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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Do student satisfaction surveys REALLY measure satisfaction?


The central message in Quality is monitor your customers and continually progress towards improvement.

I wish I could say that was an absolute truth in the which is in the arena of education and teaching, but in my observation, the best I can say is not so much.  I don’t think this is entirely a consequence of disinterest in wanting to set a quality agenda in teaching; it is also a lack of investigation, follow through and innovation.
It should also be clear that if your goal is only about customer satisfaction, then it is fair to say that you are stuck in the 1980s.  What the more appropriate goal is improvement which goes beyond satisfaction, or goes more under the current title of “customer delight”.  

I have raised this before.  Customer delight follows the model described by Kano, which talks about providing a service beyond the normal expectation, beyond satisfaction and creates a feeling of exceptional appreciation.  

To be fair, it is difficult to measure for satisfaction, if the sole tool are traditional student satisfaction surveys.  Surveys are at best marginal to credibly measuring satisfaction.  I created “Noble’s Rules” as a way to increase their potential.  But  even with the “Rules” surveys have nothing to offer for looking at  “customer delight”.   
When educators discovered surveys, either on-paper or on-line, they seemed like the perfect tool.  You create a bunch of questions, students answer them and you then can count the response.  If one teacher gets 7 As and 3 Bs and another gets 5As and 5Bs, the first must be better.  The problem is that most students soon learn there is little in the surveys for them.  This is a little game from which they quickly suffer survey fatigue and and boredom.  They all too quickly become robotic in their answers and far too predictable to be reliable.  Most students rank teachers on a 5-point scale with As or Bs most of the time, mainly because it is fast and easy.  Put down something else and then you get these other questions.  Too much work and not worth the effort.  

There are others who love to be outliers who feel empowered and throw in a few Cs and Ds.   Today we call this  the “twittering” of student surveys; the power of outliers when protected by anonymity.

If we really want to gather information, we need more objective, independent measures to determine if we are making progress.  

So let me tell you of a supplemental measurement tool that seems to be working for us to see if our audience likes what we are doing.  
In our certificate course for medical laboratory quality management, we do a lot of year-over-year update and revision,  Since few people (if any) take our course year over year, few are aware of how much the course changes over time. 
But when they finish the course they communicate with their organization manager or  employer and tell them about what they learned.  If they had a terrible experience, the message would likely be that the course was a waste of time. 
But what we are seeing is that organizations send us more and more candidates year over year.  This is happening in multiple provinces in Canada, and in a number of foreign countries.  Over the past 5 years our repeat business not only continues to occur, but many participants start registering earlier.  For example, this year our registrants started to come in early in September, with many coming from organizations who have sent people to us before.   

We see this as benefiting from shared information.  Participant A has a positive experience, and informs their colleague who then registers early to become Participant B, or perhaps, they inform their employer who this is inclined to send more workers to increase the pool of Quality trained persons.  Ultimately it is a Quadruple win: Participant A, Participant B, Employer and us.

So while we track individual opinions through satisfaction surveys, we can also track structural opinions by looking at where they come from, and were they likely coming by referral.
So here is my message:

·   (A) If you feel compelled to use student satisfaction surveys, be very skeptical of the information you gather

·        (B) If you feel you have no choice, at least improve your surveys with Noble’s Rules. 

·       (C) Better yet, find another indicator that is less subjective that satisfaction surveys, more independent and more measurable and more focused on structural issues of referrals.  (See Noble’s Rule (8)).