Reading Between the LMS Survey Lines
What do student surveys tell us about their wants and needs?
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tl;dr it’s consistency, communication and content
I’ve been spending some time looking at surveys used in LMS reviews and evaluations. We find these to be very useful tools for getting a broad range of inputs and to confirm or disprove assumptions. Most places we work with do a faculty survey and a student survey, and we do encourage both. But in looking at a lot of publicly-shared information I was struck by the fact that student surveys about the LMS focus on what system they prefer, or in a best-case scenario, what their needs and required functionality might be.
Based on interviews and focus groups with literally thousands of students about LMSs over the past twenty plus years, my observation is that these types of instruments don’t get to what students really care about. Students do have preferences for which system they prefer and how things work, but as a generalization they care much more about how the systems are used by faculty than what the system allows them to do. It’s a subtle difference but an important one. I have identified a couple of tools for helping us get to those questions in some innovative ways.
Survey findings on what students want
The example below shows findings from the Ohio University LMS review survey, which is an excellent example from a well-designed LMS review and selection process. I especially like the presentation of side-by-side results which immediately highlight some areas where student and faculty needs are different for example around progress tracking, the mobile experience, and the importance of the calendar. This is all really useful, but it doesn’t get to the issue of how faculty use a given system and what students prefer that they do. In part because it wasn’t designed to. You can start to intuit some of these issues from these findings for example:
Students want consistency;
They want things like dates clearly communicated; and
They want to know where they are in a course.
I’d like to highlight two approaches which offer the promise of providing this information in some interesting ways and potentially finding ways to address the issues.
The Ohio State University common sense project
Back in 2019 students in student government at The Ohio State University worked with the University Senate’s Distance Education, Libraries and Information Technology Committee to hold focus groups and conduct a survey over 200 students to identify what they wanted in an LMS in terms of actual practices. They came up with a list of ten tips for faculty making use of the LMS in ways that allowed for students to focus on the content of the work rather than navigating the LMS or trying to find where things were.
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