’s pretty much the norm in higher education and is used in deciding on the allocation of funds, curriculum development, performance rating of academics – and so on.

A brilliant first class student recently marked down my husband’s course because (wait for this) that student felt s/he had just done badly in a class test.

The students had access to a previous test online, had been given a detailed week by week review of topics to study – and this was all two weeks in advance (and filmed and available online).

The student actually received first class marks. But by the time s/he knew that, the damage was done.


So (I’m getting the hang of this), to return to the question of the title, what does it take for students to feel they have value for money, to rate their lecturers and courses highly?

I have the answer. It was reported in the i newspaper earlier this week.

Chocolate biscuits.

Dr Manuel Wenk, as reported in the i, is one of the authors of a study to be published in the journal Medical Education.  That study:

found that those groups who had received chocolate cookies evaluated their teachers as being significantly better than those who received nothing.

They also considered their teaching materials to be better and their scores for the overall quality of the course were significantly higher than those of the control group.

Dr  Wenk, according to the i:

warned that while the research may at first appear light-hearted, the fact that teacher evaluation could be so easily influenced revealed the “total inadequacy” of such important teaching surveys.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

So (last one, promise), to return to the title once more, my advice to lecturers in England is: stock up on chocolate digestives, Choco Leibnitz, whatever.

In fact, why not invest in choux buns with fresh cream and chocolate icing? Or gateaux? You know there will be an escalation now the truth has been revealed, don’t you?

Whatever you do, feed ‘em – and watch your obese ratings swell your university’s rankings.

Birthday cake from April, made for the prof, in the form of an excavation square and stone tools. Just for illustrative purposes. No students were bribed as a result of ingestion of said cake 😉

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28 Responses to Student satisfaction – what does it take? And is it edible – sorry – ethical?

  1. hughcurtler says:

    Remarkable how similar your situation is to ours on this side of the pond! But the key, as you note, is that this is the age of entitlement and the students (a) expect to be spoon-fed and (b) blame someone else for their own shortcomings. We live in interesting times!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had a feeling you might relate to this one, Hugh! I spend so many pointless minutes fuming I decided I had to rant about it. It’s reaching the stage that students expect, as of right, to get a first class degree because they paid for it. Neglecting the need to actually do some work. And as for citing blogs and Wikipedia as ‘sources’ – aargh! As I’m sure you know the list of irritations is almost endless. Sigh.


  2. Thel says:

    I feel my breakfast coming up… excuse me….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I knew a chap who lectured at – private – Buckingham before moving to a normal university. He said…and this was in the eighties…that because they had paid the students expected to get at least a 2.1 and there was hell to pay if they did not get high grades for assessed work so I suppose this wasa forerunner of what has become the norm.

    I was once invited to give a lecture to French university students to give them a point of comparison with their own legal system. I had my notes, went to the lectern and began. A flurry of hands. Where is the schema? We don’t know what you are going to say…
    I said that it might surprise them to know that, should they practice law, they might find that their clients don’t give them advance notice of the problem in respect of which they are consulting them so a little practice in pinning back the lugs and engaging the brain might prove helpful. Shock horror, alors!
    The friend who had issued the invitation told me later that there had been complaints that I should not have been invited to lecture, not having the appropriate qualifications for a university lecturer in France….

    I am horrified by the spoon feeding you detail as practiced in your husband’s university…and especially by the idea of these precious little dears being asked to rate lecturers and coursework…on a par with asking infant classes to write ‘poetry’.

    In addition to the chocolate biscuits could I suggest inviting the more entitled students to a meal of acki and saltfish…using unripe acki. Wipe out the problem of debt and entitlement at one fell swoop.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know, I find myself becoming so incensed on Larry’s behalf – the headline in today’s i was the final straw. There is so much more to grind one’s teeth about, as I mentioned to Hugh: the inbaility to distinguish between scholarly research and Wikipedia, even after being shown examples of how appallingly wrong it can be, use of personal blogs written by other undergraduates as authoritative sources, total inability to string adequate sentences together – and this is one of the Russell Group universities! That said, there are some bright sparks currently proving to be very bright indeed and a slew of great postgrads. So it ain’t all bad! Well, when you set aside the admin…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ricardo says:

    Waaa. Please don’t expect me to graduate in four years and I want all A’s for my “effort.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • They only have 3 years! I just can’t get over how easy it is made for them – I mean, I wasn’t good at attending lectures to put it mildly but I wrote three essays a fortnight and read the stuff on the reading lists – in between partying 😉


  5. Ellen Hawley says:

    The commodification of education.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Heide says:

    I’m distressed to read that the state of universities (and the students who attend them) is no better in your corner of the world than in mine. What a disservice we are doing to entire generations of young people with all this coddling! And then we complain when they enter the workforce and we have to narrate their entire day in real-time to help them carry out their most basic assignments. It seems we are losing the resourcefulness and adaptability that have until recently been so critical to the survival of our species. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do sometimes despair – but tell myself there must be a way that huamity will work thorugh this – it really has been a revolution in our ways of doing things and absorbing information. One of the things that concerns me generally, in all sectors, is the decrease in employment that always follows the market’s desire for cost reduction – where will it end? Larry told me last night about a course where the tutor was on study leave – so the students were given the previous term’s online materials instead. So many issues with that. Sigh and double sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heide says:

        When I despair for the world I try to remind myself that human history is cyclical, and that attitudes swing like a pendulum sometimes. So perhaps we’ll one day return to investing in solid educations, and in expecting more from our students. Still, for now I join you in sitting on the curb and saying “sigh and double sigh.”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Ardys says:

    Where does one start? We have a daughter who was on the leading edge of this trend about 8 years ago when doing her Masters Degree, and it is not all beer and skittles for them either, though this is not to discount your very valid points. She had many frustrations with the online lectures not working, the online materials not being updated, and lack of access to instructors/professors, even textbooks not being available before the start of term due to instructors changing materials. My husband was a teacher then a principal, then a Pro Vice Chancellor in his career and he regularly pointed out the shortcomings of the system. So (ahem) it is like many other facets of life these days, complex and only as satisfying as we are able to make it. Lamentable, but what we have created. I’m struggling not to get started on the trends of language abuse…like, um…reaching out etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know, students do sometimes get a pretty poor bargain, the prof’s experience elsewhere has proved that! But all the publicity in this country seems to be about the students complaining they don’t get enough resources/time etc – and then they fail to turn up! It seems to be forgotten that gaining a degree is a two way process, the student has to participate if s/he wants to benefit. And the evaluation process on which so much depends is, as Dr Wenk (had to double check the spelling twice after I typed it!) pointed out, laughably qualitative and subjective – so much for evidence based decision making. I began to dip my toe in the writing/reading/referencing/language waters but there is so much to bemoan I rapidly pulled my toe out. You should see some of the work… To be honest, part of it is down to the well-intentioned schemes to get those who have not been able or willing to gain qualifications at school to enter as adults – sometimes they really do bite off much more than they can chew and it is upsetting and frustrating for them – and for the diligent among the academics.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Education has become Big Business. The Prof. is -as are so many good & conscientious educators- the meat in the sandwich, both accountable to and the face of an institution over which he has little say. The students are pickles who pay for the privilege.
    I would dearly love to be a uni student but I cannot support what I believe is a truly erroneous regime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s awful.
      I love your analogy. Poor little piccalillis! Or maybe baby beetroots? Or cocktail onions?
      I’m not sure, knowing all I do, I would go to uni now, I would take up the job offer I had of becoming a local trainee reporter. Think where I might be now. Sigh. But now of course that’s a hopeless route to a career – at my fortnightly freelancers event most of them are middle-aged journalists who’ve been made redundant 😦


  9. seer1969 says:

    Excellent piece Mary, agree wholeheartedly as you know.And all the comments and your replies make it an entertaining read. You may have something here, a Facebook group even!
    I think it’s a generation split I have never experienced with other generations; given 20 years per generation roughly, that’ll be three generations, all of whom I’ve had no trouble communicating with and understanding. Now I’m reminded of the Incredible String Band’s ‘I don’t even understand you when you try to talk slow’ from Back in the nineteen sixties, which still cracks me up. To illustrate the split in the generation rather than teaching methodology, I was watching a program where clips from 50s, 60s & 70s TV were shown to several pairs of people ‘born after 1980. All clips were chosen, naturally, to entertain and cause reactions, and they did. In one two presenters of a childrens show I vaguely remember [my kids would know] were sitting on the top floor of a tourist double decker without a roof, singing [like you do] Great Bog Melting Pot, so must have been the 70s. The young woman was white and the man Afro-Caribean, their names escape as do many from then, but I remember him particularly as he was an entertainer-resenter, it was probably Tiswas or one of those mad kids shows. So there they are singing what is an anti-racist song written by singer-songwriter Roger Cook of Blue Mink, a mixed-race band released in 1969. At the point in the song where Chinese was mentioned, because the whole act was a bit of pantomime, the guy put his fingers to the corners of his eyes and pulled them sideways to make them slitted like Asian eyes are. No one but no one could possibly object to that surely?
    The looks on the faces. The mouths agape. The startled, almost terrified looks exchanged before looking back at the screen and saying ‘did he say that?’ They were horrified, totally judgemental about a simple bit of kids theatre that even little Chinese kids would have been delighted to be included in, then. Noiw, it might get a question in Parliament, probably by Sharmi Chakrabooty or some other defender of the public morals and tastes, and social media would be on fire, the presenter would be attacked and twitter stormed, and the #weareallchinese would swamp everything for 12 hours before being forgotten.
    I thought it was just me and I should prepare to accept being irrelevent and make plans for death. So thanks everyone, I feel less alone now! 😉 What we do about it is still beyond even The Seer. I just fear them breeding, and what the next generation will be like. Aaaagh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t worry about the breeding bit, every generation rebels against the previous doesn’t it? I think the development pf political correctness has been a good thing on the whole and I look back in horror at some things – not so much your slanty-eyes episode but, for example, the way we casually ignored the fact that for many disabled people life was a second or third class experience thanks to practical obstacles in their way. Calling anyone with a disability spastic. But there are ways in which avoiding hurt has gone too far – and, as Heide says, things tend to go in cycles and the pendulum will no doubt swing – let’s hope in not too extreme a direction either way.


      • seer1969 says:

        I never thought of making life easier for the disabled as political correctness? More about banned words, banned attitudes, and sure some aspects of the sixties were gross, it’s why we created a counter culture after all, but critics of the sixties [not born then] only appear to have access in some pretty awful stuff usually, the footage shot in Carnaby Street for instance. Much of it was created by media for stories anyway, few even glimpsed the real counter culture which worked away beneath undermining it all. But I think the disabled issue was more a product of the British veneration of being stoic, of putting up with all life threw at you, of ‘not complaining’, and of simple lack of awareness of the difficulties experiences and unwillingness until later on the part of the disabled people to stand p for their rights and ‘be difficult’. Most advantage is got by struggle rather than gifts from the elite.
        Germain Green remarked, in a documentary about her I watched recently, about the limelight grabbing of metoo by the vastly rich Hollywood women in their special black frocks all painted up like whores as usual and as Germaine said ‘all with their tits out.’ She continued ‘They commodify women and all other women pay for it’. I had much the same thought. Protesting being a viewed object while presenting onself as the prettiest viewed object going. Lined up they were all looking a little competitive, are my tits out far enough? 😉 All millionaire victims, my heart bled a little. Just a drop.
        A much heard phrase these days, I heard it just yesterday on some programme, is ‘You can’t get away with that now!’, which seems to suggest a new puritanism is alive, the Twitterwitchfinders ever vigilant to detect and denounce detractors from the new religious orthodoxy; since consumerism failed to satisfy as we said it would, something else was needed. The co-operative individualism [anarchism] of the sixties/seventies counter culture which rejected consumerism and mass destruction, is replaced with narcissistic individualism which clebrates consumerism, is cult-like and sheeplish, even adopting anti-science, irrational beliefs like gender being a matter of individual choice. All seem desperate to belong by agreeing to a complete portfolio rather than critically thinking for themselves.


  10. Miz B says:

    I once spent a year in weekly meetings on a faculty committee reviewing the research on course and instructor evaluations, only to have the president of the college reject our thoroughly thought-through findings in favor of her own grand idea: let the students “grade” the instructors/professors. So, she threw out all the research on the problematic nature of faculty evaluations. Just like that.

    The chocolate biscuit idea is brilliant. Much cheaper than the party one of my own professors would have each semester at which he passed out the evaluations and No. 2 pencils. He worked his graduate students like dogs (doing microfilm research for him), but he still got great marks on evals. Let’s face it: the system is deeply flawed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can hardly bear it – it’s bad enough that it’s obviously a thoroughly flawed way of evaluating performance but to reject thought-through findings, aaargh! One of the ‘news’ items last week was that students liked being worked hard – but I can’t help feeling that giving them every last bit of help means they simply don’t have to – and hence don’t feel they’ve had value for money. I agree about the chocolate biscuits – much cheaper than parties! And less stressful for whoever has to do the catering…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Steph says:

    Hmm. Having read all this some time ago and decided that everyone else was expressing thoughts on the issue far more eloquently than I would (hence refraining from comment), I made up my mind today to say a very quick word. Even if everyone is already aware of this.

    It is endemic in schools. That’s where it comes from. Particularly secondary schools, where teachers are under massive pressure from League tables and constant evaluation; and even more so in independent schools where the ‘customer’ (oh sad nomenclature, as if turning out individual people equates to ringing out the tills and handing over the products in an identical wrapper) is ‘entitled’. Parents enquire of the educators why their children are not receiving top grades, when in most cases it would seem more appropriate to quiz the children. One is genuinely expected almost to sit the exam for the pupils, even to the extent where those pupils lose all ability to research for themselves, read or develop creativity and originality in any way. Then, because they have not been able to train up their own minds amidst a mass of pre-masticated mush of photocopied notes and online suggestions wrung from teachers who loathe the process but are forced to cooperate with it, they further compromise and emasculate themselves with cut and paste and essays cribbed from the Internet. They see no problems with cheating for their top grade – after all, they are paying for it, are they not? Thank goodness, there are still some youngsters who retain their personalities, passion and desire for knowledge in this mess, and who are a privilege to teach, but it is a rare event indeed.

    A week and a half to go, and I am feeling pretty sour and cynical as we embark on that period where students expect bells and whistles games and entertainment, because exams are over and there is no point in attempting to absorb more knowledge..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Steph! I knew it was bad but somehow imagined at schools such as yours… Sigh. I suppose I should have realised, it’s the price tag that implies entitlement. Do you have software that enables you to reveal plagiarism like the univ does? I am so sad that they routinely go through it and seem to find it far too often. But you are right to remind us that there are the exceptions, the ones who are hungry for knowledge and love to learn. Larry is very lucky to have some great postgrads around at the moment (one drove all the way out here last night with a microscope Larry is taking to Zambia and would otherwise have had to go into town for) and some very keen undergrads among the place-fillers, it makes all the difference. And at least he doesn’t have to amuse the kids after exams are over – they just flee!


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