Staff, students and SSLC members have hit out at the “unnecessary” new Accelerate module evaluation service, after the University spent £30,000 in a revamp of the MACE feedback system.
Described as a “new tool for communication and gathering feedback from students” by the University website and launched in November last year, the new system was created in order to allow students to provide in-module feedback, which can be implemented mid-term, as opposed to the previous end-of-term only arrangement under MACE.
Despite its promises to “encourage students to actively engage with giving feedback”, however, the new system has seen “disappointing” levels of student involvement, with some surveys seeing participation as low as 5 per cent. Across the College of Humanities, deadlines for surveys due by the final week of term were extended by an extra month until January 11, as participation rates were “lower than expected”, according to an email sent to Accelerate Representatives and SSLC Subject Chairs.
Following these difficulties, SSLC members and Subject Chairs were called upon to assist with encouraging students to fill out their forms. Modern Languages Subject Chair Olivia Stanley told Exeposé: “I was surprised and frustrated to hear that the £30,000 was spent on Accelerate. As an SSLC Chair, I was frequently asked to promote Accelerate and was told that far fewer students had responded than typically would with the previous MACE system.”
Although participation increased following the extension, some surveys still saw participation at less than 50 per cent than what they were previously under MACE, with some Humanities surveys of around 30 students seeing returns as low as 10 per cent.
Anna Romanska, English SSLC Subject Chair, believes that this is due to the University’s failure to communicate the transfer to the new system: “The University needs work on communicating with us. People want to give feedback but a lot of students just aren’t aware of the new pathways to do that. Ultimately, it’s just a change of name, and the system still works the way it used to – now we need the University administration to get the word out more efficiently.”
This lack of communication, coupled with the system’s new branding, which incorporates a new rainbow logo and surveys signed “from the Accelerate team” has led to widespread confusion over the nature of the surveys, with some students even reporting having confused it with an LGBT campaign.
One final-year student commented: “Students are bombarded with emails every day from the University, UCAS and the Guild – many of which take a survey format. Many of us just assumed it was another one of those, not realising that it was basically just MACE, and actually quite important.”
“We need to find ways to achieve the same levels of engagement with Accelerate as we had with MACE,” a senior lecturer told Exeposé.
Participation has not been the only difficulty with the new service, however. “There was also a glitch with Accelerate that resulted in students being able to give feedback on courses they hadn’t actually studied and this caused confusion,” Stanley commented.
A “user error” also saw confidential feedback from Modern Irish Literature module EAS3226 sent to members of staff across the College of Humanities.
An anonymous member of Humanities staff commented: “As the phrase goes, ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’. Students were happy with the MACE system and it received good levels of engagement. This update therefore seems completely unnecessary, and has brought more problems than benefits.”
Professor James Wakefield, Associate Academic Dean for Students and Accelerate Project sponsor, defended the project’s start-up issues: “As with the introduction of any new IT- based initiative, there were a few teething problems, mostly down to transferring all the details of over 800 end-of-module surveys from MACE to the new system.
“We firmly believe that replacing MACE with Accelerate has been a positive investment in the student experience. The old MACE system did not have the ability to include in-module feedback or the analytical survey capability that the new Accelerate system does.
“Nevertheless, new initiatives do take time to become established practice and we hope that continued promotion towards the end of Term 2 and a growing understanding of how easy it is to use will see the engagement with, and response rates of, Accelerate rise.”
The Accelerate team are now working towards improvement alongside the Students’ Guild and SSLC, having held a Focus Group last week. Week 10 will see the service appear on the iExeter mobile app and the team are considering adding a link to popular site ‘My Exeter is Down’ in order to increase exposure.
VP Education Bethan Jones said: “I would encourage students to make use of all the academic feedback systems available to them to support the University in making sure the educational experience is the best it can be.”