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Student Surveys and Why We Implemented Them

 In Blog

Parents who have been with us for a while will know that we’ve previously deployed end-of-semester surveys for parents in the past. We’ve found the resulting information pretty helpful at times, but also limited, if only because we didn’t get a ton of survey responses. We could always parse the responses for directional feedback, but we had to be careful about giving any individual comment too much weight without a significant number of responses to work from.

So this is where we found ourselves this summer. While Online G3 was going through the process of becoming accredited, our various stakeholders sat down and listed out a number of areas that we wanted to improve over the next three years. Feedback collection and the use of feedback to improve our services (i.e. our classes) was very near the top of the list. As a tech company, we generate a ton of data already, but it’s mostly ‘usage’ data. We can ask some basic questions from this like:

• What are students doing?

• How many of them are doing it?

• Where do students tend to disengage if we lose them?

• Are we getting more students to do more challenges from year over year?

That’s pretty useful stuff, but it’s not directional. It can’t tell us ‘why’. The data that really matters to us is ‘what are we doing well?’ and ‘what do we need to do better?’ Answering those questions can help us address a couple of those points above. So we needed to figure out how to resolve those questions.

You’ve noticed that we again did parent surveys this semester. And to our delight, we got a lot more feedback than we have in the past. Which was great! And helpful! However, we felt that we should also get our end users to talk to us directly so we also put student surveys in our classrooms for the first time. And that’s what I want to talk about a bit today. What we learned from asking our students about our stuff and having them reply anonymously.*

It was especially important to get a lot of data on those questions this year because we’re doing so many new and different things this year.

• We built the orientation class and deployed it for the first time in the Fall.

• We moved to a new webinar platform (Adobe Connect)

• We brought in new tech to the classrooms (e.g. Progress Bars)

• We gave out grades for the first time (Graded Cert Track)

We also continued to use a lot of old standbys that we’ve never really asked our student population about. But, as we’ve learned from our data, you can’t just take a lack of direct complaints about a thing as evidence of success. Lots of folks are happy to suffer in silence if you let them (and that’s certainly not what we want our students or parents to be doing).

So, what did we learn? Too much for a blog post. But I’ll share a few things that I drew out from my classes. We’ll be making use of a lot of this feedback in the Spring, but really be working it over as we revise classes for the Fall.

Important to note again: What I’ve put below is just a selection of things I learned and will take into account for each class. There’s a lot more.

   •Big History: The changes I made to the Graded Cert Track peer evaluation process worked as I’d hoped. Changing process mid-stream caused its own problems, and I plan to never do that ever again, but the initial process wasn’t working – continuing it would have failed the students.

   •All classes: Voicethread is very polarizing. In general, the data on this tool is not what we would hope. It looks like a bell curve, actually. A majority of students are indifferent to the tool, a smaller number like/dislike it (approximately the same number, in both cases, in every class) and a smaller but vocal number love/hate it (again, similar numbers on both end). I’m still thinking about how to react to this data. Is the problem that students don’t like having to present to their peers? Certainly, microphone reluctance in our classes would lead me to consider this at least a part of the issue. One student I can think of mentioned technical issues, so we also have to consider that those are more widespread and impacting impressions of voicethread. One way or the other, we’d prefer student impressions to be at least leaning towards like/love, so we know there appears to be a problem here.  To start to figure this out, I hope to test potential alternatives and solutions in classes in the Spring and we’ll do extensive polling again to see if we can hone in on what the root issue actually is.

   •Norton classes: Inquizitive is deeply unpopular. This blows my mind because I really love the betting mechanic in those challenges. But it wouldn’t be the first time that my personal tastes hew unpopular. I suspect I will make Inquizitive assignments optional next year if these numbers hold up in the Spring.

   •Multiple classes: I’ve often thought that individual classes might benefit from having a ‘social’ forum of their own and more than one student asked for the same thing. We’re big on building community in our classes (as you’ve probably seen from our ‘introductions’ forums to kick off the semester), so if it would help to have a place where kids can talk socially about the topics we’re covering, that makes total sense to me! In fact, I’m going to test this in several of my classes this Spring to see how it works out. If it seems popular, we’ll add it more widely in the Fall.

   •Multiple classes: Students want ‘this week’s’ homework to appear at the top of the page. This makes total sense to us, but we don’t currently have a good tech solution for it. We’ll be on the lookout for a solution.

I seriously could go on. So. much. helpful. stuff. Some of the feedback was specific to a class or mix of students, so I’ll be making use of it in the Spring for continuing classes. Other stuff is very much future-oriented and/or broadly applicable. So, I’m very excited to use all of this information to make Online G3 better.

And thank you to everyone for helping us!

*Some students self-identified or replied in a way that made them identifiable. We’ll be asking them to avoid this in Spring so that we don’t need to invalidate their data.

Benjamin Smith is also known as Headmaster Galahad at  He teaches history, science, and social science at G3.

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