A message from Dean Bridget Long detailing HGSE's response to the midyear student experience survey
March 3, 2021
As you know, this school year has brought about many pivots and new experiences as we’ve adapted to the conditions caused by the COVID pandemic. Even before early June, when we announced that we would be remote this academic year, HGSE faculty and staff have been working hard to create new learning experiences, supports, and community activities so that your experience would be meaningful, enriching, and impactful as you prepare to advance your careers in education. As a community of educators, it has also been important to assess how things are going — approaching this endeavor intentionally and thoughtfully during an unprecedented time for the field generally and our school specifically. Drawing from pulse surveys, course evaluations, student discussion groups, and information on student participation and expressed needs, we have been committed to improving our practices and activities as we have learned more about your experiences during this remote year. Thankfully, based on your feedback, we know there have been many bright spots this year, and we continue to build upon what is working while also taking seriously opportunities for continued growth and learning.
Midyear Student Experience Survey. In this email, I provide background on the survey and share the results, discuss some of the work already underway in response to the findings, and highlight opportunities for your continued discussion and input.
The Survey: Background and Results
In December and January, 743 of you completed the survey, which was designed with input from students, staff, and faculty. I am especially thankful for the feedback from the Student Council and from some members of our student-led Student Experience Team (SET). The survey covered topics from course accessibility, workload, student supports, and advising to community and belonging, communications channels, technology, and more. Since that time, a group of staff, doctoral students, and faculty have been working hard to analyze the extensive data and preparing reports that serve as the foundation for discussions focused on improvement. Already, early results from a subset of the data have been the focus of two faculty meetings, with rich discussions about the implications of the findings. Additionally, a range of offices across the school have been briefed as we’ve compiled your feedback on the supports and activities they offer.
Now that we have completed analysis of both the quantitative and qualitative data for the entire survey, I am pleased to share the full report with you. As promised, responses have been kept anonymous, and we do not report any statistics that could reveal the identity of individual students, though you will get a chance to see a sampling of quotations from the open-ended questions. You can also check out the original survey instrument and a report on the sample of respondents.
As the report shows, students have had many positive experiences, particularly in terms of their learning and the connections they have formed in courses. However, some of our activities have been more successful than others, and what some students see as a strength, others see as an area for improvement. We have begun to identify steps we can take now to continue to enhance the experience for students who will graduate in May, as well as for all of those who will continue beyond this spring. Below I outline some of the work already underway and opportunities for you to share your thoughts and get involved with some of our improvement initiatives.
Responding to the Survey: Work Already Underway
There are numerous opportunities for us to put these survey data into action, and we are not waiting to make progress. In particular, for those of you graduating in May, we want to make the most of your experience in the months ahead, especially as you start to focus more on your careers, and the data also have implications for how we can support you as alumni for years to come. It is also important to note that many of the issues highlighted by the survey go beyond the changes necessitated by the pivot to remote education this year. Certainly, the changes this year and stresses created by the pandemic and ongoing political and economic strife around the world have been exacerbated by the online nature of many of our activities, but the lessons learned from the survey will most definitely impact how we support and engage students even when we are back on campus.
As I noted above, faculty and staff have already been grappling with the survey results. At a faculty meeting on January 25, we began to discuss some of the early analysis, and on February 22, we used some of the findings to motivate deeper discussions, with faculty members working in small groups to develop ideas for how to improve the student experience as individuals and as an institution. The data will also be used in several upcoming meetings. For instance, a March faculty meeting will use the data related to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to advance our work in antiracist teaching and advising. Additionally, next week, we are having a Faculty Brown Bag session entitled, “Learning from Our Students: Takeaways from Multiple Sources of Mid-Way Feedback.”
We have also already started to respond in terms of our practices and activities. Here are some of the steps we have already taken, consistent with feedback from the survey, for ongoing improvement:
- In an effort to engage more student voices in the planning of community events, we have created the Commencement Planning Committee, which is being led by Kevin Boehm and includes student representatives, and students are invited to submit their ideas using this form. We also have created the Student Communications Workgroup, which is focusing on improving the design of The Hub (see more below). Please contact Keith Collar if you would like to be involved. The Student Experience Team also continues to be a sought-after source for student feedback, and we are working with the Student Council to solicit additional ideas.
- We are working to develop additional career-related supports and capacity. Mary Kiesling and Andrea Le are offering resume help to students, and coaching sessions are also available and can be found here. Currently, we are in the process of hiring an additional coach with expertise in salary negotiations and career decision-making. Moreover, throughout the month of March, we will be hosting the Social Impact Expo with over 60 hiring organizations participating. Also, be sure to access recently-recorded sessions on a host of topics: Working in China, Working in India, Considering a Doctorate, HR Panel for Nonprofits, and Making the Pivot into Edtech, as well as a plethora of PK12 recruiting events.
- To bolster our academic coaching services, we have hired three new supports: Indra Acharya, Cassy Huang, and Eiko Tsukamoto. KellyAnn Robinson will manage the process of assigning coaches based on specific needs and the expertise of the coaches. We are also expanding the Gutman Accountability Groups, which give students a space to gather and work in a supportive environment. An academic coach is always available during these sessions to answer questions or meet individually with a student when needed. Sessions are available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Library staff will join the Gutman Accountability Groups during mid-terms and finals to answer questions about writing and using the library resources for research.
- This is the first year we’ve offered students both a faculty advisor and a HGSE advisor. Based on the survey results, we are working now to clarifying the roles of each time of advisor and updating our guidance. We are also developing a set of best practices and expectations for advisors, especially about availability and meeting time.
- In February, we launched a Student Communications Workgroup focused on improving the Hub. The workgroup includes seven students representing the Hub Sub-Committee of the Student Council, the Student Experience Team, and leads from student organizations. They are joined by staff from several administrative offices supporting student communications. In our early meetings, students have shared input collected from their peers, and we are developing a plan that will improve the Hub as a channel to deliver important information to students. Based on student feedback, we are already working to build on what the Hub does well and develop resources for students on how to use the Hub. Again, please contact Keith Collar if you have ideas to share or would like to be involved.
- In response to suggestions about improving the use of Canvas, the Teaching and Learning Lab is working with faculty who have been identified as having especially clear and helpful course site organization and design to develop a set of recommended practices. These will be shared with faculty and teaching fellows schoolwide to help improve the navigability of online course sites, and we continue to offer coaching to faculty on how to best use our most common technology platforms and tools.
This is a growing list of activity, and it does not include the many things faculty and teaching fellows are doing to improve their courses, instruction, and advising practices. We are also starting to design supports for continuing part-time students, including curriculum-planning analysis based on students’ current and anticipated course needs. At the University level, there is also an effort to implement the recommendations from the Report of the Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health, which has implications for the services provided by Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS). It is certainly a time for reflection but also action.
Next Steps: Continuing Discussions and Input
A major goal behind the investment in this survey, its analysis, and follow-on actions has been to elevate student voice and feedback. We welcome additional input directly in the form of ideas, suggestions, or reactions.
There will also be other opportunities in the weeks ahead to discuss and provide input on ways we can improve the student experience. Please also stay tuned for announcements via the OSA Weekly and other channels for opportunities to help shape the services and offerings at HGSE.
Additionally, we will continue to use the data with senior leaders, faculty directors, and other members of the HGSE community to support conversations about student concerns, appreciations, and suggestions for each area of the school. While some promising suggestions will take longer to implement (such as reviewing new platform options or adopting new applications for technology), in other areas we can continue to take steps now that build upon the actions detailed above.
Thank you again for the time so many of you gave to provide your feedback about your experience during this unprecedented year. As educators, we are most often focused on what we can do to help the field and learners around the world, which is core to our mission, but I thank you for taking the time to turn that lens inward. Your comments, criticisms, and suggestions are extremely valued and being put to use across the school.
I am grateful for the numerous examples of connection and growth that many have shared with me and that are reflected in the survey, and I am extremely excited about the ways what you are learning is already being applied to help your local communities. During this urgent time for education, I am confident about the contributions you will also make once you finish your degrees, and I look forward to doing even more to improve your experience and support your ability to make meaningful change in education.
With warm regards,