When you have decided on the topics and questions that you want to research, you’ll need to consider the platforms you could use to conduct your research, and think about the methods you can use to gather information from others. This will also depend on the context within which you are conducting your research, and your context will also impact the specific requirements you may need to go through to get approval for where and how you conduct your research. Let’s examine some of the platforms and methods you could use, and their benefits.
The University of Surrey has a student feedback platform to facilitate student feedback on academic matters. If you are volunteering as a Course Rep, a Departmental Liaison Officer, or a Students’ Union Officer, for example, you may find this platform hugely helpful to conduct your research. The MySurrey Voice platform encourages students to share their feedback, either with their personal details or anonymously. For Course Reps specifically, this will be the main platform that is used for researching student opinion and to encourage students to share their feedback.
However, it can also be useful for other contexts, and can help to facilitate research into the opinions of students within a particular area of the University, or on specific topics.
Strength: Easy access to your cohort and to staff, and easy to see action that’s been taken
Challenge: MySurrey Voice is a newer platform, so you’ll need to encourage its use
Social media can be a quick and easy way of contacting a wide range of people. Depending on the context and the purpose of your research, you may be able to share questions with friends, or on public pages to gather wider opinions. It is a convenient forum to use to gather feedback and start discussions.
For example, as a Wellbeing Champion, If you have a group facebook chat or Whatsapp group for your society members, that can be a great way to contact the people you are interested to hear from on the topic you are researching. It’s also a really quick and convenient way of sharing links to polls or surveys, or circulating your contact details for students to get in touch with you personally.
Strength: Friendly and informal tones, and often convenient as we use social media very often!
Challenge: You cannot assume all of your cohort will have access to your posts on social media. Do not overly rely on social media.
You may sometimes want to email students directly to send them documents or large amounts of information.
For example, as a Course Rep, you might want to research student opinion on a new departmental policy, and you might want to email this out to your cohort to ask them for any thoughts. It’s important to consider how often you’re emailing your cohort – this needs to be a sensible amount to avoid fatigue or apathy to your emails.
Strength: More formal and important tone, helpful for sharing documents, close association with university life
Challenge: Students receive a huge number of emails, so yours may be overlooked
Surveys are a great way of collecting large amounts of statistics and data which can back you up when you present student feedback in departmental meetings. It’s an easy and convenient way for students to tell you what they think, and they might be more likely to fill in a few questions with prompted topics than to think of feedback themselves.
It’s always a good idea to have an open comment section for students to share their wider thoughts so they’re not constrained to the topics you’ve selected.
Think about how you can present your findings – you’ll need to collate the data and present it in a way that is relevant to your context. If you are in a professional setting, for example, you may need to formalise your findings into an official report, and you should have guidelines on how to do this from your employer.
You’ll also need to think about your permissions for data gathering more generally, and how you word your questions in a specific survey or questionnaire. If you are researching a topic for a piece of academic work, such as a dissertation, you may have specific research methods set for you to follow, or research ethics to consider and formal approval processes to complete. You will need to consider the anonymity of respondents – is this something that is necessary and if not, what assurances should you give people that their details will only be used for this specific purpose? These are all hugely important considerations.
Strength: Best way to gather data to support your points in formal meetings
Challenge: Keep them short and snappy, and carefully check your anonymity settings before sharing
Face to Face
Depending on the purpose and context of your research, you may decide it is appropriate to conduct research face-to-face.
For example, a Course Rep may decide to make themselves available after or before lectures, and talk in person with the students they represent about the topics they are researching. This informal method of chatting to other students to gather feedback can be really impactful and help in getting a general sense of what students think.
Strength: Building relationships with those you represent and establishing yourself as a memorable contact
Challenge: You can’t guarantee you’ll get to speak to everyone from your cohort face-to-face, so branch out from just this method