Art & Design students’ responses to NSS

Art & Design in a seismically active landscape: responding to the NSS

29 Jan 2014

Chelsea College of Art and Design University of the Arts London

a HEA GLAD (Group for Learning in Art and Design) conference




The conference presented updated findings from research by Professor Mantz Yorke (Visiting Professor, Lancaster University) Professor Bernadatte Blair (Emeritus Professor, Art and Design Pedagogy, Kingston University) and Professor David Vaughan (Principal, Cumbria Institute of Arts)


Is Art and Design disadvantaged by NSS? – Professor Mantz Yorke

This is a new section of research which adds to an ongoing research project. The project has already established that there are issues with NSS scoring for Art and Design regarding certain questions, particularly in relation to feedback and course organisation and management. 



This research compares a number of courses in post-’92 institutions:  Performing Arts, Nursing, Imaginative Writing, Biology, Law, Business, History.  It seeks to establish:


  • What proportion of results is attributable to the nature of Art and Design?
  • What part might part-time staffing play?


39 institutions were included in the survey.  


  • Compared with the other subject areas above, Design and Creative Arts has the highest percentage of all part-time staff (66%)


  • Business is closest of the above subjects to Design and Creative Arts in number of part-time staff employed and the effects on results.


  • Medical and nursing students also have problems with the question regarding course management and organisation  


The big picture conclusion is that the higher the number of part-time staff, the lower the NSS scores BUT 1) the effect is small 2) there is wide variation at institutional level


Deal or no deal? Expectations and experiences of first year Art and Design students (HEA research) – Professor David Vaughan


2009 GLAD NSS Research Project:  I can’t believe it’s not better:  the paradox of NSS scores for Art and Design.


  • Art and Design (including Media and Performing Arts) makes a substantial contribution to the national economy


  • It is a national success story


  • When viewed through the lens of NSS, it does not come out well in comparison with other subject areas


  • Is NSS fit for purpose
  • Are the questions appropriate to these subjects?


Pedagogy of Art and Design:


  • Do we take it for granted?
  • Do we explain it?
  • Do we understand it?
  • Do we do enough to prepare our students for HE A&D study?


We need to ask these questions, but not in the way they are framed in the NSS.


The scenario above led to a research project with 1st year students.  Responses were based on a Survey Monkey online survey of 20 institutions in June 2012.  778 valid responses were received.


The respondents:



  • Mostly young white British
  • 1st time HE students
  • The majority had taken a Foundation Studies Art & Design year or similar
  • Less than 50% were in part-time employment
  • Ratio 4:1 Female:Male
  • 4 in 5 had enrolled at 1st choice HEI
  • 4 in 5 had visited the institution before enrolling


Most potent influences on choice:


  • HEI location – London favourite!
  • Visit
  • Portfolio interview
  • Prospectus
  • Possible future career and lifestyle



  • The majority were satisfied with information provided, apparently
  • Pre-enrolment info helped to understand 1st year of study
  • 70% understood what the deal was with the HEI
  • 2 in 3 students had attended induction
  • Some felt they had a lot of info
  • Some felt they had very little info




‘every tutor has experienced life in the design industry’

‘the majority of tutors are visiting designers’

‘You can see tutors any time you want’


There were equally negative comments about tutor availability.




A high proportion of students agreed that assessment methods were as expected


Re feedback, there were positive statements about crits – students felt these were useful experience for life.


Mostly the learning environment met expectations

More than 4 in 5 students had access to practical equipment when they needed it


Shared studio space, paying for equipment and use of facilties produced a negative response. There were many comments about this cost in addition to course fees. THE PURPOSE OF STUDIO FEES AND WHAT THEY ARE USED FOR MUST BE MADE CLEAR.


Day to day organisation received average results, but were considered moderate to negative.  Students don’t seem to fully understand what course organisation means.



For successful first year experience the following are key elements:


  • Students understand the deal with HEIs – expectations on both sides
  • Prior engagement with institution produces positive experience
  • Minorities get parity of attention
  • Good study accommodation
  • Good resources readily available
  • Good technical support (some students said they learnt more from technicians than from teachers – role of technicians very important in art colleges)
  • Effective and efficient organisation


For successful transition to HE students need to be:


  • Clear about every aspect of the course
  • Clear about the different forms of assessment, criteria and reasons for choice of these


  • Understand what to expect from crits and PODS (by watching videos of sessions?)


NOTE:  There is a much higher proportion of students with dyslexia on Art and Design courses than many other courses (often about 66%).  This may also apply to specialist Art and Design staff.  Should take into account the effect of this on organisational issues.


The nature of part-time employment makes a difference to staff involvement in management and organisation of the course.  The role of part-time tutors who are industry professionals is crucial, but this needs to be balanced by stability in organisation and management.


Effective staff show commitment through:

  • quality of teaching
  • One-on-one tutoring
  • Consideration for students
  • Prompt and informative feedback and feed forward – what they might improve
  • Thoughtful and efficient course organisation



Does NSS have any influence on application or recruitment?

Has it changed the way we do things?

Does NSS stifle innovation because institutions become risk-averse?


2013 Student Academic Experience Survey (HEPI + WHICH?) – higher contact hours, smaller group sizes, students who have p/t jobs often do less well, many students in new universities would have made other choices…



Think more deeply about what’s behind the question responses – have a dialogue with students to define the issues


How do Art & Design students understand and interpret questions in NSS? – Professor Bernadette Blair


2 x post-92 universities of similar size. Sample across variety of Art and Design courses.  12 students interviewed.


Are skills of professional designers transferable to educators?


Q1:  Staff are good at explaining things


–       Positive about technical support and studio base staff


Q2:  Course is intellectually stimulating


–       Visiting tutors are important in providing intellectual stimulation

–       Very high quality outside professionals crucial for development of students

Students interpreted ‘intellectually’ in diverse ways:  ‘what relates to the real world’;  ‘more academic’; ‘intellectually is a funny word to use for a design course…’


Q3:  Is feedback prompt?


–       Ongoing ipsative feedback is implicit in A&D but not always understood by students as such:  ‘that’s teaching, not feedback’ (when defined as crits etc).


–       Feedback sometimes recognised as just written, formalised feedback


Design education is situated around conversations and dialogue – don’t always know whether something is good until you try it.


Q4:  Course organisation


Ambiguity and uncertainty is part of the nature of the discipline.  It contrasts with academic courses because there are ‘a lot of things going on at the same time for the tutor.’One interpretation of good course organisation is that studio practice runs smoothly.


Students found this question ambiguous.


Q5:  Quality of course


Students considered this a very generic question, which scored low.  ‘it seems a bit silly to have one little box to tick on behalf of everything.’


The NSS questions will be interpreted in the students’ own context. The pedagogy of Art & Design is dialogic rather than monologic.  The questionnaire is monologic in nature.


In considering NSS responses, need to be aware of:

–       the fast-changing context, especially in relation to technology

–       of the epistemological and pedagogical differences between disciplines




Many institutions recognise the lack of validity of NSS and organise their own reviews.


NSSe – piloting a process that concentrates on student experience rather than student satisfaction. No guarantee that this will be any more satisfactory if it follows the same model of questioning.








Searching for words

IMG_0918_editedYou just can’t get away from it.  Even at a weekend.  In London.  At the Royal Society of Medicine.  Up on the screen are four topics for an exercise on Subject-Angle-Execution or finding original angles on stories. One of the topics is ‘Hull has won the title of City of Culture 2017’.  Most people choose ‘Christmas’ and suggest all sorts of entertaining ways of approaching that old chestnut.  But one woman suggests an approach to the Hull story, considering what 2017 will mean to the local community by exploring the effect of City of Culture on the community in Derry, the current holder.

My own response is a riposte to the stream of predictable sniggers in the national press, a sort of ‘let them get it out of their system’ angle with a strong dose of irony thrown in.  But hers is a much more refreshing approach and anyway, I don’t really want to spend the day thinking about Hull.

I was taking part in a masterclass on freelance journalism run by The Guardian newspaper.   I am interested in this as part of my own professional practice, but especially wanted information to pass onto the students on the BA(Hons) Journalism and Digital Media programme at HSAD.  And I’d always wondered what the Guardian workshops were like and who attended them.  On the latter point, what an eclectic and interesting mix of people.  I sat between a markets inspector, whose patch was Borough and  Smithfield markets and a science academic and journalist.  Many others already worked as freelance journalists, which indicated that they reckoned the day would hold something even for professionals.  A tall blonde girl, who was quick to respond in the open sessions, was wearing one of those dresses that you see on the rails and wonder if anyone ever buys.  A vivid royal blue shirtwaister buttoned up to the neck, with hemline well below the knee.  Probably the least flattering garment she could have chosen, but so distinctive that I bet everyone will remember her. The real draw for me was Marina Hyde, my favourite columnist, who was doing a Q&A session at the end.  But the day was packed full of useful and practical information.  Sessions on Features Pitching, Dissecting Publications, the Do’s and Don’t’s of Pitching, How To Break Into Freelance Journalism, Original Writing  and Top Ten Tricks and Tips were backed up by contact addresses and advice on the best method and time to follow up contacts.  Sessions were timed to the minute, there were opportunities to talk to the speakers and we were provided with a great lunch. This was real value for money, well-organised and to the point, delivered by experts and with plenty of material to take away.

And Marina Hyde?  More Caitlin Moran than Orla Guerin and she’s grown her hair, but the acid wit of her engagement with all things absurd, pretentious and celebrity-oriented  makes her unassailable in the column writing business.  So now I just need time to put all that information to good use.  And as a bonus, I did manage to bag one of the speakers for our annual Journalism Day at Hull Truck Theatre on Thursday 20 March.