To address the feedback from the course opinion poll, it helps me talk to the students, says Vice-Dean Markéta Munzarová.

In March, meetings were held between faculty representatives and students who are members of the programme councils. Why are they essential for addressing feedback from the course opinion poll? We asked Vice-Dean Markéta Munzarová.

22 Apr 2024 Zuzana Jayasundera Markéta Munzarová

Photo: Irina Matusevič

How do you, as a vice-dean, work with students' feedback from the course opinion poll?

The course opinion poll is a key source of information, but there is an enormous amount of it. There is no predetermined system for how I should handle the feedback. This is a great advantage because I can creatively respond to reality. Study programme guarantors are very busy and handle feedback with varying intensity. Some discuss it with department heads, who then talk to teachers, while others do not have the capacity for that. And it is precisely those I can help if I know that the feedback is truthful and important. Speaking with students who are members of the so-called programme councils greatly assists me in prioritizing feedback from the course opinion poll. The overlap between information from anonymous surveys and personal communication, from my experience, highlights the most significant problems.

How do these meetings with students who are members of the so-called programme councils, introduced last year, proceed?

This year, in March, Dean Tomáš Kašparovský and I even convened three meetings. Some student representatives could not come at the dates available to the dean, and I did not want to "leave anyone out." Therefore, we had an initial "majority meeting" with the dean and the chairman of the Academic Senate Student Chamber, Tomáš Brom. The other two meetings were more intimate, but there was an even more open atmosphere. The most important common feedback was the realization that students mostly do not know about their representatives in the programme councils and their role. In my opinion, the guarantors, if possible, ideally at the beginning of the academic year, should come to classes to greet students and introduce current student representatives in the programme council. Some departments already do this, which I think is excellent. Generally, it will greatly help students if they get to know their peers from higher years. Encouragingly, students are interested in the role of representatives in programme councils and do not ask about rewards for their work, although I think they deserve it.

Often, within the course opinion poll, there are problems that require sensitive communication. How do you proceed in dealing with feedback?

I try to identify where the problem lies. Very often, I contact the guarantor of the study programme. We discuss what the best approach would be to address the issue. It also helps that I have a certain distance from the particular department, which the guarantor does not have by definition. So, I can assist in resolving the issue. Of course, I have had many frustrating experiences, but they helped me find ways to address the problems. We encountered systemically determined issues, such as guarantors not having the authority or tools to address personnel policy, yet we expect them to handle matters falling into this agenda. And when I tried to intervene in the past, I was told that all mechanisms are so complex that nothing can be done. Even though the guarantor had been trying for a long time, their hands were tied, perhaps because the problems were spread across multiple departments jointly responsible for the programme. This created limitations for guarantors. Not to mention the complexity of personal relationships within departments.

So, how successful are you in finding solutions to problems that obviously trouble both students and guarantors?

Communication with department heads helps a lot because they are very familiar with specific teachers whose subjects were not well-rated. They have a better idea of whether the problem is solvable or not. And what is gratifying? In one specific case, I asked a department head for a small change. It turned out he wanted a big change for the programme and that he could better advocate for it as a whole package. This included what I had brought to him based on the course opinion poll and meetings with student representatives in the programme council. This was very encouraging for me going forward.

From what you are saying, it seems that you are eventually moving towards addressing problems at a more comprehensive level of entire study programmes?

Yes. Problems with subjects are interconnected. The course opinion poll looks at subjects in isolation. However, clever, smart, and helpful students, in response to one subject, also reflect that subjects are not well-connected within the entire programme. The course opinion poll also does not tell us how well-prepared students are for final exams. That is why we have an opinion poll for graduates. I am very grateful to everyone who fills it in. They help their younger colleagues a lot. However, I get the complete picture only through the statements of student representatives in the programme councils. I review the survey afterward and supplement the picture, especially with verbal responses that justify the ratings. Personally, as a teacher, I publish the survey results for students after the course ends. It seems to me respectful towards them. However, I always invite them to let me know if they do not want any response there; I will remove it.

How can students help you as a vice-dean in the course opinion poll?

Simply by filling it in, including verbal evaluations, appreciating what deserves recognition, and clearly identifying problems. Active participation in the opinion poll shows that students are thinking about future students - so they do not have to unnecessarily face the problems they have already gone through. The extremes, both positive and negative, usually stand out in the opinion poll. However, sometimes the course is evenly divided. Students who do not have very high expectations are satisfied because everything was covered in presentations, and the exam was not rigorously graded. But then there are students who have higher expectations, expected more from the course, and feel that the course is not advancing them. It is worth talking to students from both "camps" and clarifying the situation. Here, too, the connection between subject evaluation and the final state exam is important. If there is an awareness that a student can easily get an A in a subject but might fail the final exam, that is alarming. However, I need students who have experienced both of these situations to tell me about it.

How important is it for you to initiate communication and connect people at the faculty when addressing issues with study programmes?

For me, it is crucial. I live off that interaction. Without actively engaging in teaching for the broader student community, I could not fulfil my role as a vice-dean. I believe many people turn to me precisely because I live and work in the reality of students and programme guarantors. I even have one guarantor at home - my husband, Professor Dominik Munzar (editor’s note) - and I see how occasional conversations with students refresh him even in times of tight schedules. Therefore, I think that apart from the initial introduction of guarantors and student representatives at the beginning of the year, it would be beneficial to create a space where "ordinary" students of the programme, who are willing to help, could meet with the guarantor once a year. This would reduce the sense of hopelessness that some may feel when their student representative collects feedback that seems to lead nowhere because programme councils meet only once a year and often address many issues, but there is no time for some important ones. Of course, I do not want to burden programme guarantors with additional obligations and other tables to fill in. Rather, I see it as inspiration for situations where, for example, there is little interest in studying or a high rate of academic failure.

From my experience, I can say that a conversation with students always helps. It is not certain that we will solve all problems, but it is almost certain that if we do not communicate with them, nothing will be resolved.

Thank you for the interview.
Zuzana Jayasundera

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