NSS: What does “The course has helped me to present myself with confidence” mean?

September 29, 2011


The report from the LLAS Subject Centre National Student Survey project last academic year is now online. In the project we focused in on eight of the 22 questions. Whilst many of the questions were found to be problematic, this one was especially difficult to unpack.

Question 19: The course has helped me to present myself with confidence.

From the report

When answering this question, many students initially thought about giving oral presentations.  It was also linked to employability and interviewing skills, but the question of whether this was about personal confidence or academic confidence was unclear. And where students reported an increase in confidence, was this down to the skills their course had given them, their year abroad, their work placements, or was it just part of being four years older?

One member of staff observed that the NSS is carried out at a time where students are at their most anxious, perhaps looking for work, perhaps worried about the future. In languages it was suggested that this question might be thought about in the context of L2 competence or confidence in dealing with people from other cultures. ―It’s a bit of a weird question said one student. ―It really wants you to say “yes”, because if you say “no”, you‘re saying something bad about yourself.

Further thoughts

Some further thoughts here. Some a little pedantic maybe, but that’s what happens when you start to unpack the question with students and lecturers.

What this question might mean Possible assumptions Other issues

Doing oral presentations

Feeling confident in person

Interviewing skills


Able to express opinions without fear.

Able to challenge the opinions of others.

Not anxious

Students can stand up for themselves

Students are confident they will get a good job.

Students were unable to present themselves with confidence at the beginning the course.

Confidence comes from going the course.

Presenting oneself with confidence is a good thing (some students might benefit from being less confident)

A course which does not help students present themselves with confidence is not a good course.

The student who answers this question in negative might have been better off doing a different course or studying at a different place.

Confidence might come from sources other than the course e.g. student societies, increased age, work experience, time spent abroad

Does a negative answer to this question suggest that the course was in any way inadequate?

Some evidence of students thinking about L2 language confidence, but this question was for students of all disciplines.

Students who answer this in the negative are saying something bad about themselves.

Student anxiety or lack of confidence indicates poor teaching or course design.

National Student survey: opening dialogue between students and lecturers

May 6, 2011

I am currently organising a workshop for languages, linguistics and area studies lecturers on making the most of National Student Survey (NSS). The workshop will include reports by three colleagues who have been funded by LLAS to carry out research into how students and staff understand the NSS questions. What does the statement, “overall, I am satisfied with the quality of my course” really mean? The NSS has not been without its critics, but its use in league tables and websites providing information to potential students makes it impossible to ignore.

I don’t think there is much to be gained from chasing the ratings. A couple of percentage points here and there can make a big difference to a department’s position in a league table, and the potential for wasted time, money and effort  in making superficial changes in the vague hope of squeezing out an extra 3% satisfaction is a real possibility. In my view the real opportunity the NSS provides is to open dialogue between students and their teachers.

The workshop will be held in London on 22 June 2011. You can register online at the LLAS website.

National Student Survey

March 22, 2011

I have written a short article about using the National Student Survey (NSS) for the latest edition of the LLAS magazine Liaison.

I am also overseeing some projects on the NSS. I have developed an A0 dialogue sheet which can be downloaded from my humbox page.